Living on an Island

The Final Countdown

Living on an Island

In the second installment of her Building On An Island series, Laura Serino, of Island Apothecary, shares hard-won design lessons. What would you add to this list? Leave a comment and let us know! – Sarah

There are less than three weeks until my baby is due and a miracle has happened: A well is being drilled on our property.

Since we started building our home on North Haven island, there have been plenty of last-ditch efforts, last-minute cancellations, nail-biting deadlines, and the occasional harrowing moment, like the time my husband accidentally put his drill into his thigh. (He’s fine!) Now we’re approaching the ultimate deadline: my due date. As we pack up our winter rental and get ready to move into my mother-in-law’s house over Memorial Day weekend, we are aware of the fact that our house might not be ready by the time the little guy makes his appearance. I’ve come to terms with this and feel fine about it, especially now that I know we will have water! I’ve heard this is pretty crucial when you have a newborn in your house.

With our project wrapping up, I’d like to share a few lessons we learned the hard way, in case some of you are plotting a new build, whether it’s on an island or not.

Don’t Buy Lights in Advance.

Over the last few months, I’ve been ordering light fixtures when I see them go on sale and leaving them in boxes. Unpacking them now, I’m realizing they are not all such great choices. The downstairs master bathroom fixtures, for example, are black and copper, while the rest of the room’s hardware is polished nickel. All the ceiling lights upstairs are also a different finish than the doorknobs. In the grand scheme of things, I’m grateful we have hardware and electricity. But next time around, I’d wait until the end of the building process to make my lighting picks.

When my husband and I were deciding between this black-and-white penny-tile and the cobalt-blue version I wanted, we texted photos to our friends and asked them to choose their favorite. I hate to admit that I lost by a majority vote!

Ask Your Significant Other Before Ordering.

In my excitement about picking out our home’s finishing touches, I forgot one key thing: my husband and I often don’t share the same taste. This has meant returning the cobalt-blue penny tile I chose for the master bathroom floor — “too much contrast” with the white wall tile, he claimed — and bronze cabinet hardware I coveted for the kitchen. The reason I loved the bronze and he hated it is that it diverged from the stainless steel we have elsewhere. I think every interior design magazine out there would side with me on this one. The upshot? I now e-mail my husband images of everything before I order. I do not send him the prices though. Some things are okay to keep to yourself.

Be Wary When Buying Online.

The issue I consistently ran into when I purchased things online was how different they looked on a screen versus in a room. If I could do it all again, I would pick out basics like faucets and sinks at Home Depot rather than try to find unusual ones in hip online shops. Too many returns, and headaches, have resulted from the latter process.

Find a Local Freight Carrier.

When you need to purchase things online because, say, you live in a remote spot without many shops nearby, it can be tricky to get companies to deliver their goods to your far-flung location. What they will do is drop them off at a local storage facility or freight carrier. Although traveling to our freight company in Rockland, Bunker’s, requires a round-trip ferry ride, this is much quicker than driving to Portland to buy things in person.

The Captain Neil Burgess, which makes daily trips from North Haven to Rockland, is our lifeline.

Save Some Decisions for later.

We recently decided not to finish our second-floor bathroom before we move in. I know some of you are thinking, “But you’re having a baby! Now it’ll never get done!” Perhaps this is true, but at this point having 1½ finished bathrooms downstairs is good enough. This plan allows me time to live in the space and make more informed design decisions. And it gave my husband a window to paint his boat. Although, let’s be honest, he would have done that anyway. Lobstering takes precedence over pretty much everything!



  1. Barbara

    Love the penny tile! Thank you for the inspiration. Now I know what I’ll be installing in our bathrooms. Congratulations on the new house and the new baby.

    • Sarah Stebbins

      Thank you for the kind words, Barbara. Laura’s baby is due any day now! Good luck with your bathroom renovations — how exciting.

  2. I am living in a new house and I have two additional comments: dark wood floors are beautiful and they show EVERY spec of dirt. I have black and white tile on my bathroom floors which I love aesthetically, not the shower floor, and they too show EVERYTHING.

    • Sarah Stebbins

      Excellent advice, Judy, thank you. I hadn’t considered that about dark-wood floors, although I bet the black dog fur I have everywhere in my house would blend in nicely. 🙂 I hope you are enjoying your new home.

      • Thanks Sarah! Interesting idea about a dog if I get one. No white haired dogs in my new house!

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