Kennebunk interior designer Annie Talmage’s new design studio and showroom, Saltwater Home, is a must-visit spot for realizing your next home design project
“Home holds a different meaning to each individual, and we are the conduit in bringing a design vision to life for our clients,” says the interior designer Annie Talmage from her airy, open-concept office in an old mill building in Kennebunk. The bright, high-ceilinged studio has served as the showroom for her all-female, seven-person team since last fall—and it is a testament to the Maine native’s desire to create livable, accessible spaces that exude a laid-back lifestyle and bring the outdoors in. Natural fiber chandeliers are suspended above chunky, sisal wall-to-wall carpeting. Water-tones and neutrals are set against white walls, with artwork hung gallery-style. Vignettes of casual, beach style furniture and accessories are set up throughout. Altogether, it’s a highly curated, visual tour of furnishings, upholstery swatches, paint chips, rug samples, and art—and it’s all for sale.
“One of the biggest things that I do when I meet a client is to get a sense of their goals and what they’re looking to achieve,” says Talmage, whose first business venture out of college was a flower shop that happened to be located next door to veteran interior designer Louise Hurlbutt’s showroom, Hurlbutt Designs. But Talmage had always dreamed of becoming an interior designer—ever since she was a kid building dollhouse furniture with her dad in his wood shop—so after five years in the flower business, she sold the company and started working next door. With no credentials in interior design, Hurlbutt took a chance on Talmage and became her mentor, promoting her to a lead designer within her first year with the firm.
Some fifteen years later, with an M.A in Interior Design from Savannah College of Art and Design, and as a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), Talmage has launched Saltwater Home, a design team and a studio space equipped to serve homeowners in Maine, Maui, and beyond.
Here, we ask her about her process, the power of in-person studio visits, and the client-centric purpose behind “by appointment only.”
What’s the most important part of your design process?
I try to make sure that I’m paying attention to and respecting everything that goes into someone’s home, as I want it to reflect them. I don’t want to walk into every house I do and see the same pieces. I want every space to be unique and a reflection of the homeowners’ personalities, whether it’s bringing in their personal artwork or a few family heirlooms. I try to get them to put their stamp on it, because I think that makes it feel much more authentic. This also requires a lot of research into how a person wants to feel when they walk into their home. Do they want it to be relaxing? Do they want it to be a space to gather? Do they want it to feel bright and airy or cozy and warm? So first we start with a lot of descriptive words, and then we work on vision boards and inspiration photos.
What’s the benefit of visiting the showroom?
People can buy off the floor, but it also gives them opportunities to feel fabrics. You can sit and feel what the cushion is like or the height of a chair’s back. And then we have ample amount of space for our upholstery, rug, and finish samples from all our furniture lines. It’s super organized and gives clients a clear sense of our style. For years, I worked in a home office with limited space. You can’t give clients the full experience or feel of what your style is fully without a complete sample library or floor models. This studio space has been a nice new chapter.
Why Maine and Maui?
Creating inspired spaces that exude a coastal lifestyle is what we do, and Maine and Maui offer the most inspirational and beautiful beaches. Maui offers a similar, but different, sunny aesthetic and balances out my design perspective during the long New England winters. Although physically distant, both places are similar in their appreciation of history, natural environment, family, and tradition, which is all very dear to my heart. In Maui we have partnered with many local businesses for sourcing and implementing design, which is a key component to the logistical aspect of business on an island.
How does e-design work?
I’ve done e-design for years, even before COVID pushed us all into a virtual mode of working. It has become our new normal and we have adapted well, creating more efficient modes of working via e-design with seasonal and long-distance clients. We have a new design software that allows us to give clients beautiful vision boards, with product images, dimensions, details, and specifications. We learned ways to maximize working together while still having that human connection. We’ll often do Zoom calls and phone calls, and then do the space planning, the floor plans, and the product selection through the computer software systems, but then we’ll put together curated sample packages to mail them of the actual finish samples. So whether it’s paint chips or furniture, they have a real visual and sensory experience, because obviously so much of this job requires that.
Why is Saltwater Home by appointment only?
The concept of a by appointment only studio is highly intentional. We want to give our clients a fully customized experience, tailored to their specific needs and goals. Our mission is to create a memorable experience for our clients during all stages of the design process. With dedicated time and space, the focus can be fully on our clients’ projects without distraction or the interruption of a retail environment. Reflecting our brand in all aspects of what we do inspires the team and our clients, culminating in spaces that reflect a coastal lifestyle.