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Young at Heart

Artist Carol Eisenberg worked with architect Zel Bowman-Laberge to design a chic, metal-clad home in an industrial neighborhood of Rockland to suit her large art collection
Words By Anna Mangum
Photos By Michael D. Wilson
ArchitectZel Bowman-Laberge|BuilderPotter Building Company|Kitchen DesignerStarlight Kitchens

“In my mind, I’m 35,” says 81-year-old Carol Eisenberg, style icon and artist from her Rockland home and studio. Though she has always had a passion for art and assumed she would attend art school, Carol’s primary career was law. After graduating from college as an English Literature major, she obtained a job in publishing. In 1969, when she was five and a half months pregnant, she was required by company policy to leave work. A colleague’s shared anger at this injustice sparked a radical shift in her mindset. “He said to me, ‘Did it occur to you that your husband can be both a doctor and a father?’” He mentioned that his wife participated in a feminist “consciousness-raising’’ group and arranged for Carol to attend one of their weekly meetings. That led to Carol’s intense involvement in the Women’s Movement and her ultimate decision to go to law school instead of art school.

Carol and Zel meticulously combed through dozens of samples to find just the right golden tile for the kitchen.

Yet, her passion for art still smoldered. When she moved to Maine in 2009, she was inspired by other women in their seventies who had returned to school to pursue graduate degrees. For three years, she worked towards an MFA in photography, where feminist themes from her first career bled over into her work. “I’m attracted to graffiti,” she says. “It’s very in-your-face, counterculture, and subversive. It ties into the passion and anger of the women’s movement.” Her work possesses a certain damage, intentional slashes and marks, that represent the space women occupy. Women, who are groomed to be beautiful, but in the process, are bruised. “I create constructed digital images that blur the line between painting and photography,” she says. “This duality of aesthetics is an essential component of my approach to art and life. I am drawn to the polarities of beauty and decay, the contrived and the natural, the excessive and the elegant.”

Carol Eisenberg next to a dreamlike piece by Leon Benn, purchased at Grant Wahlquist Gallery. Photo by Dave Clough.

In 2018, Carol and her late husband purchased a slice of land on Rockland’s working waterfront with the intention of building a new home. After her husband’s death in 2019, Carol decided to go forward with the project. The new house would need a studio and space to hang her large art collection. During Carol’s search for an architect who would understand her particular vision, a friend referred Zel Bowman-Laberge. It was an instant match. “Carol had a distinct vision for her home,” says Zel. “She wanted it to be a gallery for her art collection. There’s no mudroom. You walk into a gallery with concrete floors and white walls. You are instantly enveloped in art.” Carol loved Zel’s attention to detail and willingness to create a highly bespoke home. “Once Zel knew what I liked, she’d make a curated list of five to six options for each little detail, down to the faucets.”

Above the tub is one of Carol’s own pieces, a photograph on aluminum.
Her edgy, metal-clad home in Rockland features an art studio, room for her expansive art collection, and big windows to let in natural light. Photo by Dave Clough.

Describing Carol’s art collection conjures two words: big and color. While some think of art as something to fill a home, Carol’s home was designed to fit her art. Zel planned large, gallery-like walls to showcase her bigger pieces. Yet the necessity for wall space infringed on the amount of glass the home could have, so to circumnavigate this issue, windows were placed on the corners of the walls. To complement the art, the walls had to be white. Not soft white, not contractor’s white. Bright white. Now, most of her collection is by Maine artists, both longstanding art legends in the community and recent MFA grads alike.

This Lindsey Adelman light fixture was something Carol had been wanting for years. Through a stroke of luck, Zel’s friend worked with Lindsey and helped Carol to acquire her dream fixture. Vase by Marcie Jan Bronstein.

Zel’s involvement in this project was seemingly tied to fate. Carol keeps a design binder full of clippings and tear pages from design magazines. Years ago, she’d torn out a page from Architectural Digest of a Lindsey Adelman light fixture she admired. She presented the page to Zel, asking her if she had any idea how to acquire the piece. It turns out, one of Zel’s friends works for Lindsey, and six months later, a version of “knotty bubbles’’ was installed over the kitchen island. Nautical rope and barnacles wrap around the lights, fitting into the home’s waterfront site, while remaining a highly contemporary piece. It adds a focal point to the white kitchen—though Carol was worried the kitchen would be too white without one more moment of intrigue. Thus, gold metallic tile was selected for the backsplash to add warmth and depth to the kitchen.

This mosaic-encrusted mannequin was purchased at the Jaffa Flea Market in Israel.
These blue Styrofoam squirrels are by Elijah Ober.

Though the interior is bright and white-toned, by contrast the exterior is black. Zel says, “For the exterior, Carol wanted something durable without a lot of maintenance—she’s in her eighties. A goal of this project was to build a home where the living space is essentially on one level.” Both Zel and Carol also wanted the architecture to fit in with the home’s industrial surroundings. “We opted for a corrugated metal siding and a standing seam metal roof,” says Zel. “Instead of gabled—Carol wanted to stray from the traditional—it’s an angular shed style roof.” Almost every inch of the exterior, including the siding, is metal. Beneficially, metal does not need to be repainted, which in turn drives down maintenance and costs. “The Center for Maine Contemporary Art also has metal cladding,” adds Zel. “Carol, as a trustee, works closely with the CMCA, and the building lent inspiration to her home design.”

This futuristic home was designed for the life of an artist, both inside and out. To step inside is to enter a portal to a world-class art gallery. Though the home’s architecture is intended to help Carol age in place, one remark she made nods to her seemingly endless youthful spirit: “Never get old, you don’t have to.” ▪

A piece by Sara Stites compliments a striped rug. The colors in the home flow tastefully, freely from room to room.
Art pieces by Tom Flanagan, Jeane Cohen, Ryan Adams, and James Wolfe.

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