Sustainability and Style in a Net-Zero Subdivision
Industrial, rustic, and mid-century pieces converge in a couple’s Freeport Saltbox.
ABOVE Michael Rego and James Sabatino’s Freeport Saltbox is ringed by forest so thick the other homes in their subdivision aren’t visible.
TEXT BY SARA ANNE DONNELLY
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JEFF ROBERTS
“It’s a challenge to mix industrial, rustic, and mid-century,” interior designer Michael Rego says, referring to the stylistic mash-up he and his husband, James Sabatino, finessed in their Freeport home. “But you can’t have any fear when you’re making your home your home.”
Inspired by the function-first simplicity of Scandinavian design, Rego and Sabatino’s three-bedroom Saltbox is one of 10 hyper-insulated net-zero homes — meaning they generate as much energy as they consume over the course of a year — in the Baird Landing subdivision developed by New Gloucester design-build firm Burnham & Lobozzo. On the outside, the house looks as streamlined as an architectural rendering, with its burnt-orange and two-tone gray hemlock siding, square porch posts, and galvanized-aluminum roof half covered with solar panels. Inside, a raw, open plan emphasizes soaring hemlock framing, steel beams, and concrete flooring. “This was different for us — we’d never lived in a post-and-beam before,” says Rego, who toured a Baird spec house with Sabatino in 2018. “But the space had that mid-century open concept and a ton of windows so you feel like, wow, I’m sort of in the trees.”
ABOVE 1) In the kitchen/dining area, oak Knoll chairs, a chartreuse wool pendant, and matching Heath Ceramics tile riff on the tones in steel beams and wooden elements, like a maple staircase with a pantry and cat door. 2) Rego perches on the entryway’s vintage pine-and-vinyl bench beneath a mid-century oil and 1950s Sputnik chandelier, an eBay find he rewired. 3) In the living room, a rug by Portland’s Angela Adams contains a 1960s Johannes Andersen coffee table and 1950s Ib Kofod-Larsen chairs Rego dug out of a San Francisco dumpster and reupholstered; Bowdoinham’s LaPointe Antiques & Restoration rehabbed the frames.
A mid-century feel was critical to the couple, who were returning to their native Maine after three years in a 1949 Palm Springs home conceived by architectural designer Herbert W. Burns, an icon of Desert Modernism known for his emphasis on natural materials and spaces that blur the lines between indoors and out. “Michael walked out the door one day and some guy was standing in front of our house and asked if he could buy it,” Sabatino says. “So we started looking and saw there were these guys building net-zero solar houses — growing up, it never occurred to me that you could do solar in Maine.” Four years ago, the concept hadn’t quite sunken in with Mainers either. “A lot of times, potential buyers would say things like, ‘How about instead of solar panels we build a house with marble countertops?’” builder Alex Burnham says. “Baird was a bit ahead of its time.” Now he and his partner, Jonathan Lobozzo, are developing another net-zero subdivision, in Durham, that’s slated to be twice the size of Baird.
ABOVE Symbiotic oil paintings of the Maine coast, by Portland’s Justine Lasdin, and a 1971 abstract oil by Carol Reichlin Ingram decorate the den, which is clad in Weldtex plywood panels in Evening Sky by Benjamin Moore. Wool Normann Copenhagen pillows punctuate a leather sectional from Article.
To give their Baird home a ’60s-bungalow vibe, the couple collaborated with Burnham to add a birch-plywood wall in their bedroom; a den clad in charcoal-painted Weldtex striated plywood panels (a Burns signature); and a slatted-maple staircase with a hidden spandrel pantry and, for felines Skunk and Jinx, a tunnel to their litter box. “Joan Crawford in [the 1955 film] Female on the Beach has something like this staircase and she’s looking through it,” Sabatino says. “I just loved that look — where it gives you airiness but also interesting patterns.”
ABOVE 1) A birch-plywood cabinet designed by the homeowners displays vintage trinkets, like Sabatino’s grandmother’s ice bucket and a 1968 bust of Robert F. Kennedy. 2) In their bedroom, a vintage Oriental from Bradford’s Rug Gallery, in Portland, coordinates with pillows Brunswick’s Cottage Threads Slipcovers stitched with the owners’ vintage barkcloth fabric. 3) A Blu Dot console juxtaposes with a vintage oak chair in the entry. 4) In the powder room, a 1965 print and an 1884 cartoon skewering Maine politician James Blaine project from vintage foil wallpaper.
Exposed ductwork, steel railings, and, in the kitchen, a concrete backsplash and birch-plywood cabinetry whose finger pulls lend an unfinished look play up the home’s industrial vibe. Meantime, Cali colors — in chartreuse subway tile on the kitchen island; a matching wool pendant (part of a trio, made by Rego, that dangles over a cherry-and-glass dining table); olive-and-tangerine mid-century china arrayed in a 1960s Kipp Stewart hutch; and vintage gold-and-orange powder-room wallpaper depicting fashionistas from the ’20s through the ’60s — inject sun-kissed swagger.
“Is eclectic the right word?” asks Burnham. More like, “a work in progress,” Sabatino says, gesturing toward the home’s largely white walls, still waiting on the pair to decide whether to add color. “I think that’s just how we live.”