ABOVE Built in 1790 and expanded in 1883, the house is supposedly one of three erected for brothers on the same lot.
TEXT BY SARA ANNE DONNELLY
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JEFF ROBERTS
“My goal is that this house has character, that it’s unique,” says Jeff Roberts, who bought his 1790 New Gloucester farmhouse five years ago and has been filling it with peculiar stuff ever since. “Everything here’s a little ridiculous. I mean, this is a duck.” He picks up a brass lamp shaped like a mallard with a shade where its head should be. The bird sits on a low, cobalt metal locker-turned-liquor-cabinet in the dining room, which also features a sake pot in the shape of a tuna, two sculptures of Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god, a banner from a Tokyo yakitori shop, a 1970s yellow-plastic serving tray emblazoned with the command “EAT!,” and seven identical white clocks, each displaying a different, arbitrary time. “It makes no sense,” Roberts says. Maybe, I offer, it all makes sense together? He laughs for a while before replying: “Sort of?”
ABOVE 1) In the hallway, a vintage Deering Ice Cream bucket serves as a planter. 2) Rich wall colors backdrop a funky mix of souvenirs, gifts, and vintage finds in Jeff Roberts’s New Gloucester farmhouse. 3) Roberts punched up the kitchen with a vintage rug from Portia’s Barn, in Portland, walnut oyster platters from Hope’s Oyster River Joinery, and brass peafowl door handles from India that he attached to the refrigerator. 4) In the first-floor bath, oceanic Hygge & West wallpaper complements an sea-urchin-shaped sink from Boothbay Harbor’s Ae Ceramics.
Before the pandemic, Roberts was peripatetic. Every summer and fall, he’d be here, shooting homes for magazines like this one as a freelance photographer. The rest of the year, he traveled as much as possible, often with an extra empty suitcase so “I could bring back all the art in the world.” Roberts has had wanderlust since he was 15, when a family friend invited him and his father to hike Mount Kilimanjaro. Soon after, he trekked the Himalayas and toyed with becoming a guide before deciding on college instead. “But those two trips defined the groundwork of who I am,” he says. To date, he’s visited 40 countries, picking up mementos that, along with thrift-store finds and kooky gifts from friends, decorate every nook and carved mantel in this five-bedroom house. In the stairwell, there’s the Naga-warrior’s necklace given to him by an Indian village elder; in the living room, the French brass ticket window from his mother’s friend; and in the downstairs bath he renovated himself, the portrait of a stranger, found at South Portland vintage shop Bonny Read, above the toilet. “I don’t know who this lady is and I have to make eye contact with her whenever I use the facilities,” he says.
ABOVE 1) Above the living-room mantel, a Mahakala mask from India presides over eclectic art, including a wooden water buffalo from Portland-Flea-for-All. 2) West Elm sofas face a coffee table, made by Roberts, in the library, where a vintage map hides a TV.
Maybe the strangest thing about Roberts’s Dionysian décor? It manages, somehow, to feel soothing. Surfaces are kept clutter-free, curiosities often do double duty (Roberts loves converting knickknacks into lamps, for example), and repurposed pieces hide “less-than-beautiful” necessities. On the upstairs landing, a vintage green cabinet for ambulance stretchers hides bed linens; in the dining room, IKEA cork-board wardrobes contain cookware; in the kitchen, a red Craftsman tool bench holds coffee and mugs; and in the library, a vintage pull-down map covers a television. “If I can tuck the utilitarian things away, it gives me room to display the things that bring me joy,” he says.
ABOVE 1) In the sunroom, a stuffed cactus from Portland-Flea-for-All shares a corner with an altar candlestick from the Auburn Novelty Shop and an acrylic by Roberts’s friend/tattoo artist, Spencer Hodgson, of Minneapolis. 2) Roberts made the daybed from pallets and an Anthropologie mattress. An Alex Katz–like acrylic from Portland-Flea-for-All crowns the IKEA dining-room table. 3) In Roberts’s bedroom, Toots basks on a vintage Hudson Bay wool blanket; the vintage Navy trunk is from Pillars, in Freeport.
Few bring Roberts more joy — and occasional heartbreak — than his rarest finds. Take his Seletti lamp, a white resin monkey clutching a lightbulb, that dangles from a rope in the dining room. Roberts first saw one in Iceland, but couldn’t haul it home. A year later, he tracked one down through a Dutch company. “I was so excited. Nobody is going to have this,” he thought. And then, in Portland one day, he spotted the same fixture in the window at the gift shop Abacus. “I was like, noooo! Nooooo!”