If you have ever stumbled upon a robin’s egg in your garden or the forest, you know the power of this green-blue hue. Spotted in the outdoors, it is a shock of bright color against nature’s greens and browns—a beacon amid the more muted shades. But take that same color indoors and set it against white, and you’ll discover that robin’s egg isn’t quite what it seems: not a pure blue-green at all, it has a muddy undertone—a hint that it is decidedly not man-made.
It’s this balance between vibrant and natural that makes robin’s-egg blue so beguiling. “It has a perfect balance of the calming nature of blue and the nurturing side of green,” says Sue Kim, color marketing manager for Krylon Paints. “When a palette is rooted in nature, it provides comfort,” she says, noting that a restful, restorative home is even more important during times of uncertainty like the last year. Here’s how to bring nature’s most calming shade of turquoise into yours.
Find the right blue for you
If you head to the internet to search for the perfect robin’s egg, you’ll find you’re not the first to try to match this color. Designers and bloggers have puzzled over robin’s egg, going so far as to color-match an actual eggshell to paint chips. However, the goal isn’t to find the exact shade of eggshell blue, rather, it’s to find the right one for your room, says interior designer Laura Pierce, owner of Keeler and Company. Pierce painted her own office in a robin’s-egg hue (Teresa’s Green from Farrow and Ball), which she chose because she wanted something that was cheerful and inspiring, but also calm enough not to distract from the fabric and materials samples she works with every day.
Be wary of paint chips
Blues, including robin’s egg, are notoriously hard to judge from a paint fan deck. When you look at the swatches, you’ll think the blues look pale, but when you put them on the wall, they tend to read very blue. So be sure to sample, and do so on a large area of wall for the most accurate view of a color.
Look for a color you could find in nature
“I find that the colors that are least successful tend to be amped up and less true to nature,” says Pierce. “When you work within that more natural color palette, it gives you an easy ground to build from for furniture, art, and fabrics.” Pierce loves Farrow and Ball’s colors because they are natural looking, with depth and a complex blend of pigments. (She says Benjamin Moore’s Century line is also very good at replicating nature’s palette.)
Pair it with neutral tones
When asked for a foolproof color pairing for robin’s egg, Kim suggests what she calls a grounding color in a mid- to darker tone. “Focus on neutral shades,” says Kim, noting that warmer neutrals are trending right now. “These warm neutrals, including natural woods, provide the grounding mood when paired with nature-inspired blue-green.”
Complement it with green
If you want a colorful room but still want to play it safe, Pierce says that greens and true blues both “play nicely” with robin’s egg, which contains a little bit of both. Kim adds, “Its best friend is green.”
“Put eggplant next to it or a little Nantucket red, and it’s going to work,” suggests Pierce. Kim points to terra-cotta as a natural complement to robin’s egg, noting that it is an “earthier desert shade” that tempers the vibrant blue. While robin’s-egg blue is a versatile hue, designers warn against using it with truly unnatural colors like neons. Pierce also says she’d caution against painting it with black. “Black is not where I would head first; it’s better paired with browns or gray,” she says.
Have fun with fabrics
Pierce points out that you can find this shade of blue in many different textiles, including the botanical ones in her office. Robin’s-egg blue “ends up being really versatile, when you unify a space around a piece of wallpaper or a fabric,” she says. If another color is in a fabric with robin’s egg, it gives you permission to pull both the colors through the space, she says.
Take it outdoors
A robin’s-egg blue is a natural for outdoor furniture (hello, Adirondack chairs begging for a fresh coat!) and even house trim. There is also a long American tradition, especially in the South, of painting porch ceilings in a pale shade of robin’s-egg blue.
Use it in rooms where you crave renewal
Our minds associate robin’s egg with spring, so this is a color to use in a room where you want to feel revitalized. Kim suggested it might be a choice for a kitchen where a feeling of “connection to the outside world is a refreshing moment in the morning.” Designers Heidi Lachapelle and Katie Judkins used just such a hue in a seaside kitchen they designed. “Blue plays a significant role in our (outdoor) lives, and so it always feels right to bring it indoors as well,” says Lachapelle. “This color felt new and fresh, yet still classic,” says Lachapelle. “Shades of blue never seem to go out of style. Blue is refreshing and renewing, but it is also incredibly calming.”
The year “robin’s-egg blue” was first used as a color name.
Why is a robin’s-egg blue?
The blue color of robins’ and other birds’ eggs is due to the pigment biliverdin, but why are robin eggs the bluest of them all? In a paper published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology scientists demonstrated that the bright blue is an evolutionary advantage. “A male robin will be more diligent in caring for its young if the eggs its mate lays are a brighter shade of blue,” wrote Dr. Bob Montgomerie, a Queen’s University biology professor. In fact, in the experiment, male robins whose nests contained the brightest eggs fed their babies twice as much!
The other famous turquoise
Birds’ eggs are not the only blue package that holds precious contents: Tiffany’s iconic turquoise blue jewelry box is a lighter, brighter spin on robin’s egg. The color is so strongly associated with the brand that the color is trademarked. Pantone, the company that identifies and codifies colors for designers, even eschewed their typical color numbering system and designated Tiffany’s signature hue number 1837, which is the year the store was founded. It is believed that Charles Lewis Tiffany may have chosen this color for his packaging because turquoise jewelry was popular with Victorian brides when Tiffany and Company opened its doors. The company registered the color as a trademark in 1998, but don’t worry: it doesn’t mean you can’t use it in your decor (just don’t paint your jewelry store in this hue and send shoppers home with turquoise boxes!).
“We love to contemplate blue, not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it.”
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Benjamin Moore Bird’s Egg
This is a fresh spin on robin’s egg blue that has a bit of visual pop
The truest blue of these hues, use this as an accent color
Benjamin Moore Robin’s Nest
An aqua that leans into green, this is a part of Benjamin Moore’s Classic Colors collection.
A calming eggshell blue, this robin’s egg is great for bedroom walls
Farrow and Ball Teresa’s Green
This color’s rich blue base gets warmth from soft green undertones
Twin brothers Nick and Steve Tidball of the futuristic clothing brand VOLLEBAK have created a solar-powered, glow-in-the-dark winter coat. The SOLAR CHARGED PUFFER ($1,295) contains an ultra-thin polyurethane membrane that, like a plant, rapidly absorbs any light it comes into contact with. As soon as the all-white jacket encounters darkness, it glows green like kryptonite, retaining a ghostly glow for up to 12 hours. The insulating layer is made out of synthetic fibers from plastic bottles, which mimic down feathers and have a 600+ fill power. Vollebak’s cofounders are ultramarathoners who believe it’s not enough to simply wear clothing; what we wear should play a role in how we encounter the changing climate. (Their heat-conducting graphene jacket saved tech CEO and adventurer Nikita Gushchin’s life when he got lost trekking in the Nepalese mountains.) The puffer can withstand temperatures as low as negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit and makes the person wearing it visible in the dark, a cool optical trick that also makes the jacket highly visible to search parties.
The trend for phone screens over the past few years has been the bigger the better, until people realized they could no longer fit them in their pockets. Japanese design studio NENDO has a solution: a seven-inch OLED touchscreen phone that can fold down “like an inchworm,” to the size of a credit card. Fashioned for the Chinese smart device manufacturer OPPO, the SLIDE-PHONE is more than an enlarged screen: When fully unfolded and positioned horizontally, it can be used like a game controller, with touchscreen buttons located on each side. Several apps can be displayed in a row, allowing the user to multitask more seamlessly and efficiently. The full-screen mode also allows for panoramic photography and video play. Each of the phone’s hinges are covered in lush suede leather and accented with calming earth tones.
Eyewear manufacturer ROLF has produced a collection of 3D-printed glasses that are completely biodegradable. Called SUBSTANCE, the glasses are made from powdered castor beans and water. The toxic hulls of the beans are removed before the beans are ground into a powder and combined with water (the binding element), which is then used to 3D print the frames. The glasses have a unique hinge design that removes any need for screws or spare parts, and therefore any need for maintenance. Substance frames come in 23 different models in six colors. Castor bean plants grow quickly in tropical climates without genetic engineering— reaching up to nearly 20 feet in 6 months—and they don’t compete with food crops, making them an incredibly sustainable resource.
Israeli material designer SHAHAR LIVNE, who won the title of emerging designer of the year at Dezeen Awards 2020, has created a line of ocean-plastic jewelry for BALENCIAGA’s fall 2021 collection, AFTERWORLD: AGE OF TOMORROW. The pieces, including three different bangles, one ring, and two pairs of hooped earrings, are made from plastics recovered by the recycled plastics marketplace OCEANWORKS and calcium carbonate, which is a waste product from the marble industry. Livne mixes these substances, using heat and pressure, to create a clay-like material called Lithoplast that she then shapes by hand. The artist sees this repurposed waste as a valuable commodity for future generations when plastics may have gone away for good.
THE MAINE RAIL-TRAIL PLAN, a project recently put forward by the Maine Trail Coalition, would add up to 250 miles of interconnected, multi-use trails to the state. The plan proposes that over the next decade 13 rail-trail projects will be constructed, and at least five prospective ones will be developed in the decade following. According to a poll taken last year by the coalition, 86 percent of Mainers, regardless of political leanings, region, and age, support creating recreational trails on unused rail corridors as long as they can be converted back to railroad use if needed. Preserving and maintaining an active rail corridor, thus extending future Amtrak, commuter, or freight service from Boston through Maine’s population centers, is also part of the plan. If implemented, the project would sew up much of the northern end of the 3,000-mile-long East Coast Greenway, the most visited “park” in America.
PHARRELL WILLIAMS has partnered with PENTATONIC, a design and tech company focused on developing products with a circular economy in mind, to produce a line of reusable, portable cutlery made from old CDs. The cutlery set, called PEBBLE, comes with a fork, knife, spoon, straw, and chopsticks. Each utensil folds so everything fits into a compact, pebble-shaped carrying case, which also has an attached lanyard for easy transport. Keeping the product’s end of life in mind, Pentatonic has also launched a trade-back program: the Pebble has a scannable chip that initiates the process for it to be returned to the company when you’re done. You’ll get store credit, and they’ll turn it into something new.
CAPE ELIZABETH is moving toward sustainability. A proposed seven-acre solar farm, to be installed next summer on the town’s capped landfill site near the recycling center, is under review with the planning board. The town council has authorized a lease agreement with Burlington, Vermont–based solar company ENCORE RENEWABLE ENERGY; the agreement states that Encore will pay the town $7,000 a year to occupy the space. The town expects the solar project to offset 75 to 80 percent of municipal and school energy costs, estimating that the electricity and income savings will reach $2.1 million over the next 20 years.
In February 2020 the ROCKPORT PLANNING BOARD approved a hotel proposed for a vacant lot between 18 Central Oyster Bar and Grill and Seafolk Coffee in downtown Rockport. Excavation for the ROCKPORT HARBOR HOTEL began in early fall 2020. The initial proposal planned for a 35-room boutique hotel, but the number of rooms has since been reduced to 26 (with a possible final total of 20 rooms, depending on the outcome of an appeal from a local citizen’s group). Although the project was unanimously approved, the planning board requires the developers to maintain off-site parking for guests and employees. Regardless of the number of rooms inside the building, the exterior footprint and overall structural and mechanical design will stay the same. Once complete, this will be the first hotel in downtown Rockport.
Cooperative housing isn’t a new idea, but it’s relatively rare in Maine. That is starting to change as the Portland City Council recently approved the development of DOUGLASS COMMONS, a 108-unit project on the 3.24-acre site in the Libbytown neighborhood where West School once stood. Co-ops are being embraced as a way to provide housing for what city councilors have called the “missing middle,” middle-class families who can’t afford Portland’s skyrocketing housing prices. Working with MAINE COOPERATIVE DEVELOPMENT PARTNERS and SZANTON COMPANY, the conceptual proposal includes a fourstory 56-unit apartment building and 52 co-op (or limited equity ownership) homes in 3 three-story buildings with 12 units each and 4 two-story buildings with four units each. (Credit: Aceto Landscape Architects)
The town of Cushing is not even remotely on the beaten path, and yet it is a place—and a landscape—that is deeply enmeshed in the American imagination. It is where Joan Rockwell’s family has lived for well more than a century, and it is here that her uncle, Andrew Wyeth, painted his way into our culture and our psyche.
And it is in Cushing that Rockwell, a landscape architect, and her architect husband, Bill Austin, built by hand the house that they hope not just to live in but to pass on to generations to come. They call it the Point or, more officially, Bird Point. And in the past seven years it has grown from a single small cottage to a quirky compound of both old and new buildings, and it is not yet finished.
To say that this project is a labor of love would be to understate the case. Not only does it speak to Rockwell’s connection to this special part of Maine that has long been a part of her extended family, but it also embodies the philosophy that Rockwell and Austin embrace in their work and lives.
Rockwell grew up spending summers on the land, and her roots run deep. “The Point has been in our family for over 100 years,” she says. Her great-grandfather acquired it in 1904. “Both of my grandmothers were lifelong friends, so it would be natural for them to settle in this area later in life.” In turn, Austin, a Canadian by birth—his family moved to Massachusetts in 1958—has fully embraced the history and ecology of the land and the landscape that has for so long been part of the Rockwell, Wyeth, and Olson families.
To circle back briefly (and compress history): this part of Maine has long been the home (or summer home) of four families—Wyeth, James, Rockwell, and Olson. It was here that the painter Andrew Wyeth (whose family spent summers in Port Clyde, just six miles away) met Betsy James, who in turn took him to the Olson house on their first date (they married within a year). In the decades to follow, Andrew Wyeth painted the Olson house hundreds of times, but most famously in Christina’s World in 1948.
It was also here that Louise James, who was Betsy Wyeth’s sister and Joan Rockwell’s mother, met and married Dudley Rockwell, who would go on to become a well-known metallurgist as well as a fine furniture maker, painter, and Dixieland musician. To this day, Cushing remains the summer and year-round habitat of this sprawling extended family. “This place changed my world. As a child I spent my summers surrounded by art, family, and a beautiful landscape, and to this day it has an enormous impact on me,” says Rockwell.
In 1999 Rockwell and Austin acquired five acres of land along the mouth of the St. George River with the idea of creating a house that would eventually be their permanent home. Their landscape and architectural practices—they work both separately and together—are in Brattleboro, Vermont, and Greenfield, Massachusetts.
Together, they designed the house, and as might be expected, it went through several iterations. “But,” says Rockwell, “we had a clear motivation and an understanding of what we were doing and why we were doing it.” Adds Austin, “We knew we were going to retire here, so we concentrated on designing very simple sheds in concert with the tradition of the midcentury modern revival. We had the vision of something very straightforward and totally in concert with the land.” “We knew we wanted to use local materials and have it be completely energy efficient,” reveals Rockwell.
Then the adventure began: on May 1, 2013, to be precise. The couple arrived on the wooded, rustic, rocky waterfront site. They began to build, day after day, not missing a beat for wind or rain. To begin with, there were the trees that they would transform into their home—all from the site. They removed the bark and began building, moving in (giving true meaning to the Maine idea of “camp”) before there was even a roof. “We actually built the house ourselves, by hand,” says Austin. The two of them worked nonstop, and two young carpenters pitched in as they could on weekends.
“They were long days,” says Austin, “but it was fun.” They had originally envisioned a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house but soon determined that would put them over budget, so they constructed a tiny house of 850 square feet with just a single bedroom, a small office, a bathroom, and living and dining space. The house was thus conceived to function—especially in summer—as an “enclosed porch.”
Soon, however, the compound began to grow. The couple’s blended family includes four grown children as well as grandchildren. This is when the “annex” was conceived, with two more bedrooms (one with bunks to accommodate as many as six) connected to the main house by a deck. They also moved a century-old bathhouse—it had originally belonged to the Olson family—to the site, along with a small 1970s-era prefab garden shed called “Marianna’s cabin” (after Rockwell’s aunt) that they expanded and upgraded. Still to come is Austin’s workshop, which, he jokes, you might have expected to come first, not last.
“The concept of a family compound is to emphasize and support individual and collective needs to be both private and together,” says Rockwell. These ideas are manifested in the careful siting of the structures and the juxtaposition of each building to each other. “For example,” she says, “the annex is slightly angled from the main house and connected by a generous deck. We scrutinized the angle, distance, and window openings to provide privacy while feeling connected and still have a wonderful ocean view.” That water view is all important, and it is achieved in part by the placement of the buildings, which offer a certain amount of surprise to the first-time visitor. It’s really only when you go into the house that you get the full view of the water. The area has a robust lobstering industry, and there are seals and dolphins as well as sharks heading north (or south), seasonally.
Wood reigns, inside and out, as you might expect. There’s no wallpaper, no tile. The house and bunkhouse are made of old growth redwood, and the interiors boast tongue-and-groove Douglas fir and eastern white pine along with painted birch plywood floors. Rockwell says they “deliberately chose to have open storage and pullout shelving to recreate the feel of a casual summer cottage that I had known as a child, where pots and pans and dinnerware were visible and immediately accessible.” There are no closed cabinets. Many of the doors are sliding glass to reinforce the dual ideas of openness and rusticity.
The palette relies on primary colors. The furniture is intentionally simple and durable: pieces sourced from catalog sites such as IKEA and All Modern with the addition of such family heirlooms as a chest made by Rockwell’s father. There are watercolors from her uncle (Wyeth) and, in testimony to the family’s full artistic pedigree, works by Merle James (Rockwell’s grandfather and Wyeth’s father-in-law), as well as nautical models and bas-relief work by Rockwell’s father and pencil sketches from her aunt Gwendolyn Cook, the third of the James sisters.
Austin himself designed the round dining table, and it is not merely a work of fine craftsmanship but also a symbol of their larger vision for the Point. In their professional work both Rockwell and Austin place importance on “community, sharing, equality, and family,” and at one point they started a nonprofit planning and design entity called Community Vision. “The focus,” recalls Rockwell, “was on understanding what makes a town, village, community, etc., unique and how you could make changes in the future and still honor the special sense of place.” The land and structures connect them all with their past, present, and future. The art and design will continue to evolve.
It’s all very purposeful and personal. “Intimacy and warmth were exactly what we were after,” says Austin. “When people walk in, they say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is beautiful,’ and then they flop down on a chair. I consider that a grand slam home run. You can build a house, but you have to make a home.”
The two houses are located 175 miles apart, and their neighborhoods couldn’t be more different. One sits in downtown Portland, perched above asphalt and cobblestones. The other opens onto a lush garden with views (in the winter) of Acadia National Park’s nearby peaks. Yet the two homes share more than one would expect, says interior designer Brett Johnson. “The Maine Turnpike is just a portal, a hallway between the homes. It’s a magical thing; it’s like you got beamed into the condo from Bar Harbor, or vice versa.” He adds, “Katy did that. Her eye is very much her own.”
He’s speaking of his longtime friend, Katy Longley, who shares these spaces with her partner, furniture designer Kevin Rodel. Speaking with the couple, it quickly becomes clear that they also share a sense of taste and a high valuation of visual beauty. “Our aesthetic is exactly the same,” explains Longley. “We never argue about what goes where.” This is uncommon.
Most couples find themselves forced to find a compromise between their two personal styles: He tends toward classic cottage, she loves midcentury modern. Or maybe he likes antiques and she likes pop art. Even in my own marriage, I find myself advocating for sleek stone pavers while my husband begs me to consider brick. But not Longley and Rodel. They had no trouble decorating their Portland condo, which they’ve had since 2018, or their Bar Harbor house, which they purchased in 2017. It was easy for them to pick out furniture and fixtures that felt harmonious with their surroundings. “It actually wasn’t intentional that the houses have a similar feel,” Longley says. “But they both have very high ceilings and big windows, I suppose.”
They also both have Rodel’s fingerprints all over the furniture. While he didn’t make every item, his distinctive style is present in every room of each house. “There is a strong element of Japanese influence in my work,” he explains, “and I’m also very familiar with the Arts and Crafts movement.” This is putting it somewhat lightly: Rodel coauthored an award-winning book on the furniture of that era. While Arts and Crafts flourished in the United Kingdom, many of the movement’s primary designers were heavily influenced by Asian traditions and techniques, so it makes sense that Rodel would be drawn to both. But Rodel doesn’t make copies of historic pieces, nor does he simply mix Japanese lines with British forms. He brings something personal to each custom-built piece.
For example, take the sculptural mahogany side table that sits in the entryway of their Bar Harbor house. “I was inspired to make the tables after spending time in New Zealand and Australia,” he explains. “The inlay on the top is basically a Maori textile decoration, and the forms of the sides and front are reminiscent of tools and artefacts that Polynesian people traditionally used.” The warm-colored, oil-rubbed table has a soft curve and flow to it, yet it’s not entirely unlike the dark, dramatic table that sits under a window in the guest room of their Portland condo. On first glance, they’re opposites—one is light, the other dark; one organic, the other geometric— but they share a sense of balance, as well as Rodel’s craftsmanship. “When he made that, I was doing a lot of ikebana flower arranging,” says Longley. “The form isn’t too different from a traditional Chinese altar table,” adds Rodel. “It’s a split leg. There are a lot of contemporary influences. But I thought of it as a table for displaying Katy’s ikebana.” To give it a deep, intense color, Rodel treated the cherrywood with a chemical solution made from vinegar and iron that changes the color of the wood permanently. Some woods it turns silvery gray, but cherry, which has a lot of tannins, goes black. A layer of shellac gave this flower-ready surface a glossy finish. “Kevin never uses stains,” his partner reveals. “His work is very natural.”
But Rodel doesn’t just make statement tables or accent pieces. He’s also responsible for the big, hardworking pieces that get a lot of daily use. Like the light-toned bed, decorated with Japanese-inspired ropework, that lends a masculine, nautical touch to the pink Portland bedroom. Or the Viennese-style side tables next to it that give the couple a place to stash their coffee mugs or reading material when they’re staying in the city. Or the geometric bookcase that sits behind the sofa in their Bar Harbor living room. This cypress wood unit was inspired by an Italian design, Longley reveals. “I showed him the website and asked if he could make something similar,” she says. The original piece was made of plastic laminate, so Rodel modified the design to fit into his artistic practice and the physical space. “People don’t use a lot of cypress, but it was the right wood for this project,” he says. “I was able to get really wide boards with a nice grain pattern. It’s a light, soft southern wood.” (Rodel sources almost all of his wood from a single mill in Pennsylvania that specializes in ecologically produced lumber for builders and artists.)
It’s not too hard to spot the outliers, those pieces that Rodel didn’t make and the couple purchased new. When it came to buying pieces, Johnson knew it wouldn’t make sense to try and “match” Rodel’s level of work. Instead, he steered the couple toward clear acrylic coffee tables and midcentury modern sofas. “The contrast of the acrylic and the wood works really well,” Rodel says appreciatively. “It was smart.”
While this may paint a picture of two perfectly matched living spaces (for two perfectly matched humans), there are some key differences between the couple’s metropolitan base and their island headquarters. For one, the Portland condo has “so much more color,” Longley says. “Bar Harbor is white all around, which I think works there. The ceilings are a dark gray, so this gives it a more open, cottage feel.” The dynamic in the Portland rooms is switched. Gray walls encase white ceilings in the living room and kitchen, and in the owners’ suite a blushy, taupe-touched pink creates a cozy backdrop for Rodel’s solid woodwork. “That Farrow and Ball paint—they call it ‘ Calamine ’—that was my big ‘aha’ moment,” Johnson says. “When the paint cans came and were opened, my project manager called to check and see if it was right. She never thought I’d choose pink.” But he did, because pink was the right fit for the space and the clients, and just as important, it complements both the art and furniture. “I knew the bed going in there was very masculine, with the rope detailing, and Katy had these beautiful Japanese cherry blossom prints,” he explains. “It picks up the color of the art. It is soft, but not too much.”
The Japanese prints were a rare example of art influencing design during these two home projects. More often, the art was purchased and hung after the paint had gone on, the furniture had settled down, and the rugs had time to acclimate to the couple’s footfalls. For this task, they turned to Elizabeth Moss, owner of Art Interiors by Elizabeth Moss, a design business which focused on building corporate collections, and the Moss Galleries in Falmouth (where she works more often with homeowners). Longley knew Moss from a forum they both belong to, aimed at connecting Maine’s women executives.Several years ago, Moss worked with Longley and Rodel to decorate their Portland apartment, so when it came time to add art to the Bar Harbor home, she was a logical choice. However, by the time they settled into Bar Harbor, the pandemic had already caused a closure of nonessential businesses, including art galleries. Still, Moss had a plan. She used the same method she uses for companies with big buildings to fill, like WEX. “I used photographs of the interiors without art, then I superimposed art onto the images,” she explains. “By that point, I had a pretty good idea of what they liked. But I also knew I had to be respectful of the art that was already there.”
One of the pieces that was already hanging in Bar Harbor, above the dining area, was a dramatic, textured, emerald green work by Finnish-born sculptor Melita Westerlund. “I actually asked Katy who did that one,” Moss says. “I thought my corporate clients would love it.” To complement this dramatic work, Moss showed Longley and Rodel a series of abstract and contemporary canvases. “Katy must have really enjoyed the Portland condo,” Moss reflects, “because she went with many of the same artists in Bar Harbor.” The bright yet natural palette of Richard Keen appealed to the couple, who purchased paintings inspired by the brilliant lime and aqua colors of rockweed for both living areas. “Living in Maine, we all know what that’s like, to navigate a beach looking down at the rockweed,” Moss says. “But the way he paints is very sophisticated. In the last three years, I’ve seen a lot of people moving into Maine, and his work really appeals to well-traveled buyers. It feels warm. It’s not hard edged. It’s not cold.”
Similarly, the creative couple found themselves drawn to the softly textured and boldly saturated works of Lyle J. Salmi, who happens to be close friends with Keen (a fact that Moss says you can see in both painters’ work). “I think Katy likes art that makes a big punctuation mark, which you really need in an open, white space like the Bar Harbor house,” says Moss. This approach also works well in an urban space like the Portland condo, where canvases by Robert Wieferich depict abstracted versions of local landmarks. “The art we chose is complementary to where we are living,” says Rodel.
It’s also complementary to their furniture, their paint, their plants, and their textiles. Truly, these spaces feel unified, despite the range of influences found in individual pieces. Moss cites her clients’ “sophisticated taste” and thoughtful engagement with art for the success of the two spaces. According to Johnson, it all worked out so well because there was no one person “in charge” of decorating the homes. “There isn’t an ounce of self-centeredness anywhere in this project,” he says. “There was no ego. The clients were the designers, and I came in to gently stir the pot and add a bit of seasoning once in a while.”
“This project was really lovely because it was just sort of a dance,” he adds. “Like when you are dancing, and each person is responding gently to create that fluid motion. It was just calm and gentle interaction, from start to finish.”
Long before moving to Portland, I traveled here with a talented New York architect named Evan Galen. By then, our professional relationship (I styled his residential projects for photography) had blossomed into friendship. Evan had renovated a grand house in Falmouth Foreside that he wanted to shoot. Usually, I barely meet the owners and simply exchange pleasantries. But this time they invited us to stay over at their enormous manse, to which John Calvin Stevens once added details and for which Frederick Law Olmsted had designed the grounds. Our hosts had amassed an extensive collection of Maine art, much of it from the artists’ colony on Monhegan Island, where they’d summered for years.
It was a thoroughly enchanting experience. The wife—a veritable sparkplug who had represented Portland in the state legislature for ten years and authored arts bills still in effect today—made lunch for the crew and served it in her beautiful garden. One day I bicycled with the husband—the senior partner in a large Portland law firm—to get bagels for breakfast, and on another evening they treated us to an elegant restaurant dinner.
Evan and I lost touch when my marriage hit the rocks in 2016. He and his husband summered in Maine, and I wanted to reconnect with him when I moved to Munjoy Hill two years ago, as well as with this exceptionally gracious couple. I knew they’d sold the large house in 2014 because Evan had told me he was designing something more livable for them farther north. When Evan’s phone numbers didn’t work and a search for his website turned up nothing, it occurred to me to type “Evan Galen obit” into my search engine, and to my great sadness, I learned he’d passed away from cancer the year before my arrival. Later, my friend and former gallerist Peggy Golden, who knew the couple, was able to reunite us.
Over hors d’oeuvres and a glass of wine, we reminisced about Evan, and they told me the story of their new home. “I wanted peacefulness, simplicity, and ease of maintenance,” says the wife. “I think that’s what you want when you get older.” (They are now in their 80s.) Stylistically, she adds, “I wanted to move into the twenty-first century, which I’ve always liked, but it didn’t work in the old house.”
In 2014 the couple purchased a single-level ranch. The husband recalls that the original owner had “wanted it to look like a house on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.” True to this desire, the original architect and builders constructed a stucco structure with no formal foyer. “In Maine, you can’t just open the door into the living room,” says the wife. “You need a place to sit down and take off your boots!” Something would have to be added to create a graceful and commodious entry. The interior was chopped up, but says the wife, “We recognized that by opening up some rooms you’d have a sense of space and air.” What you’d also have, adds her husband, was “the longest unobstructed view of Casco Bay not blocked by islands.”
As Evan, the couple, and builder Ron Tozier had toured the house, they told me, Tozier pushed a pencil at a wall and it poked right through. “I think we handled that well,” laughs the wife. “We noted it and moved on.” But, recalls Tozier, “We found there were problems with the structure caused by moisture between the walls and insulation, and also the way it was graded. The bottom third of the house was rotten. Even the studs! We had nothing to save but the roof.”
Tozier called in Eric Dube of Casco Bay Engineering, who devised a way to hold the roof aloft while they rebuilt everything underneath. He also figured out how to support it once it was lowered again, this time onto a generously fenestrated building in which the main room’s support beams had been redesigned and relocated so as not to obstruct the spectacular marine panorama. “Evan wanted to get rid of the walls—all of them,” says Tozier, who had worked with him on other projects. Dube deployed steel beams and cables with beautiful custom turnbuckles that prevent the roof from collapsing like a pancake. Exposed I-beams and high-tech LED lighting impart a feeling of industrial cool.
“The design evolved up until the last moment,” says Tozier. “Evan was a design-as-you-go kind of guy. He never made drawings.” Sometimes he drew out his ideas right on the last remaining wall, remembers the husband. Evan might also sketch out something rough and fax it to Tozier from New York. For certain elements, such as the eventual entry vestibule, powder room, and large coat closet, Tozier’s team would do a mock-up with two-byfours, take a picture, and fax it to Evan. The architect would scribble comments on it and send it back, after which Tozier would create CAD drawings for the code officer. The resulting 4,500-square-foot, three-bedroom residence now boasts high ceilings and rambling spaces that are flooded with natural light.
The couple has always been very active in the visual and performing arts. The wife had started holding “Sunday Night Awakenings” in the 1960s that featured, among others, Black author Claude Brown, poet Robert Lowell, filmmaker Shirley Clarke, and painter Jack Levine. Over three decades, her husband chaired the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the Maine Arts Commission, and the Portland Museum of Art. They love to host large gatherings, so the main living– dining–kitchen area can comfortably seat 80 on casual, no-hassle wicker and Sunbrella-covered sectionals and roomy armchairs.
And the art collection? Opening up the warren of closed spaces in the original home left few walls for display. “Where were we going to put the pictures?” wondered the wife. “It was Evan who suggested hanging them on cabinet doors,” she says. Those doors, which conceal tableware, a bar, appliances, and decorations, run along the L-shaped kitchen at the perimeter of the main space.
Modern, bright, and colorful—and quintessentially Maine—these paintings showcase some of the state’s major talents, both living and deceased. They include Jay Connaway, Joseph De Martini, Lynne Drexler, Connie Hayes, John Hultberg, Henry Kallem, Louise Nevelson, and Alice Spencer. The works pop against the white cabinetry and, notes the wife, “give people sitting with their backs to the ocean an equally beautiful view.”
Down a hall and protected from sunlight are works on paper by Kallem, Murray Hantman, Waldo Peirce, John Raimondi, Ben Shahn, Reuben Tam, and Carol Wald (a late cousin of the husband’s). In the owners’ bedroom hang works by Hans Moller and Douglas Frati.
Despite this amazing assortment, says the husband, “We were never consciously collecting. Most were purchased from the artists directly on an installment plan.” His wife adds, “By spending 40 years with artists on Monhegan, we recognized these men and women were struggling. It was a very symbiotic relationship. We got a painting, and they got their regular 25 dollars a month.” The husband reiterates what is self-evident: “We tend to be attracted to people who are creative.”
Including, of course, Evan, who lavished many details throughout, such as a striking black Venetian plaster wall in the living room and ceiling-high built-in shelves in the library. “It wasn’t just a bookcase,” says the wife. “He took the time to make it into an architectural feature. The home is a homage to our dear friend. We respected his aesthetic sense, which was pitch-perfect.”
It remains a stunning tribute to a lovable mensch we will always miss.
When former investment banker Michael Fortier and photographer Samuel Strickland flung open the doors of Portland’s Venn and Maker in 2017, they had one goal in mind: to showcase Maine-made goods in a new way. “I’ve traveled all over the world, and there is as much skill here as anywhere else,” says Fortier, a Winslow native who splits his time between Brunswick and London. “I grew up going to design fairs, and the maker lifestyle has always seemed tough to me—especially with the harsh weather here. I wanted to make quality product available in a better environment, one that goes beyond the traditional gift shop or craft store.” (Items adorned with lobsters, lighthouses, or lupines— or “the three Ls,” as Fortier refers to them—are strictly forbidden here.) The result, says Fortier, is “the type of refined retail experience that one might see in a major city like New York, London, or Paris,” offering everything from home accessories and jewelry to art and lighting.
Venn and Maker is constantly evolving, but the biggest change in recent months has been the addition of furniture, thanks to a new partnership with local designer Vanessa Helmick of Fiore Home. Helmick closed the retail arm of her business—which was located down the street from Venn and Maker—when the pandemic hit, but Fortier didn’t let her get far before convincing her to curate her own permanent retail space within the showroom. Now a range of modern furnishings from near and far—including sofas, chairs, tables, stools, headboards, and even one-of-a-kind rugs—complements the shop’s home accessories, art, and lighting by local artisans. “Vanessa’s style matches ours perfectly,” says Fortier. “She has a great eye for sourcing sustainable pieces with a cool northern European aesthetic.” This “Scandi-beach” look (“It’s the feeling of ‘hygge’ by the ocean,” explains Helmick) is rooted in clean lines, texture, and a balance of warm (sand) and cool (water) tones. “I grew up in the mountains outside Yosemite National Park, and I also lived in Southern California, so I’ve always been inspired by nature,” says the designer, who moved to Maine in 2010. With that in mind, Helmick favors modern-yet-comfortable neutral items with natural materials such as sustainably sourced wood (her go-tos are white oak, teak, and walnut), concrete, and resin, paired with durable, stain-resistant upholstery. “Everything on display is meant to flow together, so it’s easy to mix and match these products,” says Helmick. “It empowers people to know that they can’t mess it up.” In fact, Helmick and Fortier, along with showroom manager Erica Gammon, have creative brainstorming sessions to ensure that the two brands blend seamlessly. “I would tell Vanessa if I didn’t like something, but that hasn’t happened yet,” says Fortier. “It’s a great partnership.”
According to Fortier, Venn and Maker has come a long way since it first opened. “Back then, we had no choice but to be takers because we needed to have enough product to fill a shop,” he says. “Now we’re makers, collaborating with artisans to create work. And I love how the aesthetic of the showroom is always changing as a result of what these arti – sans are currently thinking and doing. I hope it serves as a magnet for other talented makers.”
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
-In addition to artisan-made goods and new furnishings from around the world, Venn and Maker offers vintage, found, and repurposed goods such as tabletop items, jewelry, and books, both in-store and online under its brand Urban Hunt.
-When it comes to art, Venn and Maker can arrange for customers to see a piece in their home before committing. “We work with a small number of artists, who are very involved in the entire process,” says Venn and Maker‘s owner Michael Fortier. “This way, the buyer feels like they’re working directly with the artist.”
-As a result of the current industry-wide crisis for furniture stock and increasing custom lead times, designer Vanessa Helmick of Fiore Home is focused on providing as many stocked options as possible. “It has been so busy that we’ve been selling furniture right off the showroom floor,” says Helmick.
-Venn and Maker will soon launch two new specialty websites, which can be found via their main website: one will be dedicated to furniture (modernandvintagefurniture.com), and the other to contemporary art (contemporaryartmaine.com). “The website has really started to take its own direction,” says Fortier. “We’ve sold product to people in 38 states. It’s exciting to think about someone in Idaho finding our little store in Portland.”
Due to the pandemic, the showroom at 65 Washington Avenue may be operating by appointment only. For more information or to make an appointment, call 207.835.0590 or go to vennandmaker.com.
You wouldn’t know it from Chris Van Dusen’s popular 2009 children’s book, The Circus Ship, but the true story of the shipwreck is a tragic one. There was a fire, too few lifeboats, a few horses that escaped to shore, and many casualties. Yet something about the idea of a ship filled with circus animals off the Maine shore stuck with Van Dusen. He saw the potential for magic embedded in this bit of local history. “It was fun to place a story on an island,” he says. “The containment of an island makes it intriguing. You can’t just go on forever. You need camaraderie and cooperation, and you need to work together to survive.” He pauses. “That’s also the theme of the book I’m working on right now, but I can’t tell you much about that.”
Van Dusen is a classically trained artist and illustrator who has sold fine art in Portland galleries, worked at a greeting card company, done various bits of editorial work for magazines, and worked with popular children’s book author Kate DiCamillo on her Mercy Watson series. Through these various projects (and over the course of several decades), Van Dusen honed a style that he now uses to spin his own yarns for young readers. “I call it painterly cartoons,” he explains. His images are more sophisticated than the average pen-and-ink cartoon, but they’re still playful. “When I look back at my first book [Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee], Mr. Magee was pretty cartoony, how I painted him,” Van Dusen reflects. “I probably wouldn’t paint him that way now. I’ve changed a bit— my people are a little more realistic, and I’m including more diversity in my books.”
However, you can still recognize Van Dusen’s world from book to book. While he doesn’t name Maine as the setting for most of his works, the natural features of the midcoast appear time and again. “It’s so visually beautiful here, it’s hard not to have it seep into your work,” he says. Another thing that’s stayed constant is his choice of paint. “I’ve worked with watercolors, and I painted with oils in college, but I don’t use oils for my illustrations because it takes so long to dry,” he says. Instead, Van Dusen paints his lively, colorful, retro-inspired scenes using gouache. Sometimes called “opaque watercolor,” gouache is a medium that allows a greater degree of control than traditional watercolors. “You can cover up mistakes and add layers,” he says. Plus it “reproduces really well,” so it’s great for picture books, says Van Dusen. “If you compare the original illustration to the printed version, the colors are spot on, even with tough colors like aquas and oranges. That doesn’t always happen.” Back when he made art for greeting cards, Van Dusen often saw his carefully mixed turquoise faded to a dull blue, his bright orange muddied into brown. “It was so discouraging when you had a piece of art you were happy with, to then see it change.”
Van Dusen is a self-described “stickler” about colors. “If I’m reading a children’s book, and I see the kid’s shirt change from orange to purple halfway through, that drives me crazy,” he says. In order to keep colors consistent throughout an entire book, he mixes the gouache on plastic plates (the kind, he says, where “there’s sections for your chips, your coleslaw, your lobster roll”) and stashes them inside large ziplock bags for the duration of the book’s creation. And this can take a long time.
But first, Van Dusen begins to think up a story. He prefers a traditional story arc, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. “A lot of children’s books are a bit more concept-based now,” he says. “But I like working with a traditional plot.” After he’s made a story map, he goes through and works on the rhymes. “I write them down as they pop into my head, which doesn’t happen linearly,” he explains. Once he’s rhymed all he can rhyme, he submits the text to his editor and begins working on sketches. Finally, after all that is done, he’s ready to start painting. “It takes me about nine months to a year to make a book,” he says. “I work so slowly. And I’m working slower and slower as I age, but I like that. I enjoy books that have a lot of detail in the pictures. Robert McCloskey has always been one of my favorite illustrators because of that.”
While several parents have approached him over the years about selling his paintings to use as nursery decor, Van Dusen has always said no. It’s not surprising that Van Dusen has a hard time parting with his paintings, considering all the work that goes into each panel and each story. “I’m not ready to part with them,” he says. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.” (Van Dusen does have a few select prints for sale available on his website, but moving product isn’t his primary focus.) He has given pieces to local libraries, but he keeps most of the panels from past books in his studio. It’s useful for an artist to be able to look back at their past work, and growth is constant, even for longtime makers like Van Dusen. “I’m always finding new ways to paint and illustrate, like by using Q-tips or my fingers in the paint. It’s fun to experiment,” he says. “I think I’m getting better, still.”
Remember the formal living rooms of our parents and grandparents—the ones we weren’t allowed to enter except under very special entertaining circumstances? According to American interior designer and antiques curator Jan Showers, no space is sacred—or at least, it shouldn’t be. In her third book, Glamorous Living (Abrams, 2020), she writes that every room of the house ought to be equally comfortable and inviting. Living rooms, like the one we fell in love with shown here, are filled with books and other meaningful items that are visually complex, both texturally and stylistically. Nothing, Showers insists, is more passé than monochromatic, matchy-matchy decor. This second-floor reception room in a Belgravia townhouse in central London is imbued with personality. Several of the pieces are the delightful vintage finds of the owner, whom Showers describes as having a wonderful eye; he discovered the sheeny bird sculptures in Paris. A small life sculpture is not tucked away in a fusty glass case but is playfully displayed atop a stack of Cartier coffee table books. The art-filled apartment, which includes a Warhol edition over the mantel and a Lucian Freud to the left, also happens to pair solidly with Pantone’s Color of 2021 choices—Ultimate Gray and Illuminating (aka bright yellow)—proof that Showers has her finger on the pulse of interior design.
1. Arenson Yellow Ceramic Table Lamp // crateandbarrel.com
2. Rye Decanter // simonpearce.com
3. Brass Cranes // frontgate.com
4. Andy Warhol Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom Print // 1stdibs.com
5. Raging Sideboard in Cherry // hustonandcompany.com
6. Bat Lounge Chair by GamFratesi // danishdesignstore.com
7. Candle Holder by Bloomingville // fitzandbennetthome.com
8. Liev End Table // jossandmain.com
9. Glacier Rug in Sunny // angelaadams.com
“My job as a mural painter is to create a unique, large-scale piece of artwork that not only fits the location but also activates the wall to be an engaging and enhancing piece of the total structure and environment.”
MH+D ASKS ADAMS TO TELL US MORE.
Q. What is a common misconception when it comes to murals?
A. People often assume that, if someone is skilled at painting canvases, they will automatically be skilled in mural painting. As someone who does both, I can personally say that they are extremely different. A mural is often an entire wall, or multiple walls, so someone can be fully immersed in viewing the work. When you’re up close, you can see only a portion of the whole piece, so it needs to be engaging in the small sections and as a whole. If pulled off correctly, a mural can serve as a landmark, an inspiration, an accent, or a design element that ties an entire space together.
Q. What is the first thing you do when you start a new project or have a “blank canvas”?
A. Before I start any project, interior or exterior, I plan a site visit. I’ve learned that it is crucial to observe the total surrounding environment for any potential curveballs that may not have been captured in photos, like awkwardly placed pipes or fun little patches in the wall.
Q. It’s fun to spot your work walking around Portland. How did you develop your signature style?
A. My signature style of mural paintings is what I call my “gem” style. In short, gem style is a geometric breakdown of letterforms that uses color, shadows, and highlights to create movement and depth throughout the pieces. Mix the structure of cubist paintings with the flow of modern-day graffiti pieces and sprinkle in a dash of the old “Magic Eye” books, and I think you get an idea. Since this style is based on letterforms and geometric shapes, it gives me a lot of wiggle room to simplify, intensify, and mold the work to fit the space appropriately.
Q. How you decide on the colors for your murals? What influences your selection?
A. With my style of mural painting, I concentrate heavily on color palette and flow to achieve the desired effect. When proposing color palettes to clients, I consider the space where it is being installed, the shape of the wall, the amount of natural light it receives, and also the energy/vibe that the piece is conveying. For instance, when creating a piece for a hip marketing agency that had neon signs and pink couches, it felt comfortable to propose a bold palette with pinks, purples, and black. Whereas a restaurant located in an old church with exposed beams and stained-glass windows would require a calmer but acclimating palette of maroons, tans, and an accent of olive green.
Q. Using architecture as your canvas can, I assume, be challenging. How do you work with the space you have without compromising your vision?
A. I use flow to help direct the eye toward or away from certain aspects of the wall. This can have a profound effect on the entire space. For example, if a large window was to the right of the wall I am painting, I would consider making the linework and general flow of the piece angled so that it would drive the eye to move from left to right, therefore giving the feel of more light expanding in from that side. Another example would be a wide wall in a central location, using maybe a layout that expands from the middle of an arched layout would help to feel as if space was stretched out, widening the entire room.
My background in graffiti writing has helped me learn how to paint large-scale and be malleable enough in my plans to fit my ideas within the space and not just onto it. Whether it is a painted pattern, a collection of flowers, or a splatter-paint abstraction, I believe that a mural can have many positive effects on a space. With the correct color palette, it can assimilate, but at the same time activate and engage people, in a space that may have been overlooked. With the correct flow, it can create illusions of additional space and draw the viewer’s eye in a specific direction. With attention to the total piece and the details within, it can be admired and utilized from afar and up close.