House Tour

Trash Becomes Treasure in This Gardiner Farmhouse

Art and curiosities fill every nook in the home of artists Allison McKeen and Matt Demers.

In the living room, the footrest is fraying, the rug is faded, and the end table is a soap box a previous owner outfitted with casters and a hinged, carpeted lid.

ABOVE Wear and tear trumps pristine in the Demers-McKeen home: In the living room, the footrest is fraying, the rug is faded, and the end table is a soap box a previous owner outfitted with casters and a hinged, carpeted lid. The paintings, though, are fresh and new, and most are by Maine artists, including Daniel Anselmi, Nancy Keenan Barron, John Carnes, Chelsea Ellis, Abbie Read, and Brian White.

TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ERIN LITTLE

Every morning for decades, the owner of Uncle Tom’s Market, a scruffy, beloved former landmark on Brunswick’s Pleasant Street, would wheel a grocery cart out the front door, down the steps, and onto the sidewalk. On the cart were two faded, hand-lettered signs to attract passersby. One said, “Freshly Cooked Peanuts.” The other, embellished with a crinkly-eyed, lip-licking smiley face, said “Steamed Hot Dogs.”

“I wanted that cart for years,” says Matt Demers, an abstract artist and graphic designer with a fondness for Americana. The first time he offered to buy it, he was rebuffed, but the next time he stopped at the store, the owner said he was getting ready to retire, and Demers left with the cart. Today, it sits, with a potted dracaena in its basket, in the 1850 Gardiner farmhouse that Demers and his wife, mixed-media artist Allison McKeen, purchased two years ago. The couple continually rearranges their large collection of art and cultural artifacts, so the cart doesn’t stay in any one room for long.

ABOVE 1) Many of the kitchen’s handmade mugs are from the Center for Maine Craft in Gardiner, where McKeen works. “I started with two, but then over the next six or seven years, this happened,” she says. 2) The 1850 farmhouse had been well-maintained and little-altered by the previous owners.

The Demers-McKeen home is an endlessly absorbing, ever-changing museum of cast-offs found at antiques and junk shops, auctions, flea markets, yard sales, even on the roadside. Some are offbeat — the 4-foot-long shoe from a 19th-century cobbler’s sign that rests on a vintage factory cart in the kitchen, for example, or the row of yellow shooting-gallery ducks atop the dining-room wainscoting. Others are mundane, yet when massed form a captivating art piece, like the assemblage of old cardboard Campbell’s Soup boxes in a living-room corner or the dozens of boldly patterned thermoses lining the upstairs hallway. “We like things that are trash, but when you make them into a display, they’re not trash anymore,” McKeen says.

Aside from a kitchen addition, their home has been little altered since it was built, which was a big selling point for Demers and McKeen, who were raised in old dwellings. The first-floor rooms are spacious and permit good flow — it’s possible to loop from kitchen to dining room to living room and back without walking through the same entrance twice. They’ve painted most of the walls crisp white so their objects, which they buy, sell, and trade with other collectors, “can speak for themselves,” McKeen says. “We like the gallery feel.” A notable exception: the entryway, whose walls and ceiling Demers turned into a dazzling, enveloping abstract painting during quarantine last year.

Their distinctive artistic styles influence what they collect together. McKeen is currently focused on printmaking and has a line of tea towels, bandannas, and stickers distinguished by playful images. “I’m drawn to fun patterns, wonky shapes, and bold textures,” she says. Demers is a graphic designer for a sign company and, in his studio, he creates scrambled, boldly colored paintings, sometimes incorporating familiar symbols, like the recently retired pink-and-orange Dunkin’ Donuts logo. He’s been collecting cultural artifacts since he was a kid (he grew up within walking distance of Whitefield’s trash-and-treasure paradise, Elmer’s Barn). “I’m subjectively drawn to things that are unintentionally artful in form, texture, idea, and execution — especially one-of-a-kind objects and things with sculptural qualities,” he says.

ABOVE 1) A spool of barbed wire serves as the centerpiece on a checkerboard dining table found at a roadside flea market. 2) Old clothes with interesting patterns are art in the living room. 3) A barrister bookcase repurposed as a living-room curio cabinet. 4) An antique hardware storage chest in the living room. 5) A side-entry gallery of early-20th-century oil paintings. 6) A rustically furnished former chicken coop in the backyard. 

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Both are attracted to pieces that show their age. The Campbell’s Soup boxes appeal to Demers in part for their graphic elements, but also because “they probably shouldn’t still exist. Wood crates survive. These are fragile.” Likewise, most of the early-20th-century paintings displayed on a side-entry wall are mediocre artworks, but their beat-up, torn canvasses inspire viewers to ruminate about their past. “We like history, stories, and character,” McKeen says, “and anything that’s a little different.”

RIGHT 1) Demers made the refrigerator sticker from a photocopy of a videotape box. 2) For decades, the shopping cart parked in the first-floor bath served as a sign on wheels for the now-closed Uncle Tom’s Market in Brunswick. 3) Gardiner artists Allison McKeen and Matt Demers play with cultural mash-ups, like the kitchen’s advertising-display crayons and painting by Hallowell’s Joshua Yurges and the dining room’s Geoff Hargadon prints and stacks of cardboard soup boxes. 4) McKeen’s comb pattern enlivens a second-floor bath. 5) A Jonni Cheatwood painting in the dining room. 6) Geoff Hargadon prints in the kitchen. 7) Demers transformed the front entry into an abstract painting during the pandemic shutdown last spring.

Trash Becomes Treasure in this Gardiner Farmhouse

Art and curiosities fill every nook in the home of artists Allison McKeen and Matt Demers.

In the living room, the footrest is fraying, the rug is faded, and the end table is a soap box a previous owner outfitted with casters and a hinged, carpeted lid.

ABOVE Wear and tear trumps pristine in the Demers-McKeen home: In the living room, the footrest is fraying, the rug is faded, and the end table is a soap box a previous owner outfitted with casters and a hinged, carpeted lid. The paintings, though, are fresh and new, and most are by Maine artists, including Daniel Anselmi, Nancy Keenan Barron, John Carnes, Chelsea Ellis, Abbie Read, and Brian White.

TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ERIN LITTLE

Every morning for decades, the owner of Uncle Tom’s Market, a scruffy, beloved former landmark on Brunswick’s Pleasant Street, would wheel a grocery cart out the front door, down the steps, and onto the sidewalk. On the cart were two faded, hand-lettered signs to attract passersby. One said, “Freshly Cooked Peanuts.” The other, embellished with a crinkly-eyed, lip-licking smiley face, said “Steamed Hot Dogs.”

“I wanted that cart for years,” says Matt Demers, an abstract artist and graphic designer with a fondness for Americana. The first time he offered to buy it, he was rebuffed, but the next time he stopped at the store, the owner said he was getting ready to retire, and Demers left with the cart. Today, it sits, with a potted dracaena in its basket, in the 1850 Gardiner farmhouse that Demers and his wife, mixed-media artist Allison McKeen, purchased two years ago. The couple continually rearranges their large collection of art and cultural artifacts, so the cart doesn’t stay in any one room for long.

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ABOVE 1) Many of the kitchen’s handmade mugs are from the Center for Maine Craft in Gardiner, where McKeen works. “I started with two, but then over the next six or seven years, this happened,” she says. 2) The 1850 farmhouse had been well-maintained and little-altered by the previous owners.

The Demers-McKeen home is an endlessly absorbing, ever-changing museum of cast-offs found at antiques and junk shops, auctions, flea markets, yard sales, even on the roadside. Some are offbeat — the 4-foot-long shoe from a 19th-century cobbler’s sign that rests on a vintage factory cart in the kitchen, for example, or the row of yellow shooting-gallery ducks atop the dining-room wainscoting. Others are mundane, yet when massed form a captivating art piece, like the assemblage of old cardboard Campbell’s Soup boxes in a living-room corner or the dozens of boldly patterned thermoses lining the upstairs hallway. “We like things that are trash, but when you make them into a display, they’re not trash anymore,” McKeen says.

Aside from a kitchen addition, their home has been little altered since it was built, which was a big selling point for Demers and McKeen, who were raised in old dwellings. The first-floor rooms are spacious and permit good flow — it’s possible to loop from kitchen to dining room to living room and back without walking through the same entrance twice. They’ve painted most of the walls crisp white so their objects, which they buy, sell, and trade with other collectors, “can speak for themselves,” McKeen says. “We like the gallery feel.” A notable exception: the entryway, whose walls and ceiling Demers turned into a dazzling, enveloping abstract painting during quarantine last year.

ABOVE 1) A spool of barbed wire serves as the centerpiece on a checkerboard dining table found at a roadside flea market. 2) Old clothes with interesting patterns are art in the living room. 3) A barrister bookcase repurposed as a living-room curio cabinet. 4) An antique hardware storage chest in the living room. 5) A side-entry gallery of early-20th-century oil paintings. 6) A rustically furnished former chicken coop in the backyard. 

Their distinctive artistic styles influence what they collect together. McKeen is currently focused on printmaking and has a line of tea towels, bandannas, and stickers distinguished by playful images. “I’m drawn to fun patterns, wonky shapes, and bold textures,” she says. Demers is a graphic designer for a sign company and, in his studio, he creates scrambled, boldly colored paintings, sometimes incorporating familiar symbols, like the recently retired pink-and-orange Dunkin’ Donuts logo. He’s been collecting cultural artifacts since he was a kid (he grew up within walking distance of Whitefield’s trash-and-treasure paradise, Elmer’s Barn). “I’m subjectively drawn to things that are unintentionally artful in form, texture, idea, and execution — especially one-of-a-kind objects and things with sculptural qualities,” he says.

Both are attracted to pieces that show their age. The Campbell’s Soup boxes appeal to Demers in part for their graphic elements, but also because “they probably shouldn’t still exist. Wood crates survive. These are fragile.” Likewise, most of the early-20th-century paintings displayed on a side-entry wall are mediocre artworks, but their beat-up, torn canvasses inspire viewers to ruminate about their past. “We like history, stories, and character,” McKeen says, “and anything that’s a little different.”

ABOVE 1) Demers made the refrigerator sticker from a photocopy of a videotape box. 2) For decades, the shopping cart parked in the first-floor bath served as a sign on wheels for the now-closed Uncle Tom’s Market in Brunswick. 3) Gardiner artists Allison McKeen and Matt Demers play with cultural mash-ups, like the kitchen’s advertising-display crayons and painting by Hallowell’s Joshua Yurges and the dining room’s Geoff Hargadon prints and stacks of cardboard soup boxes. 4) McKeen’s comb pattern enlivens a second-floor bath. 5) A Jonni Cheatwood painting in the dining room. 6) Geoff Hargadon prints in the kitchen. 7) Demers transformed the front entry into an abstract painting during the pandemic shutdown last spring.


2 Comments

  1. Holly M Henderson

    Oh my gosh I love this great house and the eclectic and crazy picks for decorating.

  2. Congrats on all your hard work. House looks fabulous!

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