This Restored 18th-Century Maine Farmhouse Is an Artist's Treasure Trove
For some, an 18th-century farmhouse, located only a couple hundred yards from the scenic coast of Maine, sounds like a dream. For designer Tyler Karu, it's simply the setting of her mother's home. When it came time to design the potential-rich property, her mission was simple: Restore the 1700s home to its original glory, adding in personal touches along the way. "Our vision was to preserve the character and history of the home. Hundreds of years and numerous renovations left the property feeling like a bit of a hodgepodge," Karu explains. "We wanted to strip the house to its bones and start over, paying homage to authentic farmhouse style, but with an eclectic focus driven by my mother's art and furnishings collection."
Patience was a virtue as the duo collected pieces that would fit seamlessly into the space—and achieve that balance of old meets eclectic. "We stuck to our original vision to be purposeful and intentional with our selections. It was the only way we were going to achieve the character and collected quality we were looking for," notes Karu.
The small town of Cape Elizabeth also played a key role in the home's overarching design. "We wanted to honor the beauty of the property and the environment—you can see the ocean from the master bedroom," she explains. In the end, Karu and her mother restored and transformed the 2,900-square-foot home into a cozy oasis that strikes the balance of charming and functional. Ahead, she gives us the grand tour of the completed space and divulges even more about the design process.
An Adapted Vision
When it came to design challenges, Karu says that dealing with layout issues was the biggest hurdle from the start. "The kitchen is overly large, and some of the other spaces that we would have liked a bit more square footage in were lacking," she notes. "We either moved walls, or, when that was not doable, cleverly furnished the spaces to function on a smaller scale." The entryway, seen here, complete with a skinny bench for sitting, illustrates this.
A Touch of Maine
Dining rooms are among Karu's favorite spaces to design, and that sense of enthusiasm was certainly reflected in her mother's own. "We designed the dining table with our friends from Huston & Co., a custom furniture company in Kennebunkport, Maine. We love working with them and this table is a collaboration we're really excited about," he shares. "The Lindsey Adelman lights are also a highlight and conversation starter. Everyone loves them. They're basically iconic at this point, but I always think they're most appropriate installed in projects by the ocean."
A Gallery Wall
The dining room also became an outlet for personalization. "We wanted to be sure the house felt unique to my mother and showcased the pieces she's collected over the years. The dining room is filled with art created by artists she admires, her friends, and her mother (my grandmother, who is a world-renowned portrait artist)," shares Karu.
The Gallery Continues
"The black-and-white gallery running up the stairwell is a collection of work by my great-uncle on my father's side, Leon Levinstein," adds Karu of the home's second gallery wall. "I'm fortunate to come from long lines of creative people."
A Natural Color Palette
Selecting the home's color palette—a curation of neutrals, pictured here in the hallway—came easily when Karu considered the setting of the property, which is less than a mile from Maine's beautiful coastline. "We wanted the colors to be neutral or rooted in nature. The majority of the color palette is soft, allowing the furnishings and materials to speak for themselves."
Old and New
Karu's mother is, in the designer's own words, "a skilled and prolific cook"—she is a cooking columnist for magazines and websites, which is why the kitchen needed to function as a true workspace, without sacrificing the farmhouse aesthetic. To achieve this, they merged found treasures with modern-day technology. "The beams were salvaged from a barn in Warren, Maine, and look like they're original to the house," adds Karu. "It's not always easy to create an Old-World aesthetic in a room full of large stainless appliances, but I think we succeeded in making the appliances recede into the background."
Form and Function
While it was important that the island have plenty of prep space for cooking, Karu was concerned that the mass of stone on the oversized island would feel overwhelming. To create balance, she added a brass transition strip and wood countertop to designate a counter-stool seating area.
Somewhere Cozy to Gather
The sunken living room has a built-in cozy vibe, which Karu took full advantage of by adding a statement stone fireplace surround. "We worked with a local stone mason and locally sourced stone to be sure it had an authentic quality and didn't look like a stone supplier façade," Karu explains. Another item of note: her mother's framed insect collection. "It's a mix of decoupage plates and a bust, large framed insects, botanical prints, and an antique European school chart."
In the living room, a wall suspended-half table shows off a sea-foam pottery collection; above, another of Karu's mother's collected paintings is put on full display.
Lots of Contrast
While the compact bathroom's bold wallpaper certainly introduces a moody tone to the space, the metallic accents offered balance and contrast with a hint of shine. "We loved the wallpaper with the sink and faucet combo. They have a bit of a steampunk vibe," says Karu.
A Touch of Femininity
The master bedroom showcases blush tones, a curved headboard, and shapely prints to create an inherently feminine space that Karu notes is very true to her mother. "My aesthetic leans more masculine and I love that this space shows the difference in our personal styles and feels so much like her," she says. Matching nightstands, lighting, and accent mirrors add symmetry and balance.