A Designer’s Eye
Located in Kennebunkport’s Lower Village, Portside is the little sister store of Hurlbutt Designs, stocked full of distinctive objects and uncommon gifts.
For pedestrians strolling over the recently redone bridge into Kennebunkport, the first shop they’ll encounter is a narrow yet sunny space marked by a hanging navy blue sign. Just steps from the iconic Lanigan Bridge that links the towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, Portside is a veritable treasure box of coastal-inspired decor, charming oddities, and unique home finds. You’ll find porcelain phrenology model skulls, genuine bone boxes decorated with scrimshaw nautical scenes, large white sculptural pieces of coral, antique duck decoys, and more.
This collection is the work of interior designer Louise Hurlbutt and her talented team at Hurlbutt Designs. Portside opened in fall of 2014, and since then, the store has shifted its focus slightly to keep up with the demands of its clientele. “Initially we had things exactly as they were in the main shop, which meant it looked slightly more traditional than it does now,” explains Hurlbutt Designs regional manager Mark Leinenbach. Like the Hurlbutt Designs store on Western Avenue in Kennebunk, Portside started out as a showcase for Hurlbutt’s sophisticated style, which she describes as “Old World decorating.” However, after a few years, both Leinenbach and Portside store manager Cory Bryan began to sense that they might draw in more foot traffic with an edgier approach.
These days, the satellite store mixes Hurlbutt’s classic design sense—there are classic blue and white vases, ornate antique cabinets, and plush embroidered pillows— with the masculine aesthetic of Bryan and Leinenbach. Portside’s stocked shelves now bring to mind a vintage curio cabinet updated for the yacht club set, mixing ocean- inspired pieces (such as Mariposa seashell sculptures) with items that would be right at home in the library of a nineteenth- century explorer (such as polished wood and brass magnifying glasses and hanging miniature hot-air balloons).
“Because the Kennebunks are very cottage-y, with so many beautiful shingle- style homes, our pieces tend to reflect that aesthetic,” Hurlbutt says. But, as Bryan explains, they’ve begun offering more items that work as functional summer souvenirs, such as bocce ball sets and dominos. In addition, most everything in the store is for sale, from the lamps to the cabinets to the artwork on the walls. “If you like something here but want to see more, we can always direct you to the store on Western Avenue,” where they have a far more extensive array of furniture and home goods, Leinenbach says.
Although the small footprint of the store can present some challenges—the selection must be tightly curated—it also forces the Portside team to create truly cohesive displays on a pared-down scale. “It can be a challenge to keep the shelves looking full yet uncluttered,” says Bryan. “It’s all about moving items around to create small vignettes that go together.” Often, this means clustering similar items together, like a series of silver picture frames of various sizes and shapes. “Busyness combats busyness,” Hurlbutt says.
While Hurlbutt remains the driving force behind the store, she loves how Leinenbach and Bryan have pushed Portside in a new direction. “We’re going a little more mod there,” she says. “It creates a good juxtaposition.” Leinenbach agrees: “We’re offering items that are unique, that you can’t find anywhere else. Finds that feel like Kennebunkport and will remind you of the area and how special it is here.”
Style your shelves the Portside way
- Both Bryan and Hurlbutt agree that duplicate items can help ground an otherwise scattered display with symmetry. “I always buy two of an item, because many things look best styled symmetrically,” Hurlbutt says. “When you separate two similar or duplicate pieces, it can take away from their impact,” adds Bryan. For instance, vases of the same color and height (but slightly different patterns) can work well to anchor a vignette of items.
- Scale is incredibly important. “I like to style the shelves with shorter pieces in the front and taller pieces in the back,” says Bryan. “I’ve always used that as a strategy because it draws the eye upward as you examine each item.”
- Consider texture when creating dynamic groupings of items. Bryan suggests juxtaposing organic materials, such as white coral, with more modern finishes, such as polished metal picture frames.
- Choose one truly standout item as the focal piece for your display shelves, and design around it using a similar color palette. “Once you know what the main piece will be, you can choose items that are different, but in complementary colors, to create a look that works,” Leinenbach says.
- But above all, the most important ingredient in styling a vignette is constant experimentation. Hurlbutt, Leinenbach, and Bryan all advise moving objects around and tinkering with the display until you find the right arrangement for the space. “You know what works internally—it’s about what appeals to you deep inside,” Leinenbach says.