Explore the Treasures of this Antiques Lover's Tiny Maine Cabin

Lisa Romerein20th Century Studios

We called it the silk purse project, because it started life as a sow’s ear. As far as the actual structure, the tiny, single-story camp, built in 1950 and abandoned for years, didn’t have much going for it. But it was clear why its owners clung to the place for almost a half century. The idyllic pond. The majestic mountain. A perfectly imperfect slamming screen door. The gloating bullfrogs. The loon calls. The old-school floating dock just begging for a game of “jump or dive.” How could anyone let that go?

We had a secret weapon in the family. Design/build team Tom Young and his wife, my sister Mary Ann, who live in the village nearby, did to our new little camp what they do best: transform rather than tear down. In just a few months, Red Cottage (named for the color of its trim and roof shingles) was a polite story taller, its asphalt shingle siding replaced with cedar to blend in with the surrounding pines and birches. Inside, we bathed the walls in white paint and, over the course of two decades, changed the floor colors a few times before we arrived at a combination of stone, sun yellow, and chocolate for the stairs.

For almost two decades, my husband, Stephen, and I, and our sons, Finn and James (now 17 and 14, respectively), made our ritual summer exodus from steamy Brooklyn, New York, to our beloved camp in Maine. The late-June, eight-hour drive inevitably turned to 12, because there was a house to furnish, and there was no better resource than the flea markets, antiques cooperatives, and tag sales so ubiquitous along the coast. The truth is, every single piece of furniture in the cottage—apart from a pair of chests of drawers from Ikea that we painted slate gray and raised up off the floor by adding feet—came out of those drives.

We would arrive under an ink-black sky sprayed with stars. The crickets, loons, and bullfrogs owned the night. In the early years, I would steal swims across the pond while the babies slept, all that fresh air guaranteeing they would not awaken until I returned to our dock.

Over the years, we fiddled with the downstairs layout, ultimately taking down the wall that once separated the living space from what was a very dark bedroom. By adding vintage picture windows to take advantage of the morning light, we created an ideal breakfast room and opted to paint the floor bright yellow to make the room glow. When we found the roomy round table with lazy Susan, we felt fortunate to have just the right spot for it.

Every room came together organically; we never had a plan. Buying pieces we loved seemed like the wisest approach. What we ruthlessly tried to avoid was turning this simple, sweet shack into something it was not. There is no dishwasher, no microwave, no washing machine, no television. There is a comfortable sofa with a washable cotton canvas slipcover, great reading chairs that are easy to orient to a roaring fire (not unusual on a late August night) or to join a conversation, bookcases (built by Stephen) filled with books, and good lighting, including a driftwood floor lamp snagged at a barn sale.

When I think about what really brings us joy in these 950 square feet, it comes down to the rituals we create in it. The summer-long Monopoly games, the kids furiously reading their Hardy Boys mysteries, the countless helpings of blueberry pie, the silent nights, the crisp cotton bed sheets against sun-tinged skin. As soon as the boys could stand, we began marking their growth on a door jamb in the kitchen. Every time I pass by it, I stop in my tracks. I know where the time has gone, and aren’t we all the luckier for it?

Collected Keepsakes

Throughout the comfortably furnished living room, a motley miscellany of treasures from land, sea, and flea market mingle on tables, window ledges, walls, and even ceiling nooks. “We want to be minimalists, but we have faced the hard truth: Any bare surface is a surface in need of an interesting collection,” says Kathleen. A driftwood floor lamp also animates the room with a tongue-in-cheek nod to what can be a cliché cottage material.

Knotty Pine

Originally brown, the cabin’s paneling was meant to evince the feeling of a camp, but it only made the space feel dark. To brighten things up without sacrificing the rusticity, the couple painted the walls and ceiling throughout, but with just one white coat so the pine knotholes would remain visible. The lighter backdrop also allows antique art to shine—including a cheeky (and tiny) statement piece above the mantel: the biggest fish they ever caught.

Get the Look:
Wall Paint: Simply White by Benjamin Moore

RELATED: 20 Best White Paint Colors to Brighten Any Space in Your Home

Timeworn & True

A picture light gives a flea market painting gravitas.

Exposed Rafters

Once a cave-like bedroom with a drop ceiling, the former sleeping quarters is now a light-filled gathering place. Hinged at the bottom and secured midway by chains, the two windows can be opened to let in the fresh Maine air. The couple fell in love with the large round pine dining table not only for its raw beauty but its old-school built-in lazy Susan. Surrounding it are midcentury Paul McCobb chairs they found at auction.

Get the Look:
Floor Paint: Citron by Farrow & Ball

Memory Keeper

A vintage mirror hangs over a built-in bookcase topped with rocks and stones collected on sailing trips.

Nautical Touch

A length of manila ship rope serves as a handrail along the narrow, 14-inch-wide stairs.

Simply White

The master bedroom was designed for pure relaxation, with the simply dressed bed positioned to take in the view of the pond. Against the wall, favorite books, busts, and paintings fill the bookcase built by Stephen, while gooseneck lamps mounted on the ceiling provide perfect reading light.

RELATED: Bedroom Colors That’ll Make You Wake Up Happier

Found Objects, New Life

The boys’ loft room is filled with lessons in possibility: Vintage rope spools became bedside tables, outdoor porch lights became reading lanterns, and ceramic deer heads satisfy any desire of the taxidermy kind. The silhouette of son James was handmade with thumbtacks pressed into black-painted board behind the bed.

Window Light Showcase

Rope sconces, picked up at a MidCoast antiques shop, flank the bathroom window, which looks out over the pond. A built-in tub clad in planking sits underneath.

The Maine House: Continued

Inside More Quaint Retreats

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