ABOVE “One of the bigger mistakes I’ve made in my relationship is underestimating how heavy this tub is,” New Gloucester photographer Jeff Roberts says. “To this day, Myriam [Babin, his partner] is mad she had to help me move it in to make sure it fit, out to paint it, then back in again!” Scroll down to learn more.
TEXT BY SARAH STEBBINS
It turns out being holed up at home during a fearful and particularly unseasonable Maine spring (remember that electricity-zapping April snowstorm?) can be a powerful motivator. When #quarantineprojects and #covidprojects began trending on social media, we polled some of our favorite interior designers and architectural photographers to see what they’d been up to. Their projects — thrifty, creative, eye-catching — floored us: raised beds crafted from salvaged hemlock and blowtorched to a mahogany-like finish, an intricate mudroom mural rendered with homemade stamps, a sleek deck wrapped in cladding left over from other projects, and more. “Everything I do with my house is determined with aesthetics and cost weighing equally on my mind,” says Biddeford photographer (and the deck builder) Trent Bell, summing up the sentiments of many featured here and, we suspect, most of you.
Sensing a quarantine order was imminent, New Gloucester architectural photographer Jeff Roberts assessed his priorities. “I went to the Indian grocery near my parents in Massachusetts to stock up on veggie meals in pouches, then rushed to Ikea.” There he purchased a tiered bamboo pendant to crown the Craigslist claw-foot tub (above) he and his partner, photographer Myriam Babin, had spray-painted gold and installed in the downstairs bath in their 1790s farmhouse. “We wanted to make it loungey, like a nightclub,” says Roberts, who covered the walls in marine-themed, charcoal-and-silver Hygge & West wallpaper that conjures an elaborate chalkboard drawing. A “sea urchin” sink by Boothbay Harbor’s Ae Ceramics mounted atop a vintage wooden table, rusty metal submarine cabinet — both from Portland Flea-for-All — and the couple’s 7-year-old, Cassius, underscore the nautical vibe.
For three years after purchasing her 1760s Yarmouth farmhouse, Nicola Manganello, of Nicola’s Home, would often stare at her chaotic den bookshelf from the sofa “and feel stress, but not enough to get up and do anything about it.” Then the double-whammy of a quarantine order and an April snowstorm that knocked out power cleared her schedule. Inspired by The Home Edit, a Nashville company known for its color-coded closet and pantry makeovers, she and her college-age daughter, Maeve, arranged the books in rainbow order, mixing in horizontal stacks for interest and to serve as pedestals for sentimental objects. “It’s its own thing now,” Manganello says. “There’s still a lot going on, but the ordering makes it easier to look at.”
“We had eight weeks at home, what else were we going to do?” Tricia Tobey, of Tobey Design, says of the network of raised beds she and her partner, contractor John Jarnagin, installed on their Kittery Point property. Tobey drew up plans for an 18-by-3-foot bed fronting their garage and four 11-by-9-foot Ls centered on a 9-by-4-foot box a few years ago and “figured we’d do one bed a year.” Instead, they completed the bulk of the project — assembling boxes from hemlock salvaged from a job site, blowtorching and wire-brushing them to achieve the effect of shou sugi ban (an ancient Japanese wood finishing and preservation technique), and carving out gravel-stone paths — in one swoop. “We used to always sit in front of the house, facing Chauncey Creek,” Tobey says. “Now, every night, we’re back here.”
The den/office in photographer Meredith Perdue and her husband Michael Cain’s 1750 South Portland Cape didn’t need painting, but two weeks into quarantine and shortly after the death of their beloved black Lab, Orvis, “it seemed like a good use of our time,” Perdue says. She’d always wanted to try a monochromatic scheme and fell for Benjamin Moore’s lush Fairmont Green, which they applied in a pearl finish on the woodwork — the dark shade helping a non-working fireplace recede — and matte on the walls. “We didn’t have our phones or the news on, so it felt like an escape from all the worry and our loss,” she says. Still, Orvis, who used to sleep by the fireplace, remains a fixture — in the commissioned Elizabeth Endres painting above the sofa.
After a couple weeks working from her West Paris log home, Melissa Akers, of Bridgton’s Melissa Ellen Designs, could no longer ignore her worn yellow-pine kitchen floors. She and her husband, Mike, of Bridgton’s Maine Construction Management, renovated the space earlier this year with blackish green-and-stained-pine cabinets and stained-maple butcher-block countertops and planned to tile the floor. But Akers began to wonder, “Can we do something to beautify this using what we have?” She decided to create a larger-scale version of the checkerboard she painted on her bath floor, sketching 16-by-16-inch squares edged with 1- and 6-inch borders on the pine with a pencil and yardstick. Next, she brushed on Minwax stain in Jacobean, painted alternating squares and the wider border in Benjamin Moore’s Black, and applied two coats of satin poly. The dark-floor-dark-woodwork effect? “It feels like the room is giving you a hug,” she says.
Architect-turned-architectural-photographer Trent Bell designed his Biddeford home with help from his friend, Portland architect Caleb Johnson, to perch just above the earth. “I wanted to sit in the living room and feel a part of the natural environment without feeling like I was in the damp grass,” Bell says. The same thinking applied to the backyard living space he planned to have someone else build before the pandemic gifted him free time. He thought about a patio, but landed on a low deck, “where you can lay down and not feel like bugs will be crawling on you.” Crafted from cedar decking wrapped in white-cedar siding and aluminum sheet stock left over from the house and other projects, the 16-by-16-foot platform sports Adirondack-inspired chairs and small tables he made, a Craigslist woodstove, and, frequently, Bell, his wife, and their 8- and 11-year-old sons.
Pre-pandemic, the mudroom architectural photographer Irvin Serrano and his wife added onto their 1946 Saco Cape last year was “a sterile box.” Extra hours at home gave him time to craft a black-walnut shelf and coat rack studded with rail spikes found on Etsy to match the room’s live-edge black-walnut bench. Above, an elaborate border sets off a Jainite Silvestre print purchased in his native Mexico City. Inspired by stylized tobacco flowers and mushroom caps he saw on a sculpture of the ancient Aztec god Xochipilli at the city’s anthropology museum, he sketched the motifs in Photoshop, then etched them onto craft-foam sheets with a laser engraver to make stamps he affixed to plywood blocks. After mapping out the design on the wall with paper cutouts, he applied the stamps with paint, creating a space “that deeply reflects my roots.”
Carly Blackmore’s entire house has been a pandemic project. The owner of habitat.design and her family moved into their 1900 Shingle-style cottage in Falmouth in early April, soon after schools closed. “The kids were in weird-land, so my first priority was getting them settled,” says Blackmore, who sought to create rooms for her son and daughter that reflected their tastes. But when she asked 4-year-old Lawson about his favorite things, “he’d say dinosaurs one minute, rocket ships the next.” Her solution: Feature and bookshelf walls papered in a Spoonflower print “that has everything a little boy loves.” Black and white furnishings and bedding pick up the pattern’s graphic type. The verdict? “He’s thrilled,” Blackmore says. “And his sister was jealous, which made him happy!”