Magazine

On Point

This new home by ARQ Architects is sited on an existing clearing in the woods with views to a tidal harbor. The clients desired a straightforward but modern interpretation of traditional New England design. They also wanted durable, timeless materials but were open to untraditional materials. The design process focused on critical plan relationships, along with views and natural light for all rooms. After reviewing exterior materials, weathering Cor-Ten steel wall panels and a standing-seam roof were chosen to pair with the barnlike gable roof forms. The design approach adopts the simplicity of Shaker style and reflects the clients’ desire to keep things simple and not fussy.

The home will sit between existing ledge outcroppings and mature trees, critical features the clients wanted to retain. The one-story, 2,500-square-foot plan is designed to accommodate aging in place and to be fully accessible. The simplicity and ease of maintenance continues in the interior. There will be a restrained palette, with emphasis on sustainable materials. Floors will be primarily linoleum made from all-renewable natural materials. Gypsum walls and ceilings will be augmented with smaller areas of locally sourced wood ceilings.

The owners and ARQ are excited to be pairing with Maine-based Ecocor for the construction of the home. Ecocor’s sustainable, factory- built, panelized approach greatly reduces normal construction waste. Their sustainable, passive house approach also greatly reduces energy use and carbon footprint. ARQ has designed the exterior of the house to use only standard 4-foot-wide Cor-Ten panels. Window and door openings are aligned with the standard panels. The house design incorporates all the elements the clients desired and is true to ARQ Architects’ simple, smart, and sustainable approach.

Location: Kittery Point
Architect: ARQ Architects
Design Team: Lucy Schlaffer, Paul Bonacci, & Jay Orr
Building Envelope Factory Fabrication: Ecocor, Searsmont, ME
General Contractor: Ecocor, Searsmont, ME
Construction start: Fall 2022
Construction complete: Summer 2023

Jim Morin: Drawing and Painting

For Jim Morin, all art is political. As the editorial cartoonist at the Miami Herald for 42 years, Morin created witty, often biting cartoons that are nationally and internationally syndicated, and he’s received the Pulitzer Prize in journalism for editorial cartooning twice over, once in 1996 and again in 2017. If you’ve opened a newspaper (or scrolled through one) in the past couple of decades, you’ve likely seen a few of his works.

In his retirement, Morin, who now lives full-time in Ogunquit, is focusing on painting, with many of his subjects and themes taken from the grassy dunes and sandy peninsulas near his home. It may come as a surprise to the journalistic set, but as Martha Kennedy, former curator of popular and applied graphic arts at the Library of Congress points out, Morin has been painting for years. “He stands out from other great cartoonists in that he not only worked very hard as an editorial cartoonist—a really demanding profession—but also in the evenings, he would carve out time for oil paintings,” says Kennedy. “He has quite a history of exhibiting, too.”

A new show at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art (OMAA), Jim Morin: Drawing and Painting, which runs from May 1 through October 31, features a selection of Morin’s drawings and paintings that focus on the environment. “This strong concern and interest in the physical environment, the state of the physical environment, and how [Morin] has seen it change, and how different kinds of human activities have impacted the environment, is a major thread in his cartoon drawings,” says Kennedy, who curated the show with encouragement from OMAA’s new executive director, Amanda Lahikainen, also a scholar of satirical art.

Morin acknowledges that his paintings affect his drawings, and vice versa. This makes sense, since as a child, Morin was in awe of the work of Honoré Daumier, “the Michelangelo of caricature,” who rose to prominence as a caricaturist of nineteenth- century French politics and society and who also painted on the side. There will be a section in the OMAA show on artistic tradition and influences, in which Daumier will be featured.

“I think it’s interesting that Daumier was, like Jim, highly acclaimed for his satirical drawings,” says Kennedy, “and then later he gained recognition for his paintings.” Today, like Morin, Daumier is very much admired for his work in both mediums. “Satirical art is meant to help us, the viewers and the readers, think about ourselves and think about topics that are important to us in our time,” says Kennedy. For artists like Morin, oil paintings are no less thought provoking. “You can see, in his landscapes and seascapes, a fascinating focus on the atmosphere and how it changes, different cloud formations and color, and other aspects of the landscape as well.” Gazing through Morin-colored glasses, the viewer sees the natural world as something to be celebrated—and protected.

Craft Work

Say the word “craft” out loud and see what pictures it conjures up. Tempera paints? Construction paper? Acrylic yarn in garish colors? Now replace it with “craftsmanship.” Suddenly the images are of finely wrought work (maybe metal, maybe wood, maybe clay) emerging from the hands of an artisan dedicated to practicing and mastering their chosen form. It’s the latter meaning that the nonprofit Maine Craft Association (MCA) embodies; in its mission statement, it states that it “builds upon Maine’s rich craft traditions by nurturing a vibrant, supportive, inclusive craft community.” The MCA, which was founded in 1983, was recently restructured; a new C corporation, Shop Maine Craft, now manages all the MCA programs that directly focus on shopping. This includes the Center for Maine Craft at the Gardiner rest area, a website, and Maine Craft Portland, which opened on Congress Street in the summer of 2018.

As manager Maria Wolff shows off the Maine Craft Portland store on a bright morning, the sun streams in through tall windows to highlight pieces made by artists and artisans from across the state. Housed in gleaming wood and glass cabinets that run the length of the shop, a multiplicity of items beckons: intricate Wabanaki baskets, finely finished wooden lounge chairs, shimmering silk and wool shawls. Many objects are one of a kind; all have been carefully selected. “All the artists in this gallery go through a jury process,” Wolff says. Professional membership in the MCA is required in order to sell work through Shop Maine Craft; additionally, a craftsperson’s work must be chosen by a jury of fellow artists and artisans in order to be showcased in the retail stores.

There have been only three tenants in this beautiful, high-ceilinged space, Wolff explains. “At first, there was a jewelry store in here, Carter Brothers Company. These cabinets were built in the 1890s for that store.” Photographs from 1947, 1972, and 1983 in the Portland Public Library’s special collections and archives show the Carter Brothers storefront remarkably untouched by time. When the jewelers closed after over a century in business, a vintage clothing store, Encore, moved into the storefront for the next 20 years.

The space became vacant when the owner of the vintage shop retired. Wolff says the situation was ideal for Shop Maine Craft, which had been looking for new retail opportunities. “For years, we had been trying to open up another gallery somewhere with a little different demographic. Especially in the greater Portland area, where there’s a lot of tourism of all different kinds, everything from the airport to the cruise ships coming into port. And then we found this wonderful historical building,” she relates. “To be in the heart of the Arts District, in a beautiful space, it truly is perfect for the work.” The fact that it was part of the historic Mechanics’ Hall was serendipitous. “There’s a nice supportive connection between the two organizations. They’re both nonprofits trying to sustain craftsmanship in the community,” she says.

“To be in the heart of the Arts District, in a beautiful space, it truly is perfect for the work.”

In the spring of 2018, renovations began. The electrical system was upgraded, and new lighting was installed. Adding a new restroom and a secondary entrance on Casco Street helped the entire hall become ADA compliant. A new floor of wide wooden planks was laid, and the windows underwent some deep cleaning. “All of the front windows had been painted black because the amount of sun that was coming in here bleached out the vintage clothing. So we had to clean all the windows,” Wolff recalls. Most important, the 1890s cabinets were restored and cleaned. Wolff gestures at them in wonder: “I mean, a nonprofit organization could never afford to build this kind of cabinetry.” Assistant manager Jaime Wing points out a favorite detail: above the old Carter Brothers safe, the words “electric protection” are carefully inscribed. “I’m particularly interested in this pin striping and lettering up here. I mean, that was done by hand once upon a time,” he says. “You would probably not see this done today. But it’s lasted so long and it’s still here.”

We turn from the safe (with its intact state inspection stickers from the 1920s and 1930s) to the nearest cabinets, where Wing shows off the results of a recent themed event: the Crafter’s Gambit, for which more than a dozen Maine craftspeople made elaborate chess sets. Wolff recalls, “I had been trying to get artists to make chess sets for us for a while, but it’s a lot of work. It’s 32 pieces!” Recognizing this, many craft artists collaborated to make their sets, including Wolff herself, who worked with David Masury to create a set of copper chess pieces on glass placed over a burled wooden board that dips in the center. Other pieces combine craft practices like woodwork with quilting, as in the case of Peter and Sandra Asselyn’s batik fabric and applewood and maple set. But the collaborations didn’t stop there. Wolff says, “I was able to get hold of the Maine Chess Association, and I asked them if they could bring in some grandmasters. They went a step further and flew in Sabina Foisor, who was the 2017 U.S. champion. So she came, and they set her up with a proper electronic chess set. We had it projected on the outside of the building, and people could pay to play her.”

It’s this type of event that Wolff longs to hold again, once pandemic worries ease: events that bring people into closer contact with Maine artisans and their work. “I’m very much into collaboration with other organizations. It’s really the joyous part of creating,” she says. “We try to do all of our openings on First Fridays, and we used to be able to have live music in here. We used to make it a big to-do. We want to have our big openings again and really shine.” Ambitious plans are already afoot for Maine Craft Weekend, an annual statewide celebration of craft in October. Wolff hopes to showcase the metalwork of Nick Rossi, Jason Morrisey, and Nicholas Wicks Moreau by having a forge set up outside the building so that the public can watch the master craftsmen at work. “That’s a way we can do something outside and be cool, no matter what the pandemic is doing!” she laughs.

Toward the rear of the retail space lies a small gallery showing recent work by an ever-changing lineup of local artists. On the day I visit, the gallery is displaying the works by the Art Department, a Portland nonprofit located just down Congress Street from Maine Craft Portland dedicated to helping Maine artists with developmental and intellectual disabilities reach their creative potential. The artwork, themed around love, is beautiful, funny, and unexpected, with meticulously painted figures, boxes, and animals. Wing notes, “It’s just a great injection of color and enthusiasm.” Wolff concurs: “As Jaime was pointing out, look at the fine detail of painting. It’s really carefully executed.” In other words, it fits in perfectly with the work of the master craftspeople around it.

Handmade in Maine

Maine Craft’s mission statement vows to support “the livelihoods of individual craft artists while advancing the contemporary craft economy.” In practice, this means that there is something handmade to be found in the store for every shopper, in every price range, for every occasion. Looking around the space, the possibilities seem almost endless, so here are just a few of our suggestions.

• As we head into the season of weddings, consider a handcrafted gift rather than another set of sheets off the registry. A hand-turned illusion basket (wood carved and dyed to look like woven basketry) from Jeff Enck could become a family heirloom. Or choose a couple of lively earthenware platters from Rachel May Verrill to adorn a couple’s table for years of meals to come.

• If you’re lucky enough to get invited to a lakeside or seaside cottage by friends, bring along a unique house gift. Elegantly simple mugs from Camden Clay Company fade from seafoam green to white and complement any decor, or a more whimsical octopus mug from AP Curiosities might make your hosts smile over their morning coffee.

• Been away at the lake or the ocean and worried your cat hates you now? Maine Craft Portland has an extensive selection of Dr. Pussum’s catnip toys to amuse and placate feline companions. Have a dog you need to please instead? Try a walk on a new leash made from lobster rope by WharfWarp.

• Treat yourself or a loved one to a pair of feather-light, laser-cut dangling earrings made by Ebenezer Akakpo with designs based on traditional symbols from his homeland of Ghana. If you’re looking for something smaller, J.E. Paterak’s tiny pinecone stud earrings fit the bill.

Full Spectrum Alchemist

“It’s not magic,” says David Johansen, who is perhaps better known by his online persona, Neon Dave. “I have a pet peeve with that word. I get why people want to call this magical because it’s cool, but everything we call magic is just science. We know,” he says, leaning forward in his metal folding chair and stressing that last word, “exactly how it works.”

One of the noble gasses, neon is colorless, odorless, and chemically inert. It doesn’t combine with other elements, and it’s relatively rare in the earth’s atmosphere. We breathe it in daily without a second thought, but it doesn’t do much for us, unless we isolate the particles, stick them into a vacuum, and give them a little electric shove. Then neon glows crimson.

Johansen is an artist who works with neon, argon, and helium. If you’ve spent any time eating or drinking in Portland, his work is probably familiar to you. He makes the city more colorful with his custom-designed neon signs on Congress Street, Washington Ave., and in the Old Port. But here in his studio, Johansen shows another side of his practice. He’s pushing the combination of curved glass and gas to new levels of technique and craftsmanship, making sculptures that aren’t intended to advertise anything except the strange properties of visible gas.

Located in Bayside, just a stone’s throw from several breweries lit by his work, Johansen’s studio is spacious and quiet, tucked away from the main sidewalks. That’s okay; he doesn’t want foot traffic. “Make me sound cantankerous,” Johansen jokes. He’s not really—he’s just facing the same problem as so many other contemporary makers: people expect his art to come cheap. The past several years have seen a social media–fueled boom for “faux neon,” as Johansen terms the bendable LED strip lights that are often advertised as “neon.” “It’s companies selling LED lights and calling themselves neon companies, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” he says. These signs (which often feature “cutesy” phrases or winking cactuses or other such dorm-friendly designs) are mass produced and can retail in the double digits. “It’s kind of good, though,” he adds. “It’s taking away so much of the stuff I don’t want to do anyway.”

So what does Neon Dave want to do? “I learned to work neon in 2003, and I did it because I wanted to make art,” he explains. “I love that people like the signs I make, and I really do enjoy making the city more lively and colorful,” he says. “But my mission is to do something different. When I started, I was already doing paintings. I wanted to add a light element.” Hanging on a far wall of his studio is one of his earlier pieces, which was inspired by the lurking aquatic monsters of Lovecraftian fiction. The sculpture involves a neon tube surrounded by an acrylic box covered in several layers of paint and iridescent film. “It’s supposed to be this deep, dark, underwater thing,” he says. “I was trying to create my own glowing zones.”

For Johansen, there’s a big difference between a neon sign and a neon sculpture. A sign is what he creates for companies he likes. (“You’ll get my best work when you kind of let me do my own thing,” he reveals.) A sculpture is something he builds slowly in his mind, drawing on observations, experiences, and a wealth of knowledge about the science and history of neon. Some of his sculptures blaze a shocking orange-red, the color that neon naturally glows when the particles are excited. Others are woven mazes of color: blue, then purple, then pink. “Sunset colors,” he says. “I’ve been really drawn to those retro, beachy colors. I like to inhabit this pinky, magenta zone. Those colors go off into the ultraviolet territory of the visible spectrum. They’re out there.”

When asked whether he finds the limited palette of neon stifling, Johansen shakes his head. “I like the limitations. I like this form.” Plus, there’s always vintage neon. Johansen follows trends in the neon community (a loosely affiliated group of people that spans countries and is mainly connected on Instagram) and has noticed that “everyone’s always on the lookout for old colors.” One particularly beloved hue is oxblood. “It looks almost black when it’s turned off,” he says. “And then there’s uranium glass, which lights up from the radiation, giving off an intense green glow.” Many of the older sign-making businesses have closed their doors, and some of the best glass can be found by scouring their fire sales. “Everyone is always saying neon is dead,” he adds. “It’s not. It just goes through waves.” He’s noticed a recent surge of interest in neon among art students and members of Gen Z. “The next generation of neon artists are coming up now,” he says.

It makes sense; people like light. We’re not too different from moths in that way. We’re drawn toward the fire, the sunset, the glancing of moonlight off water. Mimicking these effects is nothing short of amazing, a term that Johansen will tolerate, even if he eschews the m-word. “It can be very creation-like,” he admits. “You do feel a little like you’re stealing the power of the gods.”

At First Blush

Mallika Malhotra long imagined having her own creative space. As a photographer, brand strategist, and mentor who works with female entrepreneurs to develop and hone their brands, Malhotra desired a place that goes beyond the typical home office. She envisioned a space where she could meet with and easily photograph clients and someday host workshops and retreats. “The studio has been a dream in the making,” says Malhotra.

Before her husband’s medical career brought them to Maine, the couple, who have three sons, lived in a part of the country where real estate is particularly pricey. Although she had a home office, she met with clients in coffee shops and hotel lobbies, and oftentimes she photographed them on the street. When her husband took a position in Portland, Malhotra’s dream became a reality. The couple purchased a shingle-style house in Falmouth Foreside with a detached, barnlike garage topped by an unfinished second story.

Malhotra approached local designer Samantha S. Pappas to create a “feminine, happy, inspiring, and uplifting” interior. “Mallika’s inspiration pictures were of clean, all-white-everything studios,” says Pappas. She studied Malhotra’s business website, mikifoto.com, so that the scheme would align with her client’s brand. The result? A pure white palette infused with blush tones and punctuated with oak, black, and brass accents. “She wanted feminine; you can’t go wrong with pink,” Pappas says. “Pale pink tones are airy and play well with white oak.”

Pappas partnered with local builder Matthew R. Cotnoir of MasterCraft Carpentry to transform the 650-square-foot raw space into a pristine, light-filled aerie. At the start, Malhotra’s husband proposed that the team tear out the framing for the ceiling to vault it, so the room is now almost 20 feet high at its peak. Malhotra deems the move “brilliant,” noting how much airier it made the space feel. “Anything we envisioned, Matt [Cotnoir] just said yes,” Pappas recalls. “It was really refreshing.”

Three evenly spaced skylights help brighten the lofty studio. “Winters are long in Maine; that natural light is medicine,” Malhotra says. Pappas notes that they also added two windows on either side of the existing window in the back of the building. “It balances the windows in the front, and brings in more light,” the designer says.

Knowing that Malhotra admired the shiplap ceiling of the great room in the main house, Pappas suggested they create one in the studio too. The treatment provides some visual connection between the structures and a hint of a classic Maine sensibility. The rectilinear white oak and stainless-steel cable stair rail reinforces Pappas’s pristine design.

To keep the shell sleek, there is no trim around the doors or the windows, or where the walls meet the wood ceiling. “Drywall wraps around and returns into the window with a corner bead,” Cotnoir says. As for the (deceptively) simple oak slab doors, the builder says that they were the most challenging part of the project. “Without trim to hide gaps or uneven edges, every door had to be cut perfectly,” he explains.

The project’s other big challenge was refinishing the stair treads, risers, and nosings to exactly match the white of the prestained engineered hardwood floorboards. “The pieces for the stair came from a different company than the flooring, and the color was way off,” the builder says.

Like the floors and (eventually) the stairs, the walls and the ceiling are a clean, crisp white— Benjamin Moore’s Chantilly Lace to be exact. “The bright white bounces light around the studio but isn’t sterile,” Malhotra says. “Samantha picked a white with warmth, but enough coolness so there is no yellow cast in my photos.”

Photography was also front of mind when it came to maximizing the floor plan. “Mallika wanted different vignettes that would serve as backdrops for her pictures,” Pappas says. Each area within the larger space—the kitchenette, the conference table, the desk, and the seating area—serves double duty in terms of everyday utility and as a photographic environment. “I can use the kitchenette for the coffee shot, the desk for the working woman shot, [and] the sofa for a shot with a laptop,” Malhotra says.

While the fresh feel of the space works well for any situation, Malhotra knew she could increase the options in her relatively small space by choosing easy-to-move furniture. “We intentionally chose portable furniture so I can create different experiences,” she says. And then there are the props, which she stores in the large closet at the top of the stairs. “I have all sorts of props to tell the stories of my clients,” Malhotra says. Among them are mugs, baskets, books, affirmation cards, champagne glasses, a magnifying glass, an old telephone, a blowhorn, confetti, and fake flowers and plants. “People can come and make it their own,” she says.

Pappas nestled the kitchenette between the capacious prop closet and narrow bedroom, which she located in a corner that would not block any front- facing windows. “It was a little tricky to lay out because we wanted as much natural light as possible in the main space,” she says. (The bath is in the corner behind the stairs because that’s where the plumbing line came up.)

Pink ceramic tiles stacked vertically, end-to-end, pull the eye back and up. Brass sconces punctuate the tableau like jewelry, while cantilevered oak shelves hold pretty glassware and color-coordinated mugs. Flat-slab oak cabinetry by Reynolds Custom Woodworks sports matte black hardware, which adds some visual weight.

Wallpaper with an abstract wash is the backdrop for the desk, an oak dining table that Pappas fitted with casters. “The casters raised it just enough to slide a file cabinet underneath,” she says. Malhotra, who was a tad nervous about the wallpaper going up so high, loves the look and appreciates its versatility. “It’s like another prop,” she says. As for that being the right wall for the desk, the homeowner admits, “I didn’t listen to Samantha at first and kept playing around with the placement; she knew it should go there all along.”

A white lacquered conference table surrounded by chairs in a whisper of blush sits off to one side of the desk, and in front of it a low-slung sofa stretches under the eaves. Malhotra lauds the upholstered lounge chair that is sometimes nearby. “It’s a great size; you can sit crisscross applesauce on it,” she says. “I move it around a lot.” A trio of jaunty teak stools with a Calicool vibe that work as stools or as tables rounds out the arrangement.

Finally, between the sofa and a wall of the bath, a faux leather chair with a molded, midcentury silhouette and a vintage walnut tripod table compose Malhotra’s headshot corner. It’s got a bit more of a masculine mood than the rest of the place, though Pappas points out that it doesn’t feel disjointed. “The camel leather is nice with the pink and ties to the hint of orange in the wallpaper.”

Malhotra still swoons over her studio, hardly believing she gets to work here every day. Pappas’s preschooler, who hung out while she set up the space, was equally enchanted. “She kept asking if this was my office,” the designer says. “I wish!”

Take to the Trees

Anne Shirley, an eleven-year-old orphan, approaches Green Gables in a carriage, her arm “black and blue” from all the times she’s pinched it to make sure she isn’t dreaming, that she really is coming home. The carriage stops under a row of poplars, their silky leaves rustling. “Listen to the trees talking in their sleep,” she whispers. “What nice dreams they must have!”

Though Anne is the fictional creation of L.M. Montgomery, what she says is true: there is a certain poetic wisdom to be found in trees. What if we, as Anne surely would have wished, could sleep among them? What if, at the end of the day, we climbed into a tree instead of walking into a house? Would we, in our rest, absorb some of the insight that their heartwood is sure to hold?

The idea of walking around in a tree, let alone sleeping in one, was a farcical idea for a city-raised kid like me. But with travel becoming more and more about the experiential, specifically when it comes to where one lays one’s head, I decided it was (pardon the pun) high time to check out some of Maine’s most unique accommodations.


SEGUIN TREE DWELLINGS

Georgetown // seguinmaine.com // Photography by Myriam Babin

The first feature to note about Seguin is the view. Located on a wooded finger of land that rises above the curving Back River tributary in Georgetown, the three minimalist dwellings, Madawaska, Isle au Haut, and Souhegan—all rentable on Airbnb—were each built with a wall of windows that offer an unobstructed lookout through the conifers. From my bed in Madawaska, I can see clusters of pines perched at the edge of the rocky shoreline, which becomes even more rugged at low tide, like the land is revealing its crooked teeth.

“We were thinking a lot about Scandinavian design,” says co-owner Marsha Dunn, “and wanting it to feel clean and simple. We didn’t put artwork inside, so the window is where your focus is.”

Marsha runs the business along with her husband Philip Francis, his brother Loren Francis, and Loren’s wife Ida Lennestål. Each of them has a concentration and a craft—Loren is a carpenter and a builder and, with a team of helpers, constructed the dwellings by hand; Ida’s a photographer who documents Seguin’s properties and teaches yoga in the newly finished “Gathering Space” (used for workshops and events and also rentable); Philip is a professor of philosophy and handles the marketing; Marsha is the designer. She conceived of the dwellings’ furnishings and decor, from the wide-planked, blonde wood floors covered in jute rugs to the space-saving cabinets of the mini-kitchens and bathrooms.

Luxury flourishes in the space, like screened-in porches containing Island Teak Company Adirondack chairs with thick woolen blankets draped over their backs. On bathroom hooks hang flannel L.L.Bean robes, ready to be used en route to the private, wood-fired cedar hot tub located on each treehouse deck. The window walls, whose wavy vintage panes were salvaged from the Plant Memorial Home in nearby Bath, open up and out, hooking to the ceiling like Bahama storm shutters, allowing breezes moving through the trees to cool the rooms on hot summer days.

The three treehouses are made up of two separate, compact spaces—one a bedroom and the other a cooking, washing, and lounging area—connected either by a platform or via rope bridge. The two-building design is not only necessary (a large oak juts dramatically through a hole cut out in the deck between Madawaska’s buildings), but it’s also genius. Despite the smallness of the spaces—which Loren tells me were determined not just by financial and spatial constraints but also by his obsession with renovating and living in vintage trailers—their separation serves to break up the already tiny rooms.

The furniture, designed by Marsha and built by Loren, is equally hyperfunctional. The king-sized beds pull apart to become two extra-large twins if preferred; the side of the headboards open to reveal a hanging closet; built-in drawers beneath the mattress pull out for extra storage. “We were thinking, how can you have a space where you can hang your clothes, for instance, and not have them up on a bunch of hooks,” says Marsha. “Often you come into a place you’re staying, and it looks relaxing, and then you put your stuff in it, and it looks chaotic right away.” In Souhegan, the largest of the dwellings, which sleeps four, the second structure can be used both as a second bedroom at night and as a larger living area during the daytime, its modular furniture easily converting into couches and a coffee table.

The structures feel as if they grew here organically, attaching themselves to the trees like fungi, but their germination began decades ago. Philip and Loren grew up on the 55-acre peninsula directly across the water from where Seguin now stands.

“It was just woods when we started thinking of buying the land,” says Marsha, referencing the Seguin property, which, after years of the Francis boys looking out at it and dreaming about its uses, finally went on the market in 2015. “First we were thinking of a hub to do creative programming and interdisciplinary conversations and retreats,” Marsha says, “and then we thought we could have some rental properties. But we wanted it all to feed us creatively in some way.”

They closed on the land on Leap Year Day, 2016, and Loren began working 80-hour weeks to get the first two treehouses ready for the summer season, constructing them in the boathouse in order to grind away through the cold. “Marsha drew these beautiful sketches of what they were going to look like,” he says, “and we posted them on Airbnb, and people started renting them. So, before I’d even finished the second one it was like, ‘Wow!’ We had a little more confidence economically.” Then, Loren and his friends drove the dwellings across the land and dropped them into place with a small crane truck. “Moving them over—they were strapped down—I was smacking trees. It was heart-pounding stuff.” Loren laughs. “The craning, oh my god, the craning and then moving them over was just unbelievably difficult. And awesome.”

Of course, after meticulous engineering and construction—and plenty of support cables—there is nothing scary about the treehouses now. But it’s still nice, if not a little other-worldly, to hear someone walk across the floor on the other side and to feel the buildings shake a bit, or settle, a reminder that you’re not on solid ground.


THE WOODS MAINE

Norway // thewoodsmaine.com // Photography by Myriam Babin

In the decade before Sam and Rob Masabny dove full-time into running The Woods Maine, a luxury treehouse rental on their 10-acre property on Pennesseewassee Lake in Norway, they were living a high-stress existence. After four years in New York City, where Sam worked in television and radio and Rob was in real estate, followed up by several years in executive positions at the software startup HubSpot in Cambridge, Massachusetts, they felt it was time to pull the plug.

“I was physically ill,” says Sam, recalling those years. “Like, something’s gotta give.”

Rob had long dreamed of buying land in Maine, so when their friends, who run Granite Ridge Estate and Barn, turned them on to Norway, they started taking the dream a little more seriously. “I had just had spinal surgery,” Sam says, “and our friends asked us, ‘When are you guys buying property here?’” She and Rob looked at listings online and found their home. “I said to Rob, as soon as the doctor clears me, I want to go look at this property. Two weeks later, we put in an offer.”

With all the extra acreage, the couple knew they wanted to build a second residence for visiting friends and family and to rent out for ancillary income. But they didn’t want it to just be a guesthouse; they wanted something different. “We used to watch Treehouse Masters all the time,” says Rob. For kicks, he and Sam started running the numbers: would it be any more expensive to build a treehouse on their property than a regular guesthouse? Then they reached out to Pete Nelson of Nelson Treehouse and Supply—the star of the Animal Planet show and the visionary behind some of the world’s most magical dwellings in the sky.

“I thought it would take a couple of weeks to hear back,” says Sam, “but two hours later we got an email. Two weeks later we were on the phone with the Nelson family. And about two weeks after that Pete flew out from Seattle.” The group hit it off immediately. Nelson looked for the ideal spot on the property—“touching all of the trees, doing his voodoo magic,” as Sam describes it—then returned to Washington state and sent sketches and a budget back to Sam and Rob in Massachusetts, where they were still living and working fulltime. As is typical, the estimate was much bigger than Sam had anticipated. “We thought it was a unique opportunity to build something incredible. We didn’t want to fall in the middle when we built it. We wanted to create a fully functional home in the trees. So we just went for it.”

And that’s exactly what The Woods Maine feels like: a rustic yet refined two-bedroom, two-bathroom tree home, fully stocked with all the accoutrements of life. (But as compared with my life, even better stocked.) The kitchen comes equipped with a stylish SMEG fridge and coffee maker, a Bertazzoni oven, a full set of WÜSTHOF knives, a MacKenzie-Childs teapot, and—well, the list goes on. Feel like an espresso? Brew some Nespresso. Celebrating someone’s birthday? There’s a hand mixer and birthday candles in the cabinet. “I want people to go in and feel like they’re on vacation, but like they’re very much at home,” says Sam. There are puzzles and board games galore, a flat-screen setup with several streaming services, a gas fireplace, and a heat pump system that, even in the depths of winter, makes the entire place warm and snug.

Most of the treehouse was precut in Washington state. Then Nelson and his team trucked 83 tons of lumber across the country. “At the time, the roads were still posted up here,” says Sam, “so we had to make the call to send the truck or not with the hopes that they would be unposted before they arrived.” Thankfully, the ground thawed in time, and the final build began.

After the treehouse went up, Sam and Rob decided to leave their company in Massachusetts and dive headfirst into crafting a life in Maine. “Part of my job had been helping other businesses grow their business,” explains Sam. “I thought, am I going to stick with a day job, and the treehouse will just be a side hustle? No, I know I can do it. I want to take exactly what I know and apply it to our own business.”

Much of the guest experience at The Woods lies in the details and the design. The deck and staircase railings, custom cut from tree branches, are particularly striking, with bits of still-live moss clinging to the bark. Both inside and out, one can see the craftsmanship in every corner, from the sliding barn door in the bunk room to the handcrafted coat and boot storage in the entryway to the built-in banquette. For the interiors, Sam worked directly with Christina Salway, a New York– and Maine-based interior designer who collaborated with Nelson on his show for two-and-a-half years and continues to consult on his treehouse projects off-camera. Typically, Salway is brought in at the very end of the Nelson builds, but Sam reached out to her during the sketch phase. “I wanted to work very closely with her on the vision I had,” she says.

“Sam is a real powerhouse,” says Salway. “She knows exactly what she wants and has a really terrific sensibility. It’s easy to lean ‘lodge,’ kind of ‘rustic cabin’ when you’re in a treehouse. Sam had a clear vision that she wanted it to be cozy and magical but didn’t want to lose sight of it also being a luxurious, opulent experience.” Much of this is accomplished with the kitchen: how it’s laid out, the appliances, the overall functionality. “You can turn out a real meal in there,” says Salway.

Salway describes her and Sam as being “aesthetic soulmates,” evidenced in their choice of lighting over the banquette area and the island. “They’re the same pendant lights I put in my husband’s restaurant in New York,” says Salway. “When we started talking, I was like, ‘Oh girl, I know the light for you.’ It’s elegant, but it also has a little bit of an antiqued quality, so it feels timeless and classic.” The navy blues throughout the home and the blue of the buffalo plaids were first inspired by the splash of indigo tiles that Sam had laid into the floor just inside the doorway, which catches mud and dirt from shoes before guests slip into the provided slippers. And while the all-wood interior has the same fir flooring and pine paneling characteristic of Nelson’s work, Sam and Salway made a point to whitewash much of the wood to add a little nuance to the aesthetic and to keep it from looking, in Salway’s words, “like a cabin box.”

Plenty of local goodies greet you upon arrival, like Time and Tide coffee from Biddeford and Ragged Coast Chocolates from Westbrook. And there are several unexpected items for use, like Seabags and ChappyWrap blankets from The Woods Maine Shop, which Sam first started online and now also runs as a beautifully curated and browsable storefront on Norway’s Main Street. A portion of the apparel and bag sales go to supporting the Western Foothills Land Trust, including such gems as the nearby Roberts Farm Preserve, which not only maintains 12 kilometers of accessible, non-motorized, multiuse Nordic trails overlooking Norway Lake, but also offers use of cross-country skis and snowshoes in every size free of charge.

“A lot of the Maine brands are coastline; that’s what people think of when they think of Maine,” says Sam. “But for us, there’s this whole other world, and we’ve always said we’re not in the business of marketing The Woods Maine. We’re in the business of marketing our town and our community, and we just happen to be a destination along the way.”


PURPOSELY LOST

Sanford // purposelylost.com // Photography by Mike Iannetta

Peter Valcourt and his business partner, Bryce Avallone, had been completing condo conversions in Portland since 2014, but when prices started to skyrocket they decided to invest in something a little farther afield—and a little more in line with their personal interests. “We’re both outdoorspeople,” says Valcourt. The two’s business trips often include hiking and even trying to shoot an elk together. “We canoe; Bryce is a whitewater guide with an environmental background. We decided to start looking for some land.”

Of course, reasonable land prices in southern Maine weren’t easy to find either. “It didn’t exist,” Valcourt clarifies. But then, a friend who is a surveyor in the Sanford area put Valcourt onto Littlefield Pond, which, unlike most bodies of water in southern Maine, had no houses on it and was surrounded by mature pines that hadn’t been cut over. Valcourt did his research and found that a lawyer in the town owned 15 untouched acres on the pond. “When I first approached him to see if he’d be interested in selling, the answer was no,” says Valcourt. “And then,” he laughs, “I semi-stalked him. A little bit. I was very persistent.”

Valcourt’s tenacity paid off, and soon he and Avallone had acreage to play with. They decided to create a subdivision of f ive lots in which they’d build three treehouses and two hobbit homes. “We both watched Treehouse Masters on TV,” says Valcourt, “and noticed a pretty big trend in doing these kinds of unique stays.”

Because subdivisions require extra licensing rigamarole and, due to the property’s proximity to water, additional approval from the Department of Environmental Protection, they decided to start with one treehouse to make sure the demand was there. “That was 2019, and we were finished in the spring,” says Valcourt. “It was super successful. It was way more expensive than we wanted, but I keep saying it will pay itself back.” In September of 2020 the approval for the final two treehouses came through, and construction began again. “Going into wintertime, during COVID, with the highest prices for lumber, of course,” Valcourt says.

For engineering, Valcourt and Avallone worked with Bild Architecture in Portland. “The idea was, we would have one base with the same legs and floor for each treehouse, and then we could play with what’s sitting on that base,” says Valcourt. The Canopy Treehouse, with its gabled roofline, is the most compact at 350 square feet, and contains a sleeping loft and an attached sleeping pod. The Cliff House has a rustic barn look and features a screened porch with a daybed and outdoor dining. The Sky-Frame is a modern take on the classic A-frame, with a much higher pitch. “We wanted to do some contrast with color, so we went with a black roof and bright red cedar shakes,” says Valcourt.

Sky-Frame is the largest of the three treehouses, with two queen bedrooms and a shared full bath. From the loft, you can lie looking up through the skylight at the tops of trees swaying in the wind and, at night, stars lit up behind the branches. During the day, large triangular windows overlook mature pines, maples, and oaks, and in wintertime, the frozen trout pond 200 feet away.

Each rental includes modern amenities like fully stocked kitchens, thermostat-controlled heating, and screen projectors for streaming, plus extras like outdoor barbecue grills, fire pits with quality patio chairs, and even electric hot tubs that connect to Bluetooth for tunes and that are set in prime stargazing territory. Valcourt and Avallone had private docks built for each dwelling (soon to be five, as the hobbit homes are in the process of being buried during this writing) just a 30-second walk down a meandering path through the trees. Each dock comes with a canoe, fishing poles, and inner tubes for lakefront paddling and lounging. “The pond’s blocked off, so there are no motorboats, making it very chill,” says Valcourt. “And the water’s as clear as can be, with awesome swimming in the summertime.”

The most unique thing about Purposely Lost is that the entire property is carbon neutral. The partners invested in 200 solar panels and placed them in a field almost to Bangor, feeding the grid and generating enough power to offset electrical expenses. Every decision, from the energy-efficient heat pumps to the ultra-insulated walls and f loors, came from a place of eco-consciousness. Putting their money where their mouths are, there are even electric vehicle chargers in each of the wooded lots.

Do the owners ever stay there themselves? “We try to,” says Valcourt. “If we have vacancies during the week, we’ll take turns. And sometimes, we just go out and use the hot tub and have a drink and then go back into town, because we’re only 40 minutes away.”

First Light

Sometimes, an entire home hinges on one focal point: a bay window, a dramatic staircase, a complicated bit of masonry. In this case, it’s a painting. Greg and Tracey Tuthill were at Maine Art Hill in Kennebunk when they saw a canvas that struck exactly the right chord. Like many of Craig Mooney’s works, it’s a dramatic scene: a seascape with frothy clouds, the Atlantic dark and vast. “It reminds me of being on top of Cadillac Mountain at dawn,” says Tracey. “But really it could be anywhere in Maine, and I love that. I didn’t want the house to be filled with seashells. I wanted it to reflect different seasons and different parts of Maine.”

The large canvas became a jumping-off point for the interior design of the Tuthill’s new coastal cottage near Goose Rocks Beach. Although the couple had been coming to Maine for over 20 years, this renovation represented a new chapter for them. “The old house had its charms,” says Tracey, “but we wanted to have something that was less of a beach house and more of a house-house.” They wanted to create a home that would be sturdy yet airy. They wanted to be able to visit in winter and kindle a fire (which meant they needed some fireplaces, plus new spray-foam insulation and windows). Tracey wanted to reflect a bit of their shared history with the state, and Greg, a sailor, wanted to see some nods to his nautical life. And they really wanted a bathroom upstairs.

Designed by architectural designer Erik Peterson and built by Creative Coast Construction, the compact house fits a lot into its 1,400 square feet. There are three bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a living area, kitchen, and a bump-out dining room with huge windows that go down to the floor. “It’s so nice not to have to eat in the kitchen,” says Tracey. “That area used to be a deck, so turning it into a dining room gave us this yummy extra space.” Peterson adds that it is “essentially a glass room” that lets light pour into the blue and gray living space.

Light, he explains, was key to the overall success of the project. Usually, when we call a room “airy,” we’re talking about several qualities, the most important of which is size. But small spaces can feel open, bright, and free—if they’re designed properly. Although the cottage was always going to face the woods, there were ways to maximize indirect natural light. On the north side of the house, Peterson added cottage-style stacked windows to illuminate the staircase, and he kept the overall floor plan fairly open. When you walk in, you’re welcomed into the living area, which flows into the kitchen and turns toward the dining room. Tucked at the back of the house are the rooms for the Tuthill’s two grown children. “There’s a public zone and a private zone on the first floor, and it doesn’t cross over,” Peterson explains. “I think the house ended up zoned really well.”

While they were able to free up space by tearing out the centralized spiral staircase and replacing it with a more traditional setup, there still wasn’t a lot of wiggle room for builder Jonathan Trudo and his team. Not only did every board have to fit just so, but they also needed to plan ahead to ensure everyone’s safety. “With a house that size, you’re confined. You can’t take a board, put it on a saw, and swing it around without wiping someone out,” he says. “They take just as long as big houses because you have to do a lot of the work outside and then run back inside.” Plus, he adds, much of the construction was done during a pandemic. “It’s a hard thing to try and coordinate, to keep everyone not overlapping too much,” Trudo recalls. “Somehow I managed to do that over there even with COVID. That was interesting, now that I think about it. Not top of my fun list.”

However, Trudo did enjoy working with the architectural detailing Louise Hurlbutt added to the mix. After the Tuthills had Peterson draw up plans, they contacted Hurlbutt, whose signature style they knew well. “In the dining room, I added some old-world charm with the nickel-gap,” Hurlbutt explains. “It’s an old-world cottage, and to achieve that, we had to fine-tune some things,” like making sure the railing on the stairway matched the engineered floors. Trudeau calls this nitty-gritty stuff “the most fun part” of the project. He says, “I like doing that kind of detailed work. Upstairs, you have all those interesting angles with the roof to work with, which means a lot of problem-solving.” Hurlbutt also selected shutters (to add a layer of privacy to those big windows) and picked out the gray-toned floors. “In a house so close to the water, it’s a really good idea to have engineered flooring,” she says. Hard-wearing sisal rugs in the living room add a bit of visual texture to the mix while adding another dose of classic nautical style.

Overall, the idea was to create a space that would be cohesive and cheerful without feeling overly beachy or kitschy. For Hurlbutt and the Tuthills, color was key. “When you have a house this open, it’s so important that everything works together,” Hurlbutt says. After seeing the Mooney painting they had selected for the place of honor in the living room— “one of the few places that can accommodate a bigger work in that house,” adds Hurlbutt—she put together a palette of oceanic blues and grays, with the occasional splash of dreamy aqua. “We selected the countertops and tiles first,” Hurlbutt says, “then came the paint and textiles.” In the kitchen, she chose a Blue River granite with a leathered finish and, using colors found naturally in the stone, she selected a handmade porcelain tile in slate blue. “Leathered granite is good because it doesn’t scratch, and in this case, it looked just like the rocks at the beach. We were excited to see that,” Hurlbutt says. In the bathrooms, she chose slightly more dramatic tiles, installing two abstract marine mosaics, one upstairs, one down. “The one in our bathroom upstairs looks like a wave,” enthuses Tracey. “I love to see it. The blues are all so beautiful.”

While there aren’t many places to hang art, Hurlbutt did find ways to add interest to the refined design: an oar placed over a bed here, a couple of medium-size coral prints there, and a whole lot of plush, soft textiles. In the owners’ suite, there’s a striking pair of blue and white Kashmir delft pillows from Raoul Textiles in California. “My daughter helped pick those out,” says Tracey. “She’s very visual, and she knew right away those would look amazing with the rug Louise chose.” Throughout the cottage, Hurlbutt and her clients layered various patterns, from stripes to ikat to paisley, all in the same color scheme. The overall effect is calming and welcoming. More dreamy than beachy, like walking into a cloud.

Finally, to light the family’s revamped getaway, Hurlbutt selected three large chandeliers from Visual Comfort. In the dining room, there’s a classic candelabra shape with a bit of curly modern flair. The living room has an undulating metal f ixture that reminds one of a whirlpool—another nod to the water nearby. And above the stairs hangs a many-pointed large Moravian star. “I love that stairwell,” says Tracey. “It’s so beautiful. It’s so light. The entire house is so cheerful now.” Now, instead of simply spending summers by Goose Rocks, the family is coming up more often. “We were just up in the winter, and there was something about the quietness,” says Tracey. “It’s just comfortable.”

Her Space

What kid hasn’t been occasionally booted out of their room onto a La-Z-boy in the den to accommodate their parents’ overnight guests? It’s a small childhood indignity, but one we usually accept with a roll of the eyes and a shrug. For Jessica McKeon, however, this situation felt more like the norm than an infrequent inconvenience. “I never had a room of my own, and it was never just us,” she says. “Since my sister and I had the nicest room, we’d be kicked out regularly to sleep on a sofa somewhere.”

McKeon grew up in a converted Maryland barn with four siblings and parents who were active in their church community. Her mom and dad often foster-parented juvenile boys and, since they also functioned as counselors for their congregation, took in church members who were going through marital or familial difficulties. They also rescued animals. If a duck abandoned her eggs, McKeon’s parents would bring them home and hatch them in the fireplace.

So, when she and her husband, Paul, went looking for an oceanside escape from their busy life in Portsmouth, McKeon says, “I had been dreaming of a space of my own.” They looked up the coast but decided they would use their retreat less if it were farther away. When she happened upon a listing for a cottage on Pepperrell Cove, just ten minutes from their condominium across the bridge in New Hampshire, she was intrigued.

The cottage had been built in the 1890s and sat right on the harbor, but that was not the main attraction. It came with what at one time was a lobster shack built on stilts right over the water. The structure had gone through many renovations since then, at one time serving as a boathouse, but was then being used as a utility shed and workshop. “The moment I saw the listing I wondered if this might be the private room I dreamed of,” remembers McKeon. “Seeing it in person confirmed it for me.”

“My husband said I could put a foldout couch in it,” she continues. “But I didn’t want it used for a bunkhouse or a guest room. I shared a room with my sister. I had my first daughter at 21. Once you get married and have kids, you share everything.” A room of her own was so important, in fact, that rather than tackling the main house first, the couple began by renovating the tiny 300-square-foot outbuilding into a “she shed,” as McKeon calls it. (It’s also referred to as “Jessie’s BoHo,” short for “boathouse.”)

The couple met with their architect, Brendan McNamara, and designer Diane Hart to sketch out a plan. “Brendan was skeptical about the mold, moisture, and mildew,” recalls Hart. “So I came up with doing all-wood walls and ceiling, treating it like a boat, but not in an obvious Maine-themed way.”

McNamara also points out the challenge of the miniscule proportions. Because it dates to at least World War II by his estimation, many grandfathered aspects—not least its position right on the water—would be lost. “We couldn’t expand the volume or make substantial changes in its appearance,” he says. “So, you have to make the most of the interior. That was when we decided to cathedralize the ceiling,” to give the space a sense of height and openness. This required a tie rod system to hold the walls together under the weight of the new ceiling.

The existing bathroom was “pretty terrible,” McNamara recalls, so it was reconfigured. The shack had a utility sink that was also moved, becoming the sink in a new entertaining bar. “We changed the windows to maximize the view,” he explains, adding larger spans to the east toward the sunrise and a full wall of accordion doors out to the deck and dock. There was a public dock to the west, so, says McNamara, “those windows are higher to maintain privacy.”

All this, points out builder Bill Brown, required measures “to get it stabilized so it would hold up for another 50 years. We needed engineered lumber beams, especially over the doors to the deck because that opening was 12 feet long.”

Inside, Brown stripped all the quarter-inch paneling and replaced it with Hart’s choice of hickory wood. “I wanted to balance the boathouse idea with Jessica’s personality,” explains Hart. “From the moment I met her I was mesmerized by her elegance, poise, and grace. She reminded me of an English royal.”

To address that side of the aesthetic scale, Hart punctuated the room with glamorous lighting. Though not obvious from the gold finishes, the lighting actually relates to the nautical theme. The chandelier over the sitting area reminded Hart of an osprey’s nest, while the pendant over the bar is shaped like a boat. Had this subtle relation not been there, this level of sparkle and elegance might have looked out of place.

As it is, they feel in harmony with the natural materials. “We wanted to keep it pretty organic,” says Hart. “It’s all natural materials, like the hickory and tile floor, which are made of tumbled limestone in a worn-looking Moroccan pattern so it feels like it has been here for a long time.”

McKeon planned to use it as a place to sit and contemplate, where she could read and write poetry. “I can’t be distracted,” she says of her writing. “It has to come from someplace deep inside you, and you need to be quiet and still.” But she also hosts gatherings for her girlfriends in the she shed. Both of these necessitated a lot of function be built into the space.

Books—about art, poetry, literature (particularly German literature, which McKeon studied in college)—are obviously an important presence in her life. The solution? Below the west-facing windows is a wall-to-wall bookcase. On the opposite wall, carpenter Jamie Gowing designed and built a collapsible table where McKeon can peruse books, look out at the water, and when the spirit moves, write.

For entertaining, open shelving by the bar holds glassware, and parallel countertops of a stunningly figured Michelangelo marble offer prep surfaces for snacks and hors d’oeuvres (beneath one counter are refrigerated beverage drawers).

It’s quite a transformation. From the water, it looks like many of the cedar shingle-clad lobster shacks and boathouses dotting the cove. The only hint of its role as a place to nurture female energies is a sculpture of an apple on the deck. There are also apples inside —an allusion, McKeon observes mischievously, to Eve and the Garden of Eden.

“I’m trying to be more deliberate about how I spend my time,” says McKeon, who got a “wake-up call” nine years ago when she required open-heart surgery. “It’s a gift for me, this space. It’s so hard to listen in your ordinary routine. I come here to listen—to the ducks, the water, the trees, and to what’s going on in myself.”

Float On

“In 2006 I started a nonprofit boatbuilding program, Islesford Boatworks, with my two siblings on Little Cranberry Island, where our family owns property and where we summered every year growing up. This summer will be our sixteenth year, and while I’ve stepped back from being an instructor, the program is still going, and the 1850s building we renovated for it has been a constant source of inspiration. I spearheaded a lot of the physical improvements. The lighting fixtures I now sell via my lighting studio in Los Angeles were directly inspired by wanting to create lighting for that building—classic shop lamps.

“And then the pandemic happened, and it changed our whole orientation to what Maine was. We decided, if we’re going to be working remotely, why not be where we want to be? We came back to the island the summer of 2020 and started talking about fulfilling a longtime family desire: wouldn’t it be amazing to have a floating sauna?

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was when my sister found us a sauna stove that had been welded in 1979 and never used. We set out to salvage as many materials from the community as we possibly could— islands have a history of not really getting rid of stuff— and from the last week in June through Labor Day, we worked on nights and weekends, slowly building this structure that became the sea sauna. It was inspired by the old trap float houses you see scattered around the island. We made a simple timber frame of local spruce that had been cut and stored for years below my barn, and then sided the whole thing with cedar shingles. The shingle increments dictated the height of the door, the size and locations of windows, the pitch of the roof. Maybe it’s not the best physical insulation, but you’re talking about a 6- by 8-foot space with a giant stove. You can get that thing plenty hot.

“We suspended it on exactly half of this old 6-by-16 finger float, with the other half being a deck for landing the boat and sitting when you’re cooling down. I definitely had nightmares before the launch that the whole thing would sink. But I guess I had built enough boats by that point that I had some basic theories of hydrology and balance.

“We eventually got it launched in September and used it for a glorious month and a half that first summer before we came home to Los Angeles. But we went back last summer for almost three months, and now the sauna is part of our lives. Maine is a big call for me. It’s what I think about most of the time when I’m in Los Angeles. I don’t think about Los Angeles quite so much when I’m in Maine.”

—Brendan Ravenhill, founder of Ravenhill Studio

White Out

Legendary decorator Elsie de Wolfe once said, “I believe in plenty of optimism and white paint,” which aptly sums up the age-old approach to Maine summerhouse decorating. However, harnessing the full power of the color white is more complex than just slapping white paint on the walls (although that can still do wonders for a run-down room!). When it comes to decor, whole books have been written about the color white, and we could easily fill an issue with the many whitewashed Maine homes we feature each year. This milky hue is a natural color for interiors in Maine, where it is found in seafoam, beach pebbles, birch bark, and of course winter’s blanket of snow. White is a perfectly pure backdrop for almost any style of home, from a historic farmhouse to a cutting-edge cabin, and it marries well with every color you can think of.

Notoriously beloved for making a small room feel more spacious, we felt white was the perfect color to feature in our annual Small Spaces issue. “White can make a room seem more expansive visually,” says designer Tricia Foley, the author of A Summer Place: Living by the Sea (Rizzoli, 2021), but more important, she says, “it cleanses the palate.”

White is also a color for all seasons. “Even in the darkest days of winter, a white room will feel warm and bright. During the summer, a white room will feel light, fresh, and cool,” says Jocelyn Dickson, an architect based in Cape Elizabeth. While white is versatile, making an all-white or primarily white interior sing takes skill. We spoke to Foley, Dickson, and other design experts about how to use white effectively and create visual interest and delight in all-white interiors. Here are their tips.

Make it modern with white.
“I love everything painted white for a true transformation,” says interior designer Linda Banks, the founder of Simply Home in Falmouth. “I find resistance from clients when we propose this, but when they trust us, I have never met a disappointed client after the painting is complete,” says Banks, who notes that one of her favorite uses for white is to update a tired staircase.

True whites feel fresh.
“Lately, I am over the yellow-toned shades of white—think melted vanilla ice cream versus a marshmallow,” says Banks, who once favored Benjamin Moore’s perennially best-selling White Dove. Instead, Banks has switched to the brand’s popular crisp white, Decorator’s White, and an under-the-radar hue known simply as White, which Banks describes as “perfect in every way.” Grant K. Gibson, an interior designer based in Castine, agrees that a true white, especially in a matte emulsion, feels of-the-moment: “I used Sherwin- Williams Extra White for my entire house interior. I love the chalky finish.”

Consider just one white.
Gibson suggests picking one white color and painting the entire house with it. “Some people use a different white for the ceiling, but I paint it the same hue as the walls,” he says. Gibson likes the continuity and how a single color changes slightly from room to room depending on how much natural light a space has.

Creamy whites are ideal for historic homes.
Both Foley and Renée Bissonnette, a project interior designer at Maine’s Knickerbocker Group with offices in Portland and Boothbay, like warm white for historic homes. “So many of our older homes have quaint low ceilings that can feel very close if the rooms are dark in color,” says Bissonnette. “Using an off-white as your white gives you the opportunity to shift your palette to something a bit warmer.”

When in doubt, paint it white.
Furniture takes on a New England charm when painted white, says Foley. “If you find something at a yard sale that has a great shape, give it a coat of white paint,” she says. Plus, she notes, it is easy to maintain because you can always repaint the piece white. Dickson adds that “natural materials painted white will add texture, warmth, and subtle natural imperfections” to an interior.

Try contrasting trim.
If you want to play up the architecture of a white-walled room, Bates suggests painting the woodwork in pale blue, gray, or beige. “When [colored trim is] paired with crisp white walls, the architecture is highlighted by the contrast, and it sings in a happy way,” she says.

Let your collections shine.
There’s a reason so many art galleries are painted white: the color lets artwork take center stage. It’s also a perfect backdrop for character-filled furnishings and treasured collections. “There’s nothing like a pure white wall to show off a mélange of modern artwork paired with colorful upholstery accents,” says Banks.

Wake up a bleached palette with texture.
Visual interest can be created in an all-white room through texture, says Elena Duralde, senior interior designer at Knickerbocker Group. “Focus on infusing the space with a variety of different materials. A soft white linen pillow feels one-of-a-kind when juxtaposed against a chunky woven sofa. A high-gloss cabinet pops off a wall adorned in white grasscloth wallcovering. These textures prevent the space from feeling bland.”

Skip white in your coziest corners.
White can be used in almost any room, but Banks cautions against using it on the walls where you crave comfort. “I wouldn’t select white walls when the goal is to create a cozy space—for example, a home theater, a comfy little den, or an intimate dining room,” she says.

An all-white kitchen is timeless.
Decorators and homeowners alike love painted white kitchen cabinets. If you’re designing a kitchen from scratch, Banks recommends selecting a slightly contrasting white or neutral for the walls, ensuring that the interior architecture of the cabinetry stands out. “If the cabinets will be painted a color, then my go-to is definitely pure white walls,” says Banks.

Don’t skip the sampling.
It can be tempting to just plow ahead with painting a room white because it’s only white after all, right? Wrong. Our experts caution that getting the perfect white is tricky, and your light conditions will determine what looks best. “Consider your exposure to natural light: north, east, south, west,” says Dickson. “Different exposures will make the same paint color look wildly different.” Also, consider the other whites in the room and how those will affect your perception of the wall paint. A white can completely transform when set directly next to another white hue, she cautions.

The Whitest White

Artists have been searching for pure white paints for hundreds of years. The earliest white paints were made from lime, calcite, or gypsum. In the seventeenth century Rembrandt and other artists made whites appear brighter by mixing crushed glass into lead white pigments. (Lead white was used for centuries for its high opacity and brilliance, but in the twentieth century its toxicity was discovered.) In the nineteenth century, an alternative to lead white emerged in zinc white; later, in the 1920s, titanium white made from titanium dioxide became artists’ go-to white paint. More recently a team of scientists at Purdue University in Indiana developed the whitest white paint ever created (it’s even in Guinness World Records!). However, these scientists were not working at the behest of artists or interior designers in seeking the perfect white; rather, they were looking for a way to combat global warming. When painted on a rooftop, the new white paint, dubbed “ultra white,” reflects the sun, creating a cooling power of 10 kilowatts, an astonishing feat that could reduce or eliminate the need for air-conditioning in many places. The Purdue team is working with a commercial paint manufacturer to bring the paint to market, so stay tuned!

We think of white as “light,” and most scientists once believed that white was the fundamental color of light. However, Isaac Newton discovered that light could be broken up into its composite colors (i.e., the rainbow) by passing it through a prism, then reassembled using a second prism.

Stay in touch!

Join our email list to stay updated on all things Maine; food & drink, events & festivals, home & garden and much more!

X