TEXT BY SARA ANNE DONNELLY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JARED KUZIA
Every home has a cozy, tucked-away place — an upstairs reading nook, perhaps, or a sunny attic corner. Now imagine your whole house is that place. The circa-1830 childhood abode of former U.S. House Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed is a sliver of a home sandwiched between taller buildings in Portland’s West End. But it feels sublimely private, thanks to its sideways orientation, with a gable end facing the street. As for the snug feeling inside, that’s due to a doting renovation by homeowners Vivek Bandhu and Lauri Gibson, who revived a house so worn that some of its walls gaped to the laths. “We could get our fingers into it and mold it,” Gibson says. “And so we did.”
Bandhu and Gibson surveyed neighbors and passersby on 15 swatches before deciding on California Paints’ Sturgis Gray for the home’s clapboards and trim. Every few years, Bandhu, a painter and multimedia artist, switches up the shade on the front door, which has been maroon and fuschia and is now Orange Jewel by Dunn-Edwards. The positioning of the home and its windows means most rooms overlook the driveway (shown) or a rear garden — a departure from the couple’s former New York apartment, where “you had to cover the windows because there were people next door or you wanted to block the view,” Bandhu says. “Here, I love to look out any which way.”
Red Bellini chairs add a burst of modernity to the dining room, while the mustard-yellow wall color — hand-mixed by Bandhu — draws out the warmth in the antique-pine farm table and original gray milk paint on the wainscoting. House portraits by Bandhu pop against the bright backdrop. With its hulking fireplace designed for cooking, this room was the home’s original kitchen. During renovations, the couple found a harpoon, books, and shoes in the walls around the fireplaces, doors, and windows — the Victorians believed that placing such manmade objects near a home’s entry points would ward off evil spirits, Bandhu says.
Built-in bookshelves, and Bandhu’s paintings and collages, frame the doorway between his studio and the guest room. At right, a porcelain sink, moved from the kitchen, projects from the home’s original barnboard sheathing; the mirror is a flea market find. Some of the house’s most significant work was done in the guest room, which had lost chunks of plaster and, like most of the rooms, lacked a closet. Bandhu built one under the eaves. “We know how to maximize small spaces because we lived in small spaces in New York,” he says.
Bandhu and Gibson are retired restaurateurs, so a functional, welcoming kitchen was a must. To make this room their favorite hangout, they added south-facing windows and a chaise lounge, formerly owned by Washington Irving, that overlook the garden. A countertop of rich, New England cherry tops the sage-green cabinetry. In lieu of a backsplash or upper cabinets, paintings by Bandhu adorn the sink wall, making the narrow room feel more spacious. (A seascape by the couple’s friend, North Haven’s Eric Hopkins, hangs on the far wall.) An adjacent pantry fitted out with drawers Bandhu built provides additional storage.
The squat sitting room feels taller thanks to low-profile modern furniture, including a pair of lime-green Finn Juhl chairs and a custom beige wall color that gets subtly whiter as it approaches the ceiling (a visual trick Bandhu learned from a friend). Gibson partially stripped the doors, leaving behind an appealing, streaky patina. The original fireplace is one of two in the home, both of which have been converted to gas. Bowls by Gibson, a ceramicist, decorate the mid-century Danish coffee table, and a painting by Juris Urbans punctuates the wall. “By myself here, I never feel lonely,” Gibson says, “but we can also easily seat six people for a glass of wine. It’s very comfortable.”
Bandhu’s light-drenched, second-floor art studio overlooks the garden and a wide lot just beyond that is empty except for a city fire tower occasionally used for drying hoses. When they were moving in, Gibson stood in the garden and passed shelving — too wide for the narrow staircase — through these windows to Bandhu. “We’ve collaborated on two other places and two restaurants, so we are pretty good at collaborating,” Bandhu says. “It was fun,” Gibson adds. “Physically tiring, but exhilarating.”