The Art of Compromise
A horticulturalist & a graphic designer surround themselves with beauty & community in their renovated home in Deering Highlands
In the entryway to Drew Hodges and Peter Kukielski’s home hangs a series of three large abstract drawings, each similar in form but different in detail. On a white background,
nebulous pops of yellow and blue burst forth, connected by thin, meandering black lines. The images are opaque at first glance, impossible to decipher, but for Hodges and Kukielski, they are a tidy representation of their respective careers in the natural landscape and the artistic world.
“We saw pieces just like these at Art Basel in Miami and loved them,” Hodges explains as we stare at the series by artist Spencer Finch. (Finch is best known for his installation at the National September 11 Memorial Museum, Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning.) The pieces on display had already been sold, so the couple asked Finch to create similar works for them. For this series, Finch went into his garden and, using a GPS, he followed a bee as it moved from a pink zinnia to a yellow clematis to a blue hydrangea. Using a pencil, he marked the movement of the bee on a canvas. The bursts of color, Hodges explains, are the flowers, and the dark lines represent the flight of the bees. “This is a real combination of Peter’s and my passions,” Hodges says. “I love them as abstract art, but they’re also a horticultural record.”
Hodges’s love for graphic and abstract art is visible throughout their home, but his taste is particularly apparent in his collection of Broadway posters, all designed by his New York design and advertising firm, SpotCo, which focuses on creating art and branding for Broadway musicals. (He’s also the author of On Broadway: From Rent to Revolution.) Many of the posters are striking and colorful with bold shapes and pop art influences. “We joke that this is the Broadway hall,” he says as he walks among the iconic graphics made for Hamilton, Rent, and Chicago that are framed and hung throughout the downstairs hallway and entry area.
While Hodges’s two-dimensional pieces can be easily displayed on the walls, one must look outside to see Kukielski’s own investment: green beauty. His life’s work is written in the hedges and hydrangeas and rose bushes. Kukielski is the former curator of the New York Botanical Garden’s Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden and author of Roses without Chemicals: 150 Disease-Free Varieties That Will Change the Way You Grow Roses. He has designed personal and public gardens throughout the country, and while the couple’s Deering backyard is still in the process of filling out, their house in Cushing has a mature, sprawling, and informal 16-acre outdoor space bursting with roses, herbs, and vegetables. (Curious gardeners have previously gotten a glimpse of Kukielski’s work on the Georges River Land Trust’s annual garden tour.)
Kukielski admits that his taste in objects is highly influenced by his love for flowers. “My aesthetic is flowery, chintzy, and drippy, while Drew’s is very graphic,” he says. “We had an interesting time choosing art—a fun time, but an interesting one.”
There is one story that perfectly encapsulates their process of picking out furnishings and light fixtures. “We were at Flos, an Italian lighting store, in New York,” Kukielski remembers. “I have an admitted lamp fetish—I love what they can do for a room. Anyway, we go into Flos and there is this floor lamp with a half-globeshaped shade. Drew says right away, ‘Oh my gosh, isn’t this fantastic? I’m crazy about this thing!’” Kukielski laughs. “I asked him to explain it to me, ‘Please, help me understand why it is fantastic!’” After some debate, the couple continued on to the back of the store, where they came upon another lamp. “It’s the same lamp, but on the inside of the globe is this plaster-of-Paris rose motif. I look at it and say, ‘Oh my gosh, now that is fantastic.” According to Kukielski, it was a revealing moment, where the longtime couple realized how seamlessly their tastes could be combined.
Since then, they’ve found harmony in their historic Portland home—particularly after a series of renovations that served to open up and modernize the 1913 structure. While Kukielski and Hodges drove many of the design decisions, they had some help from interior designers Donna Parratt, whose contribution can be seen most clearly in the foyer (the New York–based designer helped pick out lighting for the art), and Christine Maclin, who helped choose the textiles for the living room. (Sadly, Maclin passed away during the design process, which led to the homeowners’ decision to bring in Parratt.)
Other aid came from Andrew Bowman of A and N Builders in Portland, who oversaw the project. “The renovation evolved as we worked on it,” he explains. “Drew and Peter have a lot of artistic ability and vision. It was different from many renovations in that respect—they contributed ideas throughout.”
One detail Hodges insisted on was matching the moulding in the bedroom, which a previous owner had taken out, to the moulding that runs throughout the home. “That’s not easy to do,” Bowman says. “We had to have it custom-made because there is none like it on the market. When you have a house that’s as nice as this one—well, it’s not a normal house. You have to make sure everything matches exactly.” Bowman has been working in the industry for over 30 years, and while he says the house “was beautifully built, in a structural sense,” there were some issues with the layout, heating, and electrical systems. “It was dark and cold, and there was no flow to the floor plan. Now, when you walk into the front hallway, there is a big, open visual line that goes right into the backyard,” he explains. “That was their vision.”
When Hodges and Kukielski purchased the house in 2014, they were attracted to its stately appearance and grand neoclassical columns. Although the house had been renovated once before, years of disuse had given it a rather run-down appearance, particularly indoors. (At one point in the not-so-distant past, the house had even played host to a group of squatters.) “We love the oldness of the house,” says Hodges. “I’m drawn to these lines and proportions.” Unlike other houses the couple looked at in the West End, the Deering Highlands property had big windows, large mouldings, and wide rooms. “We’re both big guys,” Hodges laughs. “We’re still tweaking it and making it ours, but it always had this openness and brightness.”
They finished renovations in 2015, and although they’re still working on the decor, the house feels well loved already. Cheerful orange pillows brighten up the kitchen, and a pair of large, soft sofas dominate the living room. Not only is there art on almost every wall, but they’ve also brought art onto their dinner table, too. David Bielander’s playful bronze sculpture Kraken turns the dark, varnished wood of the table into a sea, from which many small tentacles rise and writhe. Above the table hangs a modernist chandelier the couple purchased in Venice, Italy, while on vacation. Other pieces reflect their eclectic tastes, from the carved wooden sculptures they bought in Ecuador to the geometric painting by contemporary Brooklyn-based painter Don Voisine (a native of Fort Kent).
But perhaps the space most indicative of their lifestyle is the sunny, bright breakfast nook. Before the renovation, backyard access was just one old door and a narrow brick staircase, but the couple decided to add French doors and a wide wooden deck to help promote indoor-outdoor living. As they sit in the dining area, surrounded by pencil cactuses, jade plants, and piles of books, the couple remembers the first time they set foot here. Even before the updates, they say, they knew there was something special about the place. “We thought it was open, friendly, and generous,” Kukielski remembers. “I felt hugged by this house when we first saw it. Like I was being embraced.” Now, as they tend to the garden that surrounds their home, and as they settle into their new lives as part of this friendly and tight-knit neighborhood, they’re returning the love.