Architecture & Design

Winning Design?

HGTV’s Portland “dream home” stirs up strong feelings on both sides.

HGTV's Urban Oasis Dream Home in Portland Maine

ABOVE The home’s new streamlined look had some practical underpinnings: Adding rigid- foam insulation and board-and-batten siding necessitated removing the trim around the now-recessed windows; for visual cohesion, the door trim went too.


From our Spring 2021 issue

It might be the most controversial rehab in Portland, at least online. Since its September reveal as television network HGTV’s latest Urban Oasis “dream home,” the reimagining of a circa 1900 cottage in the Nason’s Corner neighborhood, with its industrial façade and rainbow-colored interior, has been proclaimed a modernist triumph and a resounding miss. “It was a beautiful Victorian and they turned it into a contemporary nightmare,” wrote one Reddit user.

HGTV's Urban Oasis Dream Home beforeNo matter: Buzz, even of the snarky variety, is part of the point. “This was designed to be dramatic, to draw people in, and to create a reaction, and I think that’s what it did, says architect Harry Hepburn, of Portland’s Briburn, who tackled the project with his partner, Chris Briley. HGTV was a singular client, Hepburn says, because it wanted the house — offered in a sweepstakes that ended last year — to be as photogenic as it was functional.

Homing in on Portland’s popularity, network execs looked at about a dozen places with Cindy Olsen, of Falmouth’s Locations Real Estate Group, before closing on the three-bedroom on Essex Street. Their criteria focused on budget, proximity to downtown, and finding a fixer-upper with good bones and a roomy backyard “because, really, they wanted the ‘oasis,'” Olsen says.


ABOVE Among the interior’s tamer spaces are a farmhouse-inspired kitchen and sage-green living room.

Central to the renovation, completed in four months by Pownal’s Big Country Built and Portland’s Urban Yardology, was a 500-square-foot addition with an eat-in kitchen, owners’ suite, and a two-story, glassed-in side entry. HGTV’s Brian Patrick Flynn chose a clickbaity palette that includes glossy-white hardwood floors, a bath with a cobalt clawfoot tub and vanity drawers in ombré lues, and a Seussian orange-and-white-stripped entryway that caused some fur to fly on social media.

But maybe you don’t have to love the place to want it anyway. All of HGTV’s previous home winners have sold them or opted for cash payouts instead ($350,000 in this case), likely on account of the tax burden. Mike Santo, a senior tax manager at Wipfli in Augusta, says acquiring the furnished Portland house, valued by the network at $634,101, and an accompanying $50,000 cash prize, will cost at least $238,000 in federal and state income taxes alone. So it was no surprise to see the latest oasis turn up in the real estate listings last month and, this being Portland, promptly go under contract.