Places to Explore

Betty Forever in Camden Maine

How an Auto Body Shop Became a Chic New Hangout

Places to Explore

A creative collaboration transforms a Camden garage into a studio, gallery, and gathering spot.

Photographed by Dave Waddell

It feels like you’re in somebody’s really nice house,” floral designer Molly O’Rourke says of the Camden gallery/restaurant, Betty Forever, she and ceramicist Ariela Nomi Kuh opened late last year — if that house happened to be a converted auto body shop. Black-and-white gingham-topped tables and bentwood chairs pop against towering white garage doors and a terra-cotta-colored concrete floor. Before the tiny open kitchen, a cabriole-legged table ringed with six gold-upholstered, Louis XV–style chairs conjures up grandma’s dining room. And above the 12-seat bar — faced with wooden dowels that resemble bamboo and crowned with plywood coated in stone-like gray marine paint — an arched shelving unit with the same dowel veneer recalls a giant china cabinet. “We wanted a luxe Art Deco feel, despite using humble materials,” O’Rourke says. 

At Camden’s Betty Forever, you’ll find (clockwise from left) a bamboo-like bar, an abstract sign by artist Meghan Brady, vintage furnishings, and ceramics by co-owner Ariela Nomi Kuh.

A former restaurant server, she and Kuh, whose ANK Ceramics are in rotation at restaurants such as Portland’s Drifters Wife and Flood’s, were looking to create a multipurpose community hangout, and the available gas station/body shop didn’t daunt them. “There are already a few great gas station makeovers in Maine, like Tandem [Coffee + Bakery in Portland], so it was an easy stretch of the imagination,” O’Rourke says. The old mechanic’s office in front is now a ceramics shop stocked with Kuh’s elegant wares in mottled, textured, and ombré glazes. Her studio occupies a rear garage, and on Sunday and Monday evenings, when the restaurant is open (but not much else in town is), you can find her perched at the bar, manned by O’Rourke, in the 16-foot-tall room that once sported car lifts.

Local friends, including High Seas Builders and artist Meghan Brady, who painted a sign depicting an abstract vase in blazing shades above the front window, helped with the remake, and O’Rourke’s cousin, Matt, is the restaurant’s chef. As for the name, it pays homage to mid-century ceramicist Betty Woodman, known for her vibrant vessels in quirky shapes, and 1950s connotations of “domesticity, femininity, and hospitality,” Kuh says. “Woodman’s work exploded boundaries,” O’Rourke adds. “And we’re rethinking how we put boundaries around the spaces we’re operating in.”

46 Elm St., Camden. 

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