Design a house around an art collection, and you might start with a sterile white box, an empty space where the art can be untouched, un-messed with. But living in an art gallery doesn’t allow much room for everyday life: kicking off your shoes at the door, cooking, playing board games.
Though this couple has a world-class art collection, sterility is not their m.o. “We both come from creative backgrounds,” they say. “Our collection started from our own families and grew from there. It’s definitely a collection of two families and three generations.”
When their own family doubled in size and it was time to decamp from their place in Portland “for greener pastures,” they looked to build a house on a parcel of land by the sea that could house their collection and their family both.
The couple wanted something “with traditional roots,” they explain. “Something like big house, little house, back house, barn, but not.” And while there are elements of tradition in the house’s architecture—an exterior reminiscent of a classic connected farmhouse, post-and-beam fences outdoors, and interior walls done in nickel-gap shiplap—that’s where the expected ends. “Our asks for this project were described by one architect friend as ‘oil and water,’” the couple remembers. “But we had clarity.”
The couple enlisted architect Kirk Henriksen and builder Ben Trout of Trademark Construction: “We’ve worked with Ben on many projects and looked to him to lead the show,” the couple says. “Ben is the ringmaster in our three-ring circus, always.” Then they assembled bound “idea books” filled with sometimes esoteric images that struck them. (One shows a woman in a floor-length white dress astride a white horse in the center of a living room; another, the Sydney Opera House.)
They surveyed their own collection, too, for inspiration. “We pretty much showed a picture of our Roy Lichtenstein ‘Brush Strokes’ wall sculpture to our architect and asked him to build a house around that,” the couple says.
With such playful jumping-off points, the result is a house that’s anything but self-serious. The interiors are painted gallery-like white, yes (it’s Benjamin Moore’s Chantilly Lace), but the Lichtenstein sculpture now hangs front and center in the open stairway, looking every bit like someone’s taken a comically huge, color-soaked paint brush to the wall. A Magritte-inspired bowler hat light, an Etsy find, hangs above a sink. A swath of faux grass carpets the entryway in lieu of a rug. A retro-style PacMan machine sits waiting to be played. There are Lichtenstein-patterned tiles in a shower and an original New York City subway sign in the upstairs hallway.
In this house, the design is in constant dialogue with the art—and the art talks amongst itself, too. “We like fun art and serious art and the juxtaposition when they’re hung next to each other,” the couple says. Near a pool table, for instance, a massive portrait of the artist John Bisbee by Emilie Stark Menneg hangs near “A Serious Discussion”, a Romantic painting by the nineteenth-century Belgian artist Theodore Ceriez, and “The Fishing Lure,” a Pop-Art study by Rupert Jasen Smith, Andy Warhol’s silkscreen printer and art director. Assembled this way, the art has a vitality. Every corner offers a bit of a wink.
“It’s hard to have a favorite,” the couple says, when asked about a standout piece in their collection. “Favorites change with moods. But we are particularly fond of pieces created by people we’ve met”—a long list that includes Bisbee, Randy Regier, Wade Cavanaugh, Laurie Fisher, and Mark Wethli,” which adds incalculable dimension.
Outdoors, the lawn, too, is dotted with weather-proof works. “Our policy for all our outdoor art is that we must be able to touch and interact with it,” the couple says. It’s these interactions—with the family and also with the ever-shifting Maine fog and rain and snow, the seaside wildlife—that animates the art most. “One sculpture by John Bisbee housed a bird’s nest during Covid,” the couple recalls. Art cohabitating with life.