Magazine

Higher Ed

Harriman is currently working with Portland Public Schools on four renovation projects that are part of the “Building for our Future” (BFOF) program. BFOF is an initiative to renovate four of Portland’s oldest elementary schools: Lyseth Elementary School, Longfellow Elementary School, Presumpscot Elementary School, and Reiche Elementary School. Targeted improvements will address twenty-first-century learning values, safety and security, and greater equity in Portland’s schools.

The design process took place as the pandemic took hold. To ensure an open, interactive, and inclusive process with the school and neighborhood, the architects used virtual technologies to facilitate meetings. These tools allowed them to engage with the project’s diverse group of contributors by creating multiple virtual “rooms” in which sessions were held in a range of languages. This level of communication was essential both to ensure they were responding to the needs of stakeholders and to help keep the broader community informed as the project planning progressed.

The Presumpscot School project illustrated here includes a new addition that adds much-needed cafeteria and classroom spaces. Transformative renovations also include a sweeping new entry canopy that provides a welcoming and uplifting point of entry.

Location: Portland
Architect: Harriman
Design Team: Mark D. Lee, AIA, LEED AP and Lisa D. Sawin, AIA, LEED AP
Builder: Great Falls Construction
Construction Start: July 2021
Construction Completion: August 2022

Keeping it Simple at Swans Island Company

At Swans Island Company we keep it simple: fleece from sheep, hands in the dye pot, hands on the loom, hands guiding needle and thread. In fact, it’s hard to do simple. Simple is an unwavering commitment to high-quality natural fibers, to dedicated Swans Island artisans, to modern heirlooms for home and body that look great and last forever. We embrace the simple act of making the highest quality goods, which we’ve done here in the U.S. for 30 years and counting.

We are makers at heart

Many of our products are made on the coast of Maine in our studio/workshop. We weave on handlooms. We hand dye colors in small batches. We transform the finest natural materials into something exquisite.

Farm to finish

Many of our fibers are sourced from family-owned U.S. farms. We spin our yarns at artisan run mills. We partner with other small makers to create sustainable, transparently sourced products that our customers feel good about supporting.

Our passion for product

We make exquisite bed blankets, throw blankets, baby blankets, and pillows for your home. We make soft subtle items to wrap your body in. We make bags to carry your things in, and we make yarn for you to make all of this yourself, if you want.

A commitment to sustainability

Many of our “extras” are up-cycled into new products. Scraps from the loom become sachets. Excess woven material transforms into a Boho Bag. When you are a maker, every piece of material has a potential afterlife.

Our story

We were born on Swans Island, Maine, in the Acadia Park region 30 years ago. Inspired by a few blankets that had been in the family for generations, we sought to replicate their craftsmanship, authenticity, and durability. We continue to apply that same approach to every product that carries the Swans Island name.

New inspiration

Swans Island now offers linen bedding and duvets. U.S.-made from French linen, we offer sheets, cases, shams, duvet covers, and wool duvets. If you have never slept with linen, do so and sleep better. If you do sleep under linen, observe the soft comfort and quality of Swans Island linen and duvets.

 

Work-Life Balance

“The workspace should feel like a home away from home where employees can be their best, most productive selves.”

MH+D ASKS BALLARD TO TELL US MORE.

Q. Tell us about the “resimercial” approach you took in your design of Knickerbocker Group’s Portland offices at 82 Hanover Street.

A. Resimercial is a design style that brings the coziness of home into an office environment. On this project, I didn’t want to be limited to commercial office furniture. I wanted to give our clients an up-close chance to see the furniture, lighting, and other design elements that we use in our residential projects. The right selections perform just as well in a commercial environment. We spec pieces that withstand salt water, pets, and red wine, so they can also hold up to a work meeting! We wanted the staff to feel at home: to be able to grab a cup of coffee from a beautiful, functional kitchen, catch up with a colleague in the lounge area, and feel the sun shining on their face as they sit at their desk. What we didn’t want was a sterile office environment but to create a sense of ease in an organized environment that would foster focus and creativity.

Q. What sparked your interest in resimercial design?

A. I worked in commercial interior design for ten years mostly designing office environments. I worked with several clients who were just beginning to explore the concept of resimercial design before it actually had a title. I did break rooms with colorful lounge furniture and bars for Bank of America and helped design tents for quiet focus time, “teacups” (based on the theme park ride) that would seat two to three people for a brief meeting, and airplane cubbies that were meant to be functional workspaces for Google. Transitioning into residential design allowed me to see a softer, more casual side of design.

Q. How is this approach particularly relevant now, as many navigate a return from remote work into in-person?

A. If employees are taking a call at home on their sofa, why shouldn’t they be able to do that in the office? We provided areas of comfort and different types of environments where employees can take a break from their desk or computer screen. Working in a space where we want to spend time increases employee satisfaction. Making the office a fun place to work has the added benefit of employees becoming more engaged.

Q. What design elements are included in the office to accommodate work during the pandemic as well as remote or hybrid employees?

A. We created a variety of spaces, from large sun-filled conference rooms where employees can spread out during a meeting to cozy corners where an employee can take a private call, and there are also touchdown areas for those who need to pop into the office just for the day—those who might usually work out of our Boothbay campus. The conference rooms are set up with large screens for video chats, there are touchless surfaces such as the soap dispensers, and desk heights are adjustable at the touch of a button, which is great for those who are desk sharing. There’s also a roof deck where employees can have a casual lunch meeting or take a movement break, or we can host an event—all outdoors, even though we’re in a city environment.

Q. What are some elements that you would find in a resimercial workspace?

A. Durable but comfortable upholstery, soft lighting using incandescent bulbs, and a variety of materials and patterns that are reminiscent of those you might have at home. Different types of spaces that are available to all employees, places to meet with a large or small group but also areas to retreat to for focus time. Homey elements like a gallery wall of fun product photographs and images can reflect a company’s philosophies or highlight the employees. A variety of plants in different types of planters add interest and reflect the collection you might also have at home, as well as plenty of natural daylight, and well-organized spaces that inspire creativity.

Q. How have you applied these design concepts at the COVE by Knickerbocker Group space?

A. Both of our two interior design studios, the one in Portland and in Boothbay, hold a different function than the office, but the concept of collaboration and motivating work environments still holds true. The studios were developed to be a blank slate to showcase our furnishings, accessories, cabinetry, and COVE Homes designs and interior packages and to also serve as our interior samples library. It’s a multifunctional place for client and vendor meetings and internal collaboration zones. The furniture displays are meant to be used—I’ll often see employees sitting on the sofas, having a meeting there! Or recently, we had an author sign books at a game table. The spaces are designed to be flexible. For example, they’re in a neutral palette, and we designed layout tables that are intended to hold samples now, but could hold drawings or files in the future. The space can easily change out its function—whether it’s something short-term for an event or longer term, as the company’s needs shift over time.

Cosmic Cookery

 

“I got a call from the client at her husband’s suggestion. She had been trying to design her kitchen renovation on her own, and then realized all the sequencing that comes with kitchens. She’s done some other work around her house, but this was kind of next level. She’d already talked to a friend of hers who is an architect and who had done some schematic drawings of the space. She had also spoken to a couple of different cabinet producers who have in-house people who lay out cabinets. So she had some things to show me, but none of it felt like it was coming together for her. When I came in, it was easy to see that she was on the right track and we could start making decisions.

“Because this couple has so much space—a formal dining room, an informal breakfast nook, and then another eating space in front of the fireplace (not shown)—it was easy to say, ‘Your husband loves to make cocktails? Great, let’s make a cocktail area!’ We’ve also added a pantry area and three sinks: one for dirty dishes coming out of the formal dining room when they use it, one for filling pots right across from the stove, and then the cocktail sink. In some ways it’s easier when you have that much space, but on the other hand that’s what I think overwhelmed them, figuring out what to do with it.

“The client was inspired by the new ‘moody’ kitchen movement. You can really find precedents online for those darker colors, as well as in restaurants and bars. My advice on color choice is to sample, sample, sample. Get it in the space, let the light reflect on it, and you’ll get the sense of whether or not it’s the right thing.

“The scope of the project included new Jeld-Wen sliders from Pinnacle Window Solutions. You can imagine in the summer having people out on the deck—the second countertop is right in front of the sliders, so you can open them up and set your food there, transitioning from inside to outside really easily, keeping the bugs off the food, that kind of thing.

“We also worked with Katie Capozza at Old Port Specialty Tile and got the last of these beautiful tiles. We did the installation ourselves to make sure it was perfect. The custom cabinetry is by the People’s Kitchen, the countertops are by Devine Marble and Granite, and the custom metal rails (not shown) are by Cumberland Ironworks. The custom woodwork is by Saco Manufacturing and Woodworking, and the floor finishing is by Casco Bay Hardwood Flooring. All of the design and carpentry, including tile installation, was performed by us at Hay Runner.

“It’s a total win when clients are as aligned as these clients were. Out of the gate they had identified a reasonable budget, a feasible timeline, and a defined scope. The most predictable way to have a positive experience is to have a realistic timeline, scope, and budget, and an alignment between the decision makers.”

—Shannon Richards, founder of Hay Runner

Fade to Gray

When it comes to decor, gray is a complex color. Get it right, and it can create an enchanting environment. Get it wrong, and you’ve got a color that looks downright institutional. But designers say it’s worth the trouble to seek out the right gray. “Gray is very calming, and it can be both classic and contemporary,” says interior designer Louise Hurlbutt, owner of Hurlbutt Designs in Kennebunk. It’s also a natural choice for Maine; as Hurlbutt notes, “Gray is popular in Maine homes because it can be like a calm sea or the drifting clouds in the sky.” It is also the color of tree bark, beach stones, and weathered clapboard and shingle houses.

Part of what makes gray complicated is that there are so many shades of this seemingly simple color: blue-grays, green-grays, cement grays, and more. The nuance lies in the undertone. “Try adding black to white paint and see what happens,” says Vanessa Helmick, the interior designer behind Fiore Home in Yarmouth. “You don’t get a beautiful gray. There’s always some sort of color in the base of a good gray.” For this month’s Living Color column, we did not limit our palette to a specific undertone of gray; instead, we kept the focus on grays that fall in the midtone range—neither the darkest grays that skew almost black nor the shades of white with just a hint of gray in them. Here’s how to weave them into your home.

Understand your undertones.
As Helmick points out, gray is never just black and white: There’s always a bit of color mixed into the hue. Known as undertones, these subtle colors within a gray will help you as you choose the right gray for your room. Even if you can’t discern a specific single color as the undertone, you should be able to ascertain if a gray skews warm or cool and then match it to the rest of your room.

Don’t go too light.
Designer Hilary Robertson, author of the book Monochrome Home, says to avoid the palest grays, especially on the walls. “It just ends up looking like you haven’t bothered or you haven’t tried,” she says. If you’re considering a very pale gray or want a room to feel light and bright, opt for white instead.

Tread carefully with cool grays.
Hurlbutt loves a blue-tinted gray, but Helmick and Robertson say these cooler grays can be tricky. Helmick warns that some cool grays can “go purple fast,” and Robertson notes that a cool gray can read “institutional.” Ultimately, it will come down to your specific room, the light it gets, and the feeling you wish to create.

Test drive gray in all lights.
If you’re thinking of making a big commitment to gray, say as a wall color, wallpaper, or upholstery fabric, get a sample to test it out in your space before you commit. Look at your gray material in all lights to assess its suitability. Even the pros can stumble with grays: Robertson confesses to getting her living room’s gray walls wrong the first time and having to repaint the whole room.

Avoid making gray the focal point.
Helmick says that when she works with gray she never uses it as the focal point of a room. Rather she says she thinks of it as “a jumping-off point and as a base for color.” Likewise, all the designers we spoke to warn that an all-gray room is hard to pull off. You need some color to make the room come to life!

Highlight colorful art with gray walls.
Because gray is such a strong base for color, gray walls are a wonderful choice for displaying art, says Helmick. She points to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles as an example. “They use a lot of deeper wall colors in gray tones, which is why the art looks so amazing.” Helmick says she loves the idea of classic, antique art on a deeper gray like Benjamin Moore’s Chelsea Gray. However, she cautions that black-and-white photography will get lost against a gray wall.

Be bold in your color pairings.
Gray can balance almost any bright, bold color. “The great thing about gray is you can pair colors that pop,” says Hurlbutt. “I love using coral, pinks, or blues with gray on the wall or furniture.”

Avoid factory-finish grays.
While there is a wonderful world of gray paints (see our Palette Picks on the next page) and textiles, Helmick cautions against much of the affordable gray cabinetry and furniture. “Use [factory-finish grays] sparingly,” she says. “A lot of affordable cabinet companies use blue-grays that just don’t age well.”

Go gray in an open plan.
Hurlbutt says she often opts for a soft gray in open-plan homes. “In so many houses now, the living room, dining room, and kitchen all run together, so we paint these rooms one color.” Grays tend to feel more modern than beige. In a recent project, Hurlbutt used Benjamin Moore’s Bunny Gray with white trim, which she describes as “a wonderful backdrop.”

Bathrooms are primed for gray.
Natural gray stone is a popular designer choice in bathrooms, including for Helmick and Hurlbutt. “I like designing classic bathrooms and I use a lot of Carrara marble tile,” says Hurlbutt, who notes that these soft grays go nicely with the crisp white of porcelain sinks and tubs.

Don’t forget texture.
Texture is key to any successful interior, but especially when working with a less colorful palette. “Layer texture and textiles,” advises Helmick, who also likes a gray stain that leaves the wood grain visible. On the walls, Hurlbutt points to grasscloth, and Robertson loves plaster and limewash paints. “I love limewash’s lack of sheen and its rich texture,” says Robertson. “It’s everywhere in Europe.”

Gray Is Here to Stay

Grays have been trending in interiors for years, but the color is not going away any time soon. It was popularized in the early 2010s by both the media and retailers. Sue Wadden, the director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams, recently referred to the decade-long trend as the “Chip and Joanna Gaines effect,” because of the couple’s penchant for the hue, and Restoration Hardware (now RH) is at least partly responsible for the gray-on-gray look. Direct-to-consumer bedding brands have spent years promoting gray bedding to the exclusion of almost any other color.

Writing in the Washington Post earlier this year, lifestyle expert Elizabeth Mahew pondered whether gray was on the way out. “Gray-haters (or grayters, as I like to call them) complain that the color is ubiquitous, and to some degree, they’re right,” she wrote, noting that design stores are indeed oversaturated with gray upholstery, bedding, and accessories. While many decorators and homeowners profess to want more color after the pandemic year, Mahew ultimately concludes that gray is a versatile neutral that won’t be disappearing from our homes.

The color experts also seem to believe that gray has staying power. Pantone chose “Ultimate Gray” as one of their two Colors of the Year in 2021. Paint manufacturer Benjamin Moore chose Metropolitan AF-690, a gray, as its Color of the Year in 2019 and then, in a surprising move, chose a gray again just three years later when they named October Mist, a sage-y gray, as their pick for 2022. For now, it seems the reign of gray will continue.

According to Merriam Webster, “gray”/“grey” is one of the most frequently queried spellings. Gray occurs more frequently in American English, while grey is preferred in British English.

Robert Indiana’s Love

 

I remember the first time I stumbled on my first LOVE. At the time I had already been living in New York City for a few months but for some reason had not passed the corner of 55th Street and 6th Avenue where the bright red sculpture stood. I was already familiar with the imagery from cards, posters, T-shirts, jewelry, and from just living life. But I never knew much about the meaning behind it until I moved to Maine years later.

LOVE was created by American artist Robert Indiana in the 1960s and is one of the most recognizable artworks of the twentieth century. Art historian Susan Elizabeth Ryan revealed in her monograph on Indiana that the first version of his most famous work was completed “within complex circumstances” at the end of 1964. It was after Indiana ended his relationship with another famous artist, Ellsworth Kelly. Ryan explains, “It had a cruder four-letter word in place of “love,” in a similar composition with a tilted ‘U.’” Indiana never fully disclosed to the public why he made the G-rated version—the next year the Museum of Modern Art commissioned him to create it for their Christmas card. Indiana stacked the letters L and O over the letters V and E in bold serif typeface, slanting the O sideways, creating a line leading to the V, with green and blue spaces backing red lettering. In 1973 the design was issued as an eight-cent stamp by the United States Postal Service for Valentine’s Day. Over 330 million were printed. The first LOVE sculpture was a 12-foot-tall Corten steel version made in 1970 for the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Indiana is best known for creating hard-edged images, often with words and numbers that could be viewed as a roadmap of his life. The artist was greatly inspired by the written word and by poets like Gertrude Stein in the early days of his career. Indiana has described the character of his work as “verbal-visual.”

Sadly, Indiana never felt he received the artistic recognition he truly deserved. Born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana, he changed his name after arriving in New York in the 1950s, determined to make a life as an artist. He soon grew sick of the New York City art scene and being referred to as a Pop artist when he considered himself an “American painter of signs.” He left New York in 1978 feeling that LOVE had made him a “one-hit wonder” and moved to Vinalhaven off the coast of Rockland, Maine. Here in Maine he gained the reputation of being a recluse, refusing to speak with the press, or anyone else for that matter.

Even after Indiana’s death in 2018, LOVE brought a great deal of heartache. You can find plenty of reading material online about the lawsuits surrounding Indiana’s estate and the rights to his artwork. His estate was mired in costly legal battles until a settlement was finally reached in June 2021.

Leslie Dill: Wilderness, Light Sizzles around Me

Leslie Dill, a mixed-media artist whose works are in the collection of over 50 museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, has just completed a new monumental exhibition a decade in the making. Wilderness, Light Sizzles around Me travels to Bates College Museum of Art after its debut this summer at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

Dill, who was raised in Falmouth, Maine, and graduated from Waynflete School in Portland, continues to be influenced by New England’s past, to which she is deeply connected by ancestral roots dating back to early-seventeenth-century colonial America. As the 71-year-old artist told the New York Times in April 2020, when she was still very much buried in the hundreds of yards of fabric that would come to form the pieces in this show, “My theme is the theme of the original European-American settlers and their almost Biblical sense of wilderness as a fear of the unknown. It was a place of the devil, where dangers—whether from Native Americans, wild animals, or starvation—lay to be conquered, to be controlled.”

Inspired by the poetry and prose of early American social activists, religious crusaders, and Native American leaders, Dill has created larger-than-life sewn-cloth figures and embellished them with words and symbols drawn from each person’s writings and experiences. Figures of the abolitionists John Brown and Sojourner Truth, the Shakers’ founder Mother Ann Lee, and the Sauk leader Black Hawk, among others, suspend from the ceiling and are surrounded by hand-painted, two-dimensional banners that further flesh out their stories.

Dan Mills, the director of the Bates College Museum of Art and the lead curator for the Bates show, describes Dill as “giving voice to people who weren’t necessarily given a lot of voice in our history in terms of our historical texts.” He goes on to describe Anne Hutchinson, who lived from 1591 to 1643 and was the Puritan wife and mother of 15 children. Hutchinson became an outspoken and charismatic speaker on her personal religious beliefs. She had visions and began preaching from her home, which, as Mills describes, was taken as insolent behavior by the religious structures and the male leaders at the time. “She was put on trial and banished from her community. She was known as the American Jezebel—which is really declaring devilry—because she spoke her words from her spiritual experiences to those who wished to hear it.”

Dill gives voice to Hutchinson and others, with works that explore the power of language, the one-sidedness of history, and the wildness inside each of us.

Lesley Dill: Wilderness, Light Sizzles around Me will be on view from January 21 to March 19.

House of Windsor

You may have heard of Windsor, the high-profile gated community of some 350 luxury homes located on a lush, oceanfront barrier island in Vero Beach, Florida. But unless you count among your crowd royalty and billionaires, you’ve probably never seen inside one of the exquisite abodes—until now. The new book Beachside: Windsor Architecture and Design (Vendome Press, 2021) by Hadley Keller takes us into this private, Anglo-Caribbean neighborhood to view not only its celebrated architecture and sublime landscaping but also the magnificently executed interiors.

Established in 1989 by the Canadian business and philanthropic couple W. Galen and Hilary M. Weston and planned by renowned architects Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Windsor was designed to embody the principles of walkability, architectural harmony, and access to public spaces associated with New Urbanism, a movement the Westons became interested in after the Prince of Wales introduced them to its founding father, Léon Krier.

“Despite the ‘New’ in its name,” writes James Reginato in the book’s introduction, “the ideology is rooted in classicism and traditional architecture along a European model.” The writer-at-large at Vanity Fair goes on to say that the range of styles found inside the homes might come as a surprise to some—“particularly those who assumed that Windsor’s strict code would carry over to what lies behind the walls. In fact, the architectural guidelines have challenged designers to find ways to break the mold inside.”

In this guest room conceived by A-list interior designer Amanda Lindroth—who grew up in Palm Beach in the 1970s and whose work focuses on breezy sophistication and vibrant layers of texture and color—the walls and ceiling are covered in an aqua-hued tropical print, leaving the rafters white for contrast, and the poppy-red of the window treatments and pagoda-style table lamp offsets the blue. This editor may never get to sleep in the thoughtfully planned space, but here are nine objects that get me dreaming.

1. Four Light Lantern in Soft White with Gild by Visual Comfort Fogg Lighting // shop.fogglighting.com
2. Majorelle Velvet Fabric in Red Schumacher // fschumacher.com
3. Rory Coastal Beach Brown Woven Abaca Bed Kathy Kuo Home // kathykuohome.com
4. Antigua Blue Wallpaper Annie Selke // annieselke.com
5. Light Blue Custom Modern Three Drawer Light Blue Writing Desk 1st Dibs // 1stdibs.com
6. Jasmine Euro Sham in Coral Amanda Lindroth // amandalindroth.com
7. Island Estate Ceylon Side Chair Lexington Home Brands // lexington.com
8. Avalon Bench in Perennial Pinstripe in French Blue Serena & Lily // serenaandlily.com
9. Chang’e Lamps Pagoda Lamp Red Egg // redegg.com

Manifesting

Allie Norman just wanted to design a beer label. The designer had moved to Portland—a mecca for craft brew enthusiasts—after spending time working and traveling abroad. Although she had studied graphic design in college and had been working as an art director for an agency, she didn’t feel satisfied in her freelance career. “I wanted to find my niche, and to change the kind of jobs I was getting,” she remembers. “So I started designing labels for myself. I started making the kind of work I wanted to see.”

Four years ago, Norman designed around 60 labels for her own education and amusement. It took a little time, but this hard work has paid off handsomely. Her company, Girl That Designs, has created graphics for over a dozen brews, plus she’s done work for cannabis companies, specialty food retailers, and even a few farms. “I had always enjoyed the beer scene, especially how everything is LOCAL, in all caps. I liked the community. I liked how stoked everyone was to promote each other,” she explains. “Now, I pretty much only work with restaurants, breweries, and other local businesses in that realm.”

Norman is, in local parlance, “from away.” Like me, she’s a Massachusetts transplant who happened upon Maine. Her sister and sister’s partner were living here, and they had just welcomed their first child. So Norman decided to move in with them and give the Pine Tree State a go while helping out with baby Ezra. “I’m marrying a Mainer next month,” she says (and one she met through the brewery scene to boot). “I can’t imagine ever leaving.” She fell in love with Portland’s small-town vibe, but also with the big-city level of talent in its creatives. “Having lived in other places, I’ve never felt that there was such a large amount of inclusion,” she says. “Portland’s unique.”

Norman explains that the past few years have been a bit “magical” and “like a fairytale.” It could sound saccharine coming from someone else, but Norman seems genuinely upbeat. Giddy, even. She’s built a career she loves, she’s about to get married, and she’s managed to turn the lemons of the past two years into lemonade through sheer force of will. At the beginning of the pandemic, she admits to panicking. “It was just months into my freelance career, and clients were emailing me saying, ‘Stop work immediately, we can’t pay you,’” she says. A month passed. Norman continued to panic privately. Then commissions started rolling in. Restaurants were looking to redesign their takeout menus (not to mention signs reminding visitors to mask up). Breweries were rebranding. Everyone was pivoting. And during those dark hours, Norman’s whimsical, nostalgia-infused style probably felt warm and comforting. “I also saw a lot of people trying to find their happiness,” she says. “People were grabbing on to their dreams.” In the process, they were helping buoy hers.

That’s the thing about buying and working local: it can act like a net, fishing everyone out of the deep end. “Two years ago, I was doing some cold emailing, telling people, ‘I love your business, maybe we can work together?’” Norman says. “Now it’s word-of-mouth, and I’m booked up through the year.” During this time, her artistic style has shifted a little. “It’s cleaner,” she says. “It’s becoming more sophisticated.” She’s found herself delving deeper into the history of design, color, architecture, and symbolism, seeking to understand why something appeals to her and how it will transmit a similar message to others. “I’ve been thinking more critically about why each element is there,” she says. “Where does a specific style come from?”

Scrolling back through her portfolio, it’s easy to identify certain themes. There’s funky, psychedelic, ’70s-tinged nostalgia. There are quirky bursts of folklore, like a series of cans she designed for Belleflower Brewery based on a hex sign that hangs above a founder’s ancestral farm. There are the “campy, farm vibes” of her recent designs for Gorham’s Orchard Ridge Farm. In the early stages of the design process, she likes to trawl through the Library of Congress to grab type, colors, and images that might align with her client’s business. “I get inspiration everywhere, honestly,” she says. “Even from stickers in a public bathroom, or walking down the street and seeing some old type.”

Norman is a “pretty prolific artist,” she says. Every day, she tries to set aside some time to do work purely for herself. This is where she plays around with new color schemes and riffs on familiar themes. In October 2021, for example, she sat down to create a series of graphics based on famous haunted houses from movies, including the Victorian featured in Practical Magic and the bungalow from Hocus Pocus. The graphics are streamlined and sharp, but somehow just as charming as the rest of Norman’s designs. She’s a bit of a workaholic, but that’s not so bad when your work involves visiting places like Cheese Louise and Belleflower Brewery on a near daily basis. “I love to go and sit and have a beer out of a can I designed,” she admits. “I mean, how cool is that?”

Lovely Little Surprises

Leandra Fremont-Smith needed a change of scenery. For years, she had loved running her successful design business from the barn attached to the back of her home in Yarmouth. As she recalls, “I could have my kids get off the bus and be right there. I could do a load of laundry.” But it had finally become “almost too comfy and perfect,” she says. “I said to myself, ‘If I see one more FedEx truck come down here, I don’t know what I’m going to do!’ It was a soft nudge.” After a year in which so many of us worked from home offices, the scenario is probably familiar; what might not be as typical is the ease with which Fremont-Smith found an ideal new location that brims with possibilities, and it was just down the road.

Fremont-Smith grew up in Essex, Massachusetts, a town renowned for its many antique shops. She feels her design training really started in childhood, as she spent hours exploring these treasure troves alongside her parents, who are specialists in Colonial and French antiques. She even helped her parents as they renovated historic buildings in Boston’s financial district. After graduating from Harvard University and spending time at the American University of Paris and the Boston Architectural Center, she turned her passion for interior design into a thriving business with clients up and down the East Coast.

Finding a new home for the design business came about serendipitously. “I have a friend who owns this adorable store called Gingham, which is at the other end of town,” Fremont-Smith recalls. It turned out that the storefront next door to Gingham was for rent. “It had been vacant for a couple of months, so I called that morning and got a tour the next day.” She and her husband went to see the space, and both were immediately thrilled. “My husband said, ‘This is perfect.’ And I was like, wow, because normally he says, ‘Let’s think about it,’” she remembers. The decision was easy, as were negotiations: “They gave me the key right there. I have the nicest landlords ever.”

This “perfect” new space has pride of place in Yarmouth’s Lower Village, in the building that until 2015 was the home of Goff’s Hardware, a local institution. Built in 1875, the aging structure presented a few challenges when setting up the design studio. “It’s a really old building and we did our best. Everything’s a little bit shimmed on either side. But we love it so much,” says Fremont-Smith. Given her childhood immersion in antiques and old buildings, she understands and appreciates the patina of an older space. The original floors, polished smooth by generations of feet, might put off another tenant, but Fremont-Smith adores them: “It’s a kind of French-looking herringbone floor that looked already worn. And I love it.” She continues, “It was really easy to move in. I thought it would be overwhelming, but it wasn’t.”

With the change in venue for the business came new opportunities for connection. Called Leandra Design, the space serves primarily as the studio for her design business, Leandra Fremont-Smith Interiors. Here she and her team can brainstorm, meet with clients, and spread out their samples of fabric and finishes. As a design studio, it’s by appointment only; Fremont-Smith emphasizes that they’re not open for casual browsing in a conventional way at the moment. But she is definitely dreaming of future possibilities for the space. She has long admired the creative spirit of artists and artisans in Maine, as well as the local emphasis on small-scale production: “We have so many creative minds here, and everyone does it on a small scale instead of a big, overly materialized way,” she says. She sees retail opportunities arising from the connections she already has in the community. “I’ve always been interested in jewelry design, and I love fashion. I have a lot of friends in the industry. I’ll end up doing pop-up shops,” she muses. “I’m excited to do that. We just need to be a little bit further through COVID and then get that up and running. Everyone needs to stay tuned.”

In the meantime, those traveling along Yarmouth’s Main Street can spend some time enjoying the clever, seasonally themed window boxes that Fremont-Smith and her team, with help from the Constant Gardener, have installed outside their front windows. Fremont-Smith explains, “We just want people to be really happy and bubbly when they drive by and just feel inspired—they don’t need to feel that they have to come in and buy a couch or anything like that.” She sees the window boxes as an important aspect of being part of a community, brightening her neighbors’ days. As she says, “We like to do it because it’s so fun.” Stay tuned for more fun in this reimagined space.

Thinking Outside the (Window) Box

“I’m really into window boxes. I haven’t been able to do a ton with the storefront design, but the boxes are fun. When people go by, it’s like Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory, but kind of high on fabrics and wallpapers and bright patterns,” Fremont-Smith jokes. Her company’s Instagram feed is an excellent inspiration for sprucing up boring window boxes; here are some tips we gleaned.

•Don’t forget to add visual interest at all levels. This fall’s boxes featured groups of tiny pumpkins suspended by green twine that cascaded over the sides of the boxes, balancing out the larger gourds and magenta mums nestled above.

•Too early for real blooms? Use paper or fabric scraps to make some colorful flowers, then go ahead and stick them into the frozen window box soil: they’ll brighten up the dull hues of a late winter’s day. Bonus points if they echo design elements on the inside of the window!

•Love the light you have: there are shade plants that will almost glow in low light, especially if you paint your window boxes a deep gray like Fremont-Smith did. (For more on the power of gray, see this issue’s Living Color, page 58.) Foliage and brightly colored begonias can brighten up any dark corner.

•Experienced gardeners know this, but budding green thumbs, take note: change up your annuals frequently to reflect the changes in season. Pansies can take center stage in spring, but by Labor Day last year, the window boxes at Leandra Fremont-Smith Interiors were bursting with the bright pinks of late summer.

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