Making It Modern
A midcoast couple shines light on contemporary Scandinavian design and modern Maine makers at Periscope, their gallery-inspired home goods store in Rockland.
When partners Ariel Hall and Jan Leth decided to open a shop in Rockland, they didn’t intend for it to become a furniture store. “We wanted to create a gallery-like space but with functional objects that we treat like art,” Leth says. “The goal was to keep it fluid and to do something that nobody else was doing. It ended up being a furniture store, although that doesn’t sound as exciting as what we were imagining.” He looks at Hall, who is dressed in a black linen jumpsuit and holding their infant child, and they nod in tandem.
But no matter whether you call it a home goods shop or a gallery space, Periscope is exciting, thanks to the unusual goods that Hall and Leth have chosen to import and stock. They have arranged the shop in vignettes—a dining table paired with chairs and topped with vases and sculptures here, a couch paired with a rug there—all tied together by their muted color palettes and minimalist lines. “My dad was a Danish architect,” Leth reveals, “and I was raised with Danish modern architecture.” While there is a focus on functionality at Periscope, both partners have a history working in the arts, and it shows. The couple met in Maine, where they “bonded over our shared exodus from New York,” Hall says. Although Hall grew up in nearby Hope, she had spent several years working as an artist in New York City. Leth also lived there, where he served as a global creative director for the advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather. They were further united by their love of contemporary art and design. After a few months of living in Maine, they swiftly realized that, while the midcoast region had plenty of great furniture stores and art galleries, there wasn’t one that focused on this particular type of cutting-edge Scandinavian design. “Not everyone wants Maine cottage–style pieces,” Leth observes. “And there was nothing this contemporary happening up here—not even in Boston,” Hall adds.
Periscope fills that niche nicely, selling long, low benches designed by famed midcentury modern Danish designer Børge Mogensen, minimalist oak and fabric sofas by Portuguese designer Rui Alves, and quirky ruffled pendant lamps by Copenhagen-based design firm Iskos-Berlin. While many of their pieces come from foreign shores, the couple is working hard to bring in more Maine-made items. “Curation is something we really want to emphasize,” Hall says. “The Scandinavian element comes from Jan’s heritage, but I’m from Maine. It’s important that we’re also bringing in local people and makers.” To that end, they have been working with furniture designers such as Michaela Crie Stone, who is based in Maine, and Asa Pingree, who is now based in New York but who has deep ties to Maine—he’s the son of Maine congresswoman Chellie Pingree—to increase their collection. They’ve also welcomed in students from the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship located in nearby Rockport. “It was so much fun to have them here inspecting our furniture,” Leth says. “Not to toot our own horn, but I think it’s been helpful for some Maine artists to see that they don’t have to use their traditional craft skills to make traditional-style pieces,” Hall adds. “They can come here and see our enthusiasm and understand that they can be a little more experimental with their own aesthetic.”
That these simple, airy designs would resonate with the Maine crowd “feels logical” to both Hall and Leth. The landscape of New England reminds Leth of his time spent visiting family in Denmark and exploring the rocky coast of Norway. Both cultures, he explains, value simplicity and natural materials such as wood and leather. “Most of these pieces feel so at home in Maine,” he says. In addition to the similar climate, Scandinavia and Maine also share some cultural values. “There’s a love of simplicity, and clean, functional things,” Leth continues. “Nothing extravagant, nothing extraneous. Just quality craftsmanship and quality work.”
How to add a modern touch to your Maine home
- Blend and mix. Hall says that one of the easiest ways to give your house a fresh look is by mixing “old and new, mass produced and handmade. Mingling genres and materials can work well, especially if the pieces speak a similar or complementary language through their color or shape,” she says.
- Declutter. “Don’t be afraid to leave space around a piece, especially if it’s a favorite,” says Hall. “Give it room to breathe, and it’ll be easier to appreciate its form, lines, and material. Ask yourself if you really even notice some pieces in your home. Sometimes less really is more, and creating space that lets air circulate can also encourage a sense of ease and flow.”
- Ask yourself: What can my objects do for me? “Functional objects don’t always have to be reserved for their intended purpose or hidden away in a closet,” Hall explains. “If you like the look of a sleek dustpan or a cool canteen, hang them on the wall as art.”
- Play with perspective. Hall suggests looking at your space, analyzing the lines of the room, and thinking about how these elements can be echoed (or subverted) through your choice of furniture. “Find symmetries and then make them slightly askew to shift the balance to something less predictable,” she suggests.
- Finally, consider your location. “You can reflect the natural beauty of Maine in your choice of furniture and decor,” Hall says. “Think of materials, colors, and organic shapes that echo and feel in sync with your environment.”