By Laura Wallis
Photographs by Erin Little
For a Portland photo stylist, moving from suburban house to city loft brings a cheerful new perspective.
Life is a work in progress. So, of course, are houses — especially for those who make things beautiful for a living. Photo stylist Janice Dunwoody moved into her latest project — a Portland loft— in 2015. It was a downsizing move, after a couple of decades raising three children in a five-bedroom house in Falmouth. “When they were leaving, I thought, what chapter is next?” she remembers. And then, she found herself styling a photo shoot in a friend’s loft. It was a clean, modern space in the up-and-coming East Bayside neighborhood, and she was enamored. She’d never had the trappings of a city lifestyle and the idea of simply walking across the street to a coffee shop appealed. Another unit in the building opened up and she made an offer. “I wasn’t really looking, but it was right in front of me and I grabbed it.”
It was a well-timed grab: just before the neighborhood’s real estate boom. These days, locals call the increasingly hip district “Yeast Bayside” for its many breweries and distilleries. Dunwoody’s broad, metal-sided building was the 2002 brainchild of developer Peter Bass and architect David Lloyd, who wanted to translate the airy, raw energy of an industrial warehouse to new construction. It holds eight residential studios, and is topped with a pair of steel Quonset huts that extend two of the units to roof level.
Dunwoody’s apartment is one of them. A spiral staircase connects the main living space to her bedroom and private roof deck. Facing southwest, the view is of the sunset over Back Cove and the ribbon of Interstate 295. “The lights are gorgeous at night,” she says.
Room dividers from Westbrook’s Furniturea partially screen the guest bedroom from the living area. The painting is by Carol Bass.
Initially designed with a single bedroom and bath, the loft has evolved over the years: The previous owner, a photographer, drywalled off the original kitchen to make a darkroom, moving the kitchen — defined by an expansive island — into the living area. Dunwoody now uses the nook as a guest room, calling it the “Harry Potter space” (big enough for a twin bed, it’s slightly roomier than a cupboard under the stairs). For another guest bedroom, she added walls to an alcove. “These areas were sort of nonfunctioning,” she explains. “A little effort and money made them useful, especially when my adult kids come home.”
While some lofts can feel cold, Dunwoody has imbued hers with a warm, welcoming vibe. She describes her furnishings as “hand-me-downs, giveaways, and treasures I love.” Mid-century pieces, like a mustard-hued chair designed by George Mulhauser for Plycraft, scored (from Portland Architectural Salvage) for a steal because its frame was broken, mingle happily with a modern plush sofa and pair of zinc drum tables in the living area. Meanwhile, heirlooms like her grandmother’s cedar wardrobe and a mismatched set of dining chairs are juxtaposed throughout. White walls and a neutral palette unify the disparate elements, as does Dunwoody’s innate sense of what just “works.”
Art — a mix of pieces by friends and gallery finds, like an abstract work by Wells painter Corey Daniels — adorns the walls nearly floor to ceiling. Her only rule? “Everything you live with should make you feel good.”
The kitchen’s vast cherry-and-modular granite island is evidence, Dunwoody says, of the previous owner’s “bachelor guy” aesthetic; pottery by Portland’s John Clark and South Portland’s Jonathan White fill the shelves. The wall holds work by Portland’s Matt Welch and Camden’s Antonia Munroe.
Of course, as a stylist, what makes Dunwoody feel good might change day-to-day: Her work brings a constant influx of new pieces. A pair of bark cloth throw pillows, for instance, borrowed for a shoot from Portland-based online boutique Always Piper, are now on her sofa. “I was supposed to return them, but I bought them instead,” she says. She also has a new business, Portland Prophouse, from which to curate her space. She and business partner Kristin Rocha launched the venture in part out of necessity, since leaving her house meant giving up the basement where she kept furniture, rugs, lamps, vases, and other tools of her trade.
It’s a nice perk for someone who is happiest in an ever-changing space. Her newest addition is a master bath on the second floor. “It’s not quite done, and it will probably stay that way. I like the way things are when they’re not quite done.”