Renovating Dover-Foxcroft: One Woman's Quest
Brenda Schultz is on a mission to refurbish her hometown, one barn and canoe shop at a time.
ABOVE In her revamped Dover-Foxcroft barn, Brenda Schultz layered an oil painting from Brunswick’s Cabot Mill Antiques on a stenciled wall and toile and velvet pillows on a sleigh daybed.
TEXT BY SARA ANNE DONNELLY
PHOTOGRAPHED BY TARA RICE
As a teenager in the 1970s, Brenda Schultz worked on her father’s painting crew, touching up Dover-Foxcroft’s Greek Revivals, Victorian farmhouses, and Queen Annes, meticulously kept by moneyed locals in the then-thriving mill town. Her dream was to someday own one of the historic beauties herself. But after moving to southern California, where she worked as a brand designer for celebrities like Cindy Crawford, she resolved not to settle in Dover-Foxcroft, located in what is now Maine’s poorest and least populous county. “The scarcity of living in central Maine and the hardscrabble life got embedded in my mind,” she says. “I had this whole thing built up in my head about why it was not a good place to be.”
ABOVE The barn (above left) and canoe shop were likely built around 1900 by Henry Packard, a canoe and snowshoe maker. Photo by Brenda Schultz.
Then, en route to Montreal in 2013 to meet up with a new boyfriend, she had a long layover in Bangor. She went to visit her mother in Dover-Foxcroft, and wound up staying for three weeks after getting a bad feeling about the guy and bailing on the trip. Being back in her hometown, “I was more relaxed than I had been in a long time,” Schultz says. “Then I started driving around and looking at the houses — I was so blown away by the potential.”
After she returned to California, her mother sent her a listing for a circa 1900 former canoe shop. Schultz wrote a check for the $23,000 asking price without ever stepping inside. A year later, she bought the late-19th-century barn next door and the Painted Lady across the street, moved to Dover-Foxcroft, and married local electrician Rob Stevens, with whom she’s rehabbed eight properties. Her whirlwind real-estate reboot has been partly an “artistic endeavor,” Schultz says. How much of the elegant Dover-Foxcroft of her childhood can she restore?
If all of her renovations were like the first couple, maybe not that much. The canoe shop was so ill-suited for residency that it even lacked an address. When it was lifted onto piers so a foundation could be dug, the rotten wood floor disintegrated. Over at the barn, the rafters were laden with empty liquor bottles, collected over a quarter century of neglect, and the interior was so grimy it took four days to power wash. Both structures had to be gutted, wired, plumbed, insulated, and reroofed.
Schultz reimagined the canoe shop as a loft with reclaimed hemlock flooring, pine paneling, a distressed tin ceiling, and, upstairs, a circa 1900 clawfoot tub next to a juniper canopy bed made by her stepson, East Dover woodworker Zach Dow. The barn has a similar boho-farmhouse aesthetic, with floral Persian rugs, a four-poster bed, and, in the living area, botanical stenciling and colorful upholstery juxtaposed with original hemlock flooring and beams.
ABOVE Schultz (seated) filled the former shop with antiques, such as the dining area’s 1850s cabinet from Central Maine Antique Mall, in Bangor, and 1920s chandelier. The bedroom has a rusty tub Schultz intentionally left in the rain and a sideboard from Central Maine Antique Mall chosen because “it’d had some hard living.”
The two properties and three others make up the Northwoods Compound, an Airbnb mini-empire, launched in 2019, that Schultz hopes will help revive her hometown. (To those who question whether her investments are exacerbating Maine’s affordable-housing shortage, Schultz suggests she’s saving houses that have been largely forsaken.) Last year, she opened the Mill Cafe, on Main Street, after her guests requested a scratch kitchen, and recently assumed ownership of the attached inn. “Being part of the community here, and being the one to help make it better,” Schultz says, “I guess that would probably make anybody feel good.”