House Tour

Diamond in the Rough

Seasoned renovators shine up a neglected Great Diamond Island gem.

TEXT BY JOYCE KRYSZAK
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JEFF ROBERTS
Cushy Lowes wicker seats and a rug from Homegoods create a snug living area on Michele and Mark Zajkowski’s Great Diamond Island porch.

ABOVE Cushy Lowes wicker seats and a rug from Homegoods create a snug living area on Michele and Mark Zajkowski’s Great Diamond Island porch.

Michele and Mark Zajkowski didn’t let a leaning foundation, mishmash of additions, or frigid downpour keep them from snapping up their dream cottage on Portland’s Great Diamond Island in January of 2012. “We looked at three places and this one was in the worst shape,” Michele, a Portland interior designer, says of the 1885 home with double porches and checkerboard-patterned windows in sea glass shades. “I guess we have a problem — we’re serial renovators.”

The couple has refurbished two historic homes in Cape Elizabeth, but the cottage — hidden like a gem beneath layers of schist — was by far the trickiest and most bizarre. Consider the kitchen — outfitted with apartment-size appliances, plywood cabinets, and putrid-yellow Formica countertops — and lone bath crammed inside a collapsing closed-in porch, blocking the only view of Lamson Cove. Then there was the potpourri of claddings: vinyl siding slapped over cedar shingles and, on the interior, shiplap, beadboard, and faux-wood paneling, a kaleidoscope of brightly painted yellow-pine floors, and cedar roof shingles applied inside on bedroom ceilings.

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“New” hardware from Portland Architectural Salvage and creamy yellow paint perk up the original front door.
In the upstairs bath, a Wayfair Carrara-marble-topped vanity picks up the variegated grays in an antique painting.
The Zajkowskis’ daughter and a friend sit at a barn-wood dining room table from Falmouth’s Dwellings; stained glass restored by Westbrook’s Bagala Window Works and an abstract by Cape Elizabeth’s Laurie Fischer add pop.
In the laundry room, a vintage sink wears a seersucker skirt.

ABOVE 1) “New” hardware from Portland Architectural Salvage and creamy yellow paint perk up the original front door. 2) In the upstairs bath, a Wayfair Carrara-marble-topped vanity picks up the variegated grays in an antique painting. 3) The Zajkowskis’ daughter and a friend sit at a barn-wood dining room table from Falmouth’s Dwellings; stained glass restored by Westbrook’s Bagala Window Works and an abstract by Cape Elizabeth’s Laurie Fischer add pop. 4) In the laundry room, a vintage sink wears a seersucker skirt.

To make the house livable enough to use that first summer and streamline the interior, the Zajkowskis did a bare-necessities kitchen and bath remodel, then blitzed through the rooms spray-painting everything white, including the floors. The latter, Michele now says, was a huge mistake. “We had two active teenagers and two yellow Labs with big nails. I thought, ‘what did I do?!’”

Seeing the floors returned to their original rich honey shade was a high point of the second 10-month-long renovation in 2016. Working with Portland architect Mark Mueller, they leveled the house and shored up the sagging foundation built atop — tree trunks? “That’s actually pretty common on the islands,” Mueller says. “A hundred years ago, people used to drag random stuff up from the beach and then build a house on it.”

At night, bits of stained glass shine like jewels on a bay window edged with Annabelle hydrangeas.

ABOVE At night, bits of stained glass shine like jewels on a bay window edged with Annabelle hydrangeas.

Next, they tore off the sinking enclosed porch and a sunroom addition in similar shape, replacing them with bigger additions that encompass an indoor bath, pantry, and kitchen with cabinets and bracket shelving custom built and glazed in soft driftwood tones by retired islander Steve Berube, as well as a spacious family room with a hulking riverstone fireplace, wraparound windows, and reclaimed barn beams (towed in, like the masonry and crane used to straighten the structure, on a chartered barge). Upstairs, Mueller devised a gabled shed dormer, punctuated with restored and replica stained-glass windows, crafted by Berube, to encapsulate a bath and bedroom closet.

ABOVE Beadboard paneling; cabinets and shelving in a mottled, glazed finish; a rich walnut island top; subtly veined Imperial Danby countertop; and knotty-pine floor energize the kitchen’s neutral palette.

Diverging somewhat from the “relaxed yet elegant” decorating philosophy she espouses to clients of her firm, Ocean View Designs, Michele aimed for “a comfy, cottage vibe — without being too kitschy or campy.” Unfussy slipcovered and wicker furnishings prevail, along with painted pieces, such as a lime-green entry bench from Maine Cottage and pair of aqua bedroom dressers from Saco non-profit Maine Woodworks, sisal and boldly striped rugs, skirted storage, and plenty of colorful yet serene local artwork layered over Swiss Coffee–white beadboard and shiplap walls.

Now thoroughly polished, the Zajkowskis’ “diamond” feels utterly precious. It’s where they look forward to reconnecting with family and friends each summer, cooking big meals, and lazing on the expansive L-shaped porch draped with string lights resembling low-hanging stars. “We love old homes and try to preserve their integrity while also making them work for how we live today,” Michele says. “We consider ourselves good stewards.”

Diamond in the Rough

Seasoned renovators shine up a neglected Great Diamond Island gem.

Cushy Lowes wicker seats and a rug from Homegoods create a snug living area on Michele and Mark Zajkowski’s Great Diamond Island porch.

ABOVE Cushy Lowes wicker seats and a rug from Homegoods create a snug living area on Michele and Mark Zajkowski’s Great Diamond Island porch.

TEXT BY JOYCE KRYSZAK
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JEFF ROBERTS

Michele and Mark Zajkowski didn’t let a leaning foundation, mishmash of additions, or frigid downpour keep them from snapping up their dream cottage on Portland’s Great Diamond Island in January of 2012. “We looked at three places and this one was in the worst shape,” Michele, a Portland interior designer, says of the 1885 home with double porches and checkerboard-patterned windows in sea glass shades. “I guess we have a problem — we’re serial renovators.”

The couple has refurbished two historic homes in Cape Elizabeth, but the cottage — hidden like a gem beneath layers of schist — was by far the trickiest and most bizarre. Consider the kitchen — outfitted with apartment-size appliances, plywood cabinets, and putrid-yellow Formica countertops — and lone bath crammed inside a collapsing closed-in porch, blocking the only view of Lamson Cove. Then there was the potpourri of claddings: vinyl siding slapped over cedar shingles and, on the interior, shiplap, beadboard, and faux-wood paneling, a kaleidoscope of brightly painted yellow-pine floors, and cedar roof shingles applied inside on bedroom ceilings.

To make the house livable enough to use that first summer and streamline the interior, the Zajkowskis did a bare-necessities kitchen and bath remodel, then blitzed through the rooms spray-painting everything white, including the floors. The latter, Michele now says, was a huge mistake. “We had two active teenagers and two yellow Labs with big nails. I thought, ‘what did I do?!’”

Seeing the floors returned to their original rich honey shade was a high point of the second 10-month-long renovation in 2016. Working with Portland architect Mark Mueller, they leveled the house and shored up the sagging foundation built atop — tree trunks? “That’s actually pretty common on the islands,” Mueller says. “A hundred years ago, people used to drag random stuff up from the beach and then build a house on it.”

At night, bits of stained glass shine like jewels on a bay window edged with Annabelle hydrangeas.

ABOVE At night, bits of stained glass shine like jewels on a bay window edged with Annabelle hydrangeas.

Next, they tore off the sinking enclosed porch and a sunroom addition in similar shape, replacing them with bigger additions that encompass an indoor bath, pantry, and kitchen with cabinets and bracket shelving custom built and glazed in soft driftwood tones by retired islander Steve Berube, as well as a spacious family room with a hulking riverstone fireplace, wraparound windows, and reclaimed barn beams (towed in, like the masonry and crane used to straighten the structure, on a chartered barge). Upstairs, Mueller devised a gabled shed dormer, punctuated with restored and replica stained-glass windows, crafted by Berube, to encapsulate a bath and bedroom closet.

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ABOVE 1) “New” hardware from Portland Architectural Salvage and creamy yellow paint perk up the original front door. 2) In the upstairs bath, a Wayfair Carrara-marble-topped vanity picks up the variegated grays in an antique painting. 3) The Zajkowskis’ daughter and a friend sit at a barn-wood dining room table from Falmouth’s Dwellings; stained glass restored by Westbrook’s Bagala Window Works and an abstract by Cape Elizabeth’s Laurie Fischer add pop. 4) In the laundry room, a vintage sink wears a seersucker skirt.

Diverging somewhat from the “relaxed yet elegant” decorating philosophy she espouses to clients of her firm, Ocean View Designs, Michele aimed for “a comfy, cottage vibe — without being too kitschy or campy.” Unfussy slipcovered and wicker furnishings prevail, along with painted pieces, such as a lime-green entry bench from Maine Cottage and pair of aqua bedroom dressers from Saco non-profit Maine Woodworks, sisal and boldly striped rugs, skirted storage, and plenty of colorful yet serene local artwork layered over Swiss Coffee–white beadboard and shiplap walls.

ABOVE Beadboard paneling; cabinets and shelving in a mottled, glazed finish; a rich walnut island top; subtly veined Imperial Danby countertop; and knotty-pine floor energize the kitchen’s neutral palette.

Now thoroughly polished, the Zajkowskis’ “diamond” feels utterly precious. It’s where they look forward to reconnecting with family and friends each summer, cooking big meals, and lazing on the expansive L-shaped porch draped with string lights resembling low-hanging stars. “We love old homes and try to preserve their integrity while also making them work for how we live today,” Michele says. “We consider ourselves good stewards.”

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