Designing Close to Home

New York based interior designer Nick Gagne returns to Maine roots to design parents’ Cumberland Cape
Words By Jennifer Wolcott
Photos By Erin Little

Nick Gagne has designed homes all over the country, from Jackson Hole and Aspen to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. But never had the Brooklyn-based “interior architect,” as he calls himself, taken on a project in his native state of Maine. That is, until recently when he designed his parents’ new home in Cumberland Foreside.

When she first saw the home, Andrea Gagne was wowed by its peaceful setting and gorgeous gardens. She created an outdoor oasis to reflect her taste, and the bluestone patio is now much enjoyed from coffee to cocktails.

Nick grew up in Falmouth, and after leaving his family home in 2007 to pursue a degree at Rhode Island School of Design, his parents started to think about downsizing. Nick’s father, Roger, sought practicality and functionality, while his mom, Andrea, longed for a home with history, character, and gardens where she could putter among the perennials.

Their house hunt didn’t bear fruit until eight years later, when Nick, who was working and living in New York, spotted a listing in that he thought would suit them both. Turns out, he was spot on. The classic New England cape was designed by a German engineer in the ’60s and was still in tip-top shape–scoring points with his dad, and its former owner had given the three-bedroom home the feel of an English cottage, so it had potential for gardens galore–to Mom’s delight. The exquisite setting, which is both country and coastal, with a 13-acre field and water views, helped seal the deal for them both.

A chest that belonged to Nick’s grandparents steals the show in a hallway.
The bright, spacious sunroom, which is a favorite gathering spot, features a mix of both old and new furniture and lighting.

But the interior screamed for some decorative changes. For starters, the color palate was off. “Mom loves lots of white, neutrals, and a classic New England Shaker aesthetic,” says Nick, “so the home’s sumptuously colored, bright-orange walls, its terra-cotta and salmon tiles, and its dark-wood cabinets were some of the first things to go.”

Nick sought more than just a color fix. He also wanted to harmonize the home with its dazzling natural environment, which is omnipresent through the home’s many windows. “A neutral indoor palate–from walls to sofas to rugs –allows for adaptability in all of Maine’s changing seasons,” he says. 

Nick sought more than just a color fix. He also wanted to harmonize the home with its dazzling natural environment, which is omnipresent through the home’s many windows.

With help from Gnome Landscaping, the new owners got right to work landscaping a new garden.

With every project, Nick is also mindful of a sense of place and how his designs fit into their surroundings–not only the physical environment but also the vibe. “Maine isn’t the place for a show house,” he says. “It’s not the Yankee way, which is more understated.”

Pretense is not his parents’ way either. They love to entertain, but in a down-to-earth, put-your-feet-up kind of way with games and beer and dogs running around. “Baggy tweed” is how Andrea describes the casual, no-fuss feel of their home.It’s a look and feel that works for them in any season. “I might move from the screened porch in warmer months to the room with the fireplace in winter, but I don’t change pillows and all that. I didn’t want our home to look like a cottage that’s only lived in from Memorial Day to Labor Day.”

Whether in February or August, the neutrals complement her home’s remarkable light. “The light is what I love most about the house,” she says. “The sun comes up over the water and kind of wraps around the house.”

In the garden, Andrea makes the most of this abundant sunshine. Ever since visiting Grey Gardens on Long Island and researching Bunny Mellon’s property on Cape Cod, she’s been inspired by the famous gardens. Soon after the move, she met a landscaper at Gnome Landscapes, Design, Masonry & Maintenance who had studied the gardens and knew just the look she was after. Together they drew up a plan, and today the Gagne’s garden boasts 20 winter-hardy arborvitae trees and a seasonally rotating display of deutzias, peonies, and 35 limelight hydrangeas.
When choosing the interior pieces, Nick looked first to the assorted art and furniture his folks had collected over the years. He grew up shopping at flea markets and antique shops with his mom, and still today, antiquing is a favorite shared pastime, so he built on those treasured acquisitions, adding new pieces as needed and sometimes, such as with the coffee table, designing pieces himself.
As with any of his projects, Nick made decisions with input from his clients; unlike his other projects, though, these clients happened to be his parents, which created a unique dynamic at times.
Vintage sleigh beds and night tables were painted to unify all elements in a guest room.
A reupholstered family heirloom shares space with assorted antiques.
A seating area’s casual, inviting vibe was enhanced by Shaker-style shutters, a less-formal alternative to drapes.
Roger and Andrea sometimes needed a bit of convincing to go along with his sophisticated, NewYork-ish sensibilities. “Typically, if I disagree with a client, I take a gentle approach, but this was different.” When speaking with his parents, Nick felt he could be totally direct and even brutally honest at times.
Mom’s perspective? “Well, 85% of things that he wanted to do I went along with, and the other 15% was hell,” she jokes. “What he did for me was make me more current and to think outside the box. He knows instinctively how we like to live, and in retrospect, he was right.”
Despite the growing pains, Andrea credits Nick with helping her taste evolve. She’s even contemplating adding some architectural glass to the home’s interior, and she might even break up her beloved whites with some dark wood pieces; tiger maple, walnut, or antique pine. “Nick keeps saying we need to warm up the house with some deeper tones, and I’m starting to see just what he means.”
So the Gagne’s Cumberland Cape is still evolving, which is all part of home ownership, says Andrea. “A home has a heart, it’s like a living thing that needs to be nurtured, and those who livethere should take their time to do things the right way.”

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