High on a hill in Rockport, artists Steven and Sal Taylor Kydd have created a soulful home for their family, their art, and their ever-growing collection of meaningful, beautiful things
When artist Sal Taylor Kydd goes walking on her 50-acre property in Rockport, she often comes back with pockets full of small treasures— bones, twigs, stones, little precious items that tell little stories. She does the same thing when she goes to visit Matinicus or Swan’s Island on photography missions. “An artist friend and I are talking about casting these in bronze one day,” she says, as she lifts a piece of dried seaweed, a sculptural tangle of organic matter that sits on the windowsill of her studio. “I’m a big collector of small things.”
These totems are scattered throughout her airy farmhouse and adjacent studio, reminders of trips taken, walks enjoyed. But instead of feeling out of place in her carefully crafted indoor landscape, these pieces fade into the design, like brushstrokes in a painting. In particular, they meld with the work of designers and craftspeople Tara Mangini and Percy Bright of Jersey Ice Cream Company. Sal’s artifacts, art, and books join forces with Jersey Ice Cream Company’s handmade furniture, refurbished antiques, and softly textured plaster walls to create a space that is harmonious and filled with personality.
“When I first saw the house online, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Sal remembers. “But when we visited in person, I realized that there was something about the scale of the rooms. The people who owned it before us—the people who built it—were also artists, and it shows.” We’re sitting in her white kitchen drinking cups of tea with milk and a little sugar. As we talk, I examine the Kydds’ stack of cookbooks tucked into the white cabinetry, spotting both Plenty and Plenty More, two beautiful vegetarian anthologies by London-based chef Yotam Ottolenghi. The countertops are filled with plants and vases, and warm brass light fixtures and a graceful copper teakettle temper the all-white affect of the pearlescent tile backsplash and the plaster white walls. The entire space is awash with light, which pours in from the large windows that overlook a gently sloping yard peppered with gnarled fruit trees. Later, Kydd tells me that she hopes to put in a pond someday, a body of water that she can observe from her kitchen window, watch as it reflects the waning yellow daylight.
Sal is originally from England. She first came to Maine to visit her father, who lived here with her stepmother, and knew she would one day return. Her husband, Steven Kydd (a fellow creator and developer of the food app Tastemade), grew up in Maine, and the couple wanted to raise their two school-aged children here, too. During their courtship, they spent summers together on Deer Isle. “Maine has always been a touchstone for us,” Sal says. When they made the decision to transplant their lives from the West Coast—they had been living in California for years— to the Northeast, they did it quickly and ruthlessly. In 2016 they scouted out the house, purchased it, and began renovations, all in a matter of months. The Kydds hired Jay Fischer of Cold Mountain Builders in Belfast to rewire all the electrical; overhaul the heating system; install new flooring, countertops, and built-ins; and manage, schedule, and oversee every aspect of the extensive renovation. Fischer was familiar with the structure; his team had built the contemporary farmhouse, as well as the nearby studio and freestanding bunkhouse/garage, 14 years prior. “They were intent on a complete transformation,” Fischer says. “Steven and Sal brought a lot of fresh ideas about space and how they wanted the house to feel and look on the inside. In concert with Tara and Percy, the ideas just exploded.”
“I’ve always liked the house,” Fischer adds. “What Steven and Sal wanted to do, and did accomplish in that mad rush of a renovation, was to improve the house in a very interesting and sophisticated way.” According to Fischer, the house has “a new warmth.” He means this both literally and figuratively. Cold Mountain Builders installed white-painted cast-iron radiators in every room. Sal grew up with radiators as a child in England, and she says they make her feel nostalgic and cozy—perfectly at home. “They look right in a house like this,” she says.
While the team from Cold Mountain Builders handled much of the contracting work, Mangini and Bright were responsible for the bulk of the aesthetic decisions. They worked closely with the Kydds and Fischer to select all the necessary surface materials, from the soft white marble countertops in the kitchen to the distressed gray vintage mantel in the living room. “It’s not how we usually work,” Mangini admits. “Typically, we come in and do everything ourselves. We like to take a house from start to finish, doing all the construction, styling—everything.” But since they were on such a tight schedule, Mangini and Bright narrowed their focus, applying their design talents to sourcing furniture, light fixtures, wallpaper, and art, and to building specific features for the creative couple (including a rustic farmhouse dining table and a studio workbench for Sal’s bookmaking projects). “We did a lot of full-wall built-ins, which look timeless and classic and provide space for all their winter shoes and coats,” explains Mangini. “We also did all the plaster, which is a signature of our work. We still went about it in our usual way. But it’s a little bit of a different look from our other projects.”
Mangini and Bright played to the house’s strengths—the big windows, the abundance of light—settling on a palette of taupe, dove gray, and ivory. Rather than buying brand-new furniture, they opted to scour flea markets and antique shows, bringing in pieces that felt well loved and long-used. One standout piece is the antique living room couch that Mangini and Bright purchased at the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts and reupholstered in a deep navy plaid fabric. Another striking element is the distressed wood sideboard that sits against the dining room wall. “When we bought it, the vendor told us it would need to be fixed up and oiled and stained,” Mangini remembers. “I’m so glad we didn’t. It was perfect exactly how it was.”
The soft, neutral tones of the main house continue into the garage, the second story of which has been reimagined partly as a guest apartment, complete with two bunk beds, a daybed, and a small dining table. Adjacent is Sal’s studio, where she creates her hand-sewn art books. Her studio space is stunning; it feels like walking into the artist’s creative unconscious. Pictures hang all along the walls, and the large central table is covered with bookmaking materials. The cathedral ceilings and generous windows create a feeling of expansiveness. (Artists’ studios, I’ve found, often feel a little like small-town churches. They are highly personal places, built for reverent work and spiritual exploration.) As we walk around her studio, Sal picks up a few of her recent pieces, including a softcover book housed in a chocolate brown case called Keepsakes. Inside, a poem unfurls over a number of pages, just a few words to a page, each Lilliputian thought linked to a similarly delicate image: a pussy willow bough, a butterfly wing.
“Since moving here, I’ve become much more prolific,” Sal says as she reflects on her body of work, laid out around her in bits and pieces. “I’ve had the space to live with my work, to experiment more.” While her photography has long focused on how her family (particularly her children) interacts with the landscape, she says living in Maine has inspired her to reflect more deeply on how the natural environment alters and shapes human experience. “For me, it’s become about how people’s lives are informed by the place where they live,” she adds. “Living here, being closer to nature, informs everything I do. This house gives me a space to connect, a place where I can be quiet and create.” Here, in this shingle-sided studio on a serene hill miles outside town, Sal and Steven Kydd have carved out a space for something rare: an artful, connected life.