Cool, Calm & Collected
A Brunswick couple builds their dream home, designed around the colors, collections, and activities they love
This is how it all started: In 2015 a couple in their 60s, thinking ahead toward retirement, decided they wanted a first-floor bedroom suite. “We hunted for two whole years to find a house along the coast with a bedroom not he first floor and couldn’t find one,” says the wife. “So we started looking at land, and when I saw this beautiful field in Brunswick—just a pasture with chickens at the time—I thought, ‘This is it.’”
She brought her husband to see the five-acre parcel. He called it “magical.” Good things come to those who wait.
By the time the couple purchased the property in 2017, they already had a well-developed vision of the details they wanted and needed in the home, backed up by a fat inspiration folder filled with sketches, notes, and images saved from home design magazines and online inspiration boards.
The wife, a retired chef, and her husband, who had worked for more than 40 years in a high-pressure management job, both dreamed of a sanctuary of their own, where they could immerse themselves in their independent passions and pursuits, then reconvene in comfortable common areas, reconnecting with friends, family, and each other around meals, the warmth of a winter fire, or the beauty of a sunset.
They brought their wish list to architectural designer Michael Kreindler, who helped the couple translate their general concepts into a preliminary set of drawings, then collaborated closely with Gail Blackburn, principal of Gail Blackburn Interior Design, to fine-tune the details of their vision for a shingle-clad, 3,800-square-foot, story-and-a-half dream house as well as a boat-and-tractor barn.
It helped immeasurably that Blackburn—a talented draftsperson as well as a former U.S. Olympic Team alpine skier—happens to be the sister of one of the homeowners. “Gail understands the way we live and the kind of feeling we wanted to achieve here, inside and out,” says the wife. “When a detail wasn’t quite right—the stair tower and the shingle pattern over the asymmetrical main entry were very tricky to get right, for example—the tracing paper would come out and we’d start sketching options until things looked exactly the way I’d imagined. She can read my mind.”
Not surprisingly, after the first-floor suite, the next top priority for the wife, who founded and manages a successful catering business, was a large, high-performance kitchen/ entertaining area and adjoining butler’s pantry with meticulously organized work stations, ample storage, and “good appliances that will last the rest of our lives,” she explains. “Having worked in so many kitchens during my career, I knew I wanted a Sub-Zero refrigerator, a Wolf gas range top, and double wall ovens. We were ready to invest in good appliances that we would not have to replace every ten years.”
At Blackburn’s recommendation, the wife relied on the team at Crown Point Cabinetry to bring to life her personal take on the classic English country–style kitchen—with a step-back cupboard, floor-to-ceiling larders, and under-counter storage for everything from pots, pans, and food processors to colanders, cutting boards, pitchers, and serving platters. A mix of open shelving and glide-out drawers behind doors keeps everything easily accessible and neatly arranged.
Floral-motif cutouts at the tops of the larder doors are a decorative tribute to the couple’s daughter, the founder and owner of East of Eden Flower Farm in Bowdoinham. Vintage ceramic vases and pedestaled cake stands—some are family heirlooms, others were gathered during cross-country antiquing adventures—are showcased in the cubby-like shelves constructed around the butler’s pantry entry.
The French doors leading into the butler’s pantry, painted Sherwin-Williams’s Dockside Blue on the kitchen side and Poolhouse Blue on the pantry side, open to reveal a multipurpose galley with coffee maker, wine cooler, pull-out microwave, and a deep farmhouse-style sink from Kohler that doubles as a place to hydrate, cut, and arrange flowers harvested from the couple’s newly planted pollinator garden, designed in collaboration with Great Works Landscape and Gammon’s Garden Center.
Countertops in the cooking area are heat-resistant quartzite, but the owners chose traditional soapstone for the butler’s pantry. “The stone supplier warned us that soapstone will scratch and wear over time—which is exactly what we wanted,” the wife says. “We were going for that ‘always been here’ kind of feeling that will look even more beautiful in ten years. The kitchen really is the heart of the home.”
To create a special room for her husband, who is an avid outdoorsman and accomplished fly fisherman, the wife worked with Blackburn to design the spacious main-house study and office they call “The Retreat.” The soaring, wood-clad ceiling of the 20- by 28-foot room is spanned by salvaged barn beams sourced from Rousseau Reclaimed Lumber and Flooring and paneled in wide planks finished in two shades of translucent satin stain (gray on the walls, lighter brown on the ceiling). In one corner of the room, insulated Andersen E-series windows provide a workplace with a view, while a second desk, outfitted with an illuminated rotary vise with magnifier, serves as a dedicated fly-tying station.
The Retreat’s Rumford fireplace, with a chimney wall faced in fieldstone, effectively throws enough heat to warm the entire room. “Gail and I designed the Retreat as my husband’s private escape,” says the wife. “But we held a Christmas party not long after we moved in last year, and guess where everyone ended up? It became clear pretty fast that this is the room everybody is drawn to and wants to congregate in.”
During daylight hours and summer evenings, a serene formal living room—adjacent to the open kitchen and dining area—vies for attention with a three-season porch furnished with Kingsley-Bate seating as the couple’s favorite place to relax.
Rounding out the first floor are a slate-paved boot room at the back entry; a half-bath, tucked away on the wide back hall, behind a sliding door and vintage stained-glass transom window; and the essential, project-inspiring first-floor owners’ suite, with wall-to-wall wool carpeting, his-and-hers closets, and built-ins fabricated by Crown Point. The en suite bath has a marble-tiled walk-in shower and a WC that includes a Kohler bidet with a heated seat. “It sounds silly, I know, but Maine can get brutally cold on winter nights, and warmth is one of our home’s great luxuries,” admits the wife.
Situated upstairs are the laundry room; a little sitting/reading room that the owner calls “the Snug” (after the tiny Irish pub rooms where women retreated to sip their drinks in privacy, so as not to cause a scandal at the bar); and two more bedrooms, one with a queen-size bed and the other with two full-size beds, both with their own baths. The rooms are simply but comfortably furnished—one with a chest of drawers from the wife’s childhood home, the other with a dresser rescued from the side of the road, both painted cool shades of blue. “We wanted friends and family to feel relaxed and have a degree of privacy when they spend the weekend—like they’re staying in a B&B, where they can sleep in and enjoy morning coffee in their rooms if they feel like it,” says the wife.
Throughout the house, the palette of cool gray, blue, and cream connects the spirit of the house to the New England coast the couple loves. “The colors of the ocean are calming to us,” says the wife. “And that is how we wanted our home to feel, too. We wanted this house to feel like an oasis from the stresses of the world—the kind of place where you enter, take a breath, and feel like you want to stay forever.”