From former fishing shacks with harbor views straight out of Winslow Homer to pastoral farmhouses and cliffside retreats filled with board games and 1950s florals (eat your heart out, Wes Anderson), a house in Maine is undeniably romantic. Now three longtime Maine residents—photographer Maura McEvoy, art director Basha Burwell, and writer Kathleen Hackett—have collaborated on a new book with images and stories on some of the Pine Tree State’s most beautiful homes.
The Maine House (Vendome Press) is filled with homes whose decoration, from slamming screen doors to unfinished walls and bric-a-brac kitchens, are as quirky as they are charming. As the book reveals, it’s the details—bookcases crammed with Stephen King thrillers, doors fronted by curtains, and a dose of practical magic—that get to the essence of what a home in Maine is all about.
The Maine House book
Not everyone can move to Maine, but anyone can be inspired by the houses in the book and bring the vibe home (and it travels better than the local delicacy, the lobster roll). So what elements, exactly, give a Maine house its distinctive look? “I came up with the following list to start: clapboard, cedar shingles, painted furniture and floors, open shelves, farm sinks, cast-iron stoves, beadboard,” Hackett says. But then she realized that the essential character of a Maine home goes deeper. “There is a fierce individuality,” she says. “People here care about beauty, but they are practical and not obsessed with stuff.”
Here are some of the basic tenets to decorating, the Maine way.
1. Let Nature Be Your Designer
In Maine, “everything you could want is right outside your door: a view, beautiful light, and colors to inspire design choices,” Hackett notes. Gather a collection of shells, rocks, and feathers and create a tablescape, or frame a group of leaves as Hackett did in her home.
2. Create a Story
“Real Maine houses don’t have decorators,” Hackett insists. “The best houses here are ones that have been accumulated over a lifetime. People don’t redo their living rooms—they just add to them. As a result, there is a narrative. It’s how you make a house feel really personal.”
3. Embrace the Practical
Yankee thrift—or, let’s say, a commonsense respect for utilitarian things that work—dictates a design sensibility in which function rules over form. “There is no fussiness,” Hackett says. In artist Lois Dodd’s home, featured in the book, she explains that she had trouble removing the dried glue from her kitchen floor after she pulled up the old linoleum. Rather than cover it up, she dripped paint on top of it, Jackson Pollock–style.
4. Cobble Together a Kitchen
Leave state-of-the-art, custom kitchens for city folk. The quintessential Maine kitchen has a mix-and-match, built-over-time quality that gives it its innate character. “Hang baskets from the ceiling, use an old shopkeeper’s table as a chopping block, or use dish towels as cabinet fronts,” Hackett says. “There is a frugality to these kitchens, which is very Maine.”
5. Leave Wood Unfinished
Many home interiors in Maine have walls and surfaces in raw wood. “If you’re building a home out of beautiful wood from the land,” Hackett notes, “you don’t want to cover it up with paint. It’s also connected to that very Maine idea of ‘no excess.’ There is a fierce adherence to understatement.”
6. Tilt Your Lampshades
“A real Maine house always has tilted lampshades, especially in a summer camp or cottage,” Hackett says. “I think it’s because they probably didn’t buy the light together with the lampshade, and they put one on and it worked fine, even if it wasn’t totally straight.”
7. Stock the House with Books
A well-stocked bookcase is a staple in a classic Maine home, Hackett observes—whether the shelves are filled with children’s books by the late beloved author E.B. White, horror stories by Mainer Stephen King, or novels by contemporary writers and locals Elizabeth Strout and Jonathan Lethem.