Art By the Whole Family Enlivens This Italianate
In Thomaston, painter Greta Van Campen has settled on the same street where she was raised.
TEXT BY JESSE ELLISON
PHOTOGRAPHED BY DANIELLE SYKES
From the June 2022 issue of Down East magazine
Greta Van Campen never expected to end up back on Knox Street, in Thomaston, much less in a stately old home like the one she grew up in. It was only because the price kept dropping on a particular 1854 Italianate that she and Mike Silverstein, her partner of just six months at the time, went to check it out in 2017. Two doors up from Van Campen’s childhood home, the place felt “just familiar,” she says. The previous owners had spent years meticulously updating and restoring it, even lifting up the barn and adding a garage underneath. Van Campen, a painter, and Silverstein, a boatbuilder, felt they had a singular opportunity. They also felt a little nuts. “First, we had to decide if we liked each other enough to buy a house together,” Van Campen says with a laugh. Five years and two daughters later, they’re glad they realized they did.
Van Campen (who was pregnant with her daughter Nellie during our shoot) and her daughter Noa sit on a wool rug designed by Van Campen’s father, Tim Van Campen, who still lives in Thomaston. It grounds a potting bench she found at a St. George yard sale with new (shorter) legs fashioned by Silverstein, a pink IKEA chair with a pillow by mid-century designer Alexander Girard, and a sofa she picked out at Rockland’s Gamage Antiques — only to discover later that it came from this very house. The walls hold a small work by William Thon, from Rockland’s Caldbeck Gallery, and an acrylic of the Kennebec River by Van Campen, who also made the hand-painted blocks on the table.
This is the only room the couple repainted. (It’s Benjamin Moore’s Mellow Yellow.) The previous owners added the screened porch with fleur-de-lis brackets to match the originals on the front porch. Flanking the door are works by Van Campen: a small collage and an acrylic done in New Orleans as part of a year-long project in which she painted in each of the contiguous states.
Nearly everyone in Van Campen’s family contributed to the dining room: Tim Van Campen designed the rug, her mother, Susan Headley Van Campen, painted the watercolor, which hangs next to a relief by Jesse Gillespie, and Silverstein built the pine table, finishing it with India ink and varnish. The chairs are a “mishmash” of hand-me-downs, Van Campen says.
An acrylic by Tim Van Campen — called Tuscany because he painted it when Van Campen was studying abroad there — dominates a living-room corner, where a West Elm console hides toys. The previous owners put up the wallpaper and chose most of the paint shades elsewhere. “It’s actually really hard for me to choose wall colors,” Van Campen says. “It was fun to find ones that already worked.”
The front porch’s inverted fleur-de-lis are a signature flourish of James Overlock, the boatbuilder turned architect who designed the house, as well as many other Thomaston Italianates. The previous owners put in the perennial gardens, which bloom with daisies, peonies, Russian sage, and salvia in spring.
Their first year here, Van Campen painted the house and barn in her signature sharp-edged style for a show at Rockland’s Dowling Walsh Gallery. The work hangs above an Amish-built bed Silverstein bought in Vermont. The trunk is from Antiques Etcetera, in Rockland, and Silverstein found the orange lamp at a flea market.
Greta Van Campen paints in the house’s parlor during the cold months and moves to her “summer studio” on the barn’s uninsulated second floor when it’s warm enough, laying her panels on sawhorses and mixing colors at an IKEA table. With windows taking in the backyard and driveway, “it’s like my perch,” she says.
Another Tim Van Campen acrylic overlooks a Windsor chair from Antiques Etcetera and a pint-size IKEA table, topped with a puzzle Van Campen painted onto some wooden discs. Living with her parents’ work “makes me feel lucky and proud,” she says. “As I’m walking through rooms, it always makes me smile.”