• Abigail Shea

Project Spotlight - Blue Hill Belgian Farmhouse

Let's take a deep dive into one of our ongoing projects, way up north in one of the prettiest parts of this state.
 

The Blue Hill Belgian Farmhouse project has been a favorite of mine from the very beginning. My clients, who have quickly become friends, are a young couple who moved from Wisconsin during the pandemic to practice health care in their rural Maine community. They purchased a 4,000 sf 2015 post-and-beam house that's dripping with character (unlike most new builds) and is lacking consistency and detail-orientation (like almost all new builds). They brought me on in October of 2021 to add some cohesion and to redefine the home's style as something more true to their youthful, down-to-earth energy. We're de-colonial-izing, de-campifying, and adding all of the warm, organic textures and colors we can.

I adore every project we have going on right now, but I was secretly thrilled that this one was selected as our project spotlight for a few reasons. First, you couldn't dream of better clients. Their patience, grace, excitement, kindness, and gratitude for this project is humbling. There's a lot of privilege in the world of interior design and unfortunately sometimes that can come along with entitlement and dissatisfaction. I am lucky to not experience much of this but even still, these clients' appreciation and excitement for their home and project feels extremely refreshing.

Second, this is a wonderful opportunity to show what truly slow renovation looks like. As I mentioned, these clients are young professionals with a big to-do list for this house, so we are taking things really slowly and being intentional about where we spend, if and what we re-purpose, who we hire, etc. This project will likely take 24-30 months but the result will be something the clients feel really good about and were able to execute without an unlimited budget.

Finally, I am so excited to share this project with you because these clients have given me creative freedom that I am truly so grateful for. This project is such a good testament of what can happen when you let a creative really express and execute what their gut tells them. Blue Hill is far away so I don't go up often and therefor have very few progress photos, but things are turning out really beautifully in this one and I credit that entirely to a great collaborative relationship with the clients and their utmost trust in me. Check out what we have to show so far!



 

Scope of Work + The Phase Program

The clients were interested in a fairly comprehensive re-design and many isolated renovations. Our punch list includes:

  • New flooring throughout

  • New paint throughout

  • Three bathroom renovations

  • A major kitchen refresh (not gut renovation)

  • All new furniture

  • All new lighting

  • Two staircase redesigns

  • Entrance + side door replacement

This is a fair amount of work to tackle for clients who are living in the home and have a budget to keep in mind. We decided to break things into four phases and the first part of my job was to establish an appropriate "phase program." This program considered the budget and it's annual fluctuations, competing vs. complimentary projects (for example, replacing overhead electrical in the living room meant getting under the primary bedroom flooring, reconfiguring the primary bathroom meant reconsidering the bedroom furniture layout, etc.), labor and the challenges of finding it in Blue Hill, and many other things. **Need I say again, designers are not for picking pretty things?**


The phase program included four, six-month phases from January 2022-December 2023. And let me just say now -- we planned to be on phase three by now and we're just wrapping up phase one :) Things have absolutely changed as we move along, as they always do, and we are constantly reviewing and revising our phase program to make it work.



Before


(Where we started -- disjointed, disconnected, and way too busy.)


 

Initial Concept Direction + Modeling - January 2022


One of my favorite phases of a project happens very early on and is what I call an "Initial Concept Direction." The idea is that instead of diving right in and spending months putting together proposals based on the client's definition of their style, we start with a very broad, visual presentation of the styles we all want to incorporate. There is a lot of nuance and subjectivity in descriptors like "rustic", "cozy", or "modern" so I like to start by accurately demonstrating the direction we're going to take and getting approval before too much work is done.


Clearly, this house had tons of potential and it was very obvious that to bring that out we needed to simplify, minimize, and introduce a new kind of character that added warmth instead of distraction. Here is where we started for the Blue Hill project with the concepts of "European farmhouse", "warm minimalism," and "elevated bohemian," presented on January 20th, 2022.




After a swiftly approved concept direction we moved on to drawing and rendering. Because there are relatively few construction projects for this one and a lot of our initial work was furniture, lighting, and swapping existing materials, we haven't produced nearly as many two dimensional drawings and 3D models as we do for other jobs. In this case, a lot of our visualization has been physical material samples. Here is a sample of some of the models we've done for this job, spanning from February to October 2022.


(Rendering, February 2022) (Before - Oct 2021)


(Living room, adjusted for photo/light-realism)


(Primary bath)


(First floor powder bath)


 

Paint, Floors + Procurement


Paint

The first -- and honestly house-changing -- thing we did was get a coat of warm, white paint on all of the walls. We used Moonlight by Backdrop and loved it. We have since swapped some colors, but the clients had selected and purchased paint before I was involved and felt very ready to get a clean, fresh start and start to feel inspired by the home's raw character. This change was such a deep, relaxing inhale.

(Paint is happening! One coat of primer on.)


(Mudroom, before and after paint.)




Floors

The existing flooring was another massive issue in this house. Almost every room had at least one unique kind of flooring, sometimes up to three.

(Inconsistent flooring materials. There were around 12 different flooring materials used in the house.)



Getting a consistent, clean floor material throughout the house was a top priority. As we are working in phases, we started by installing a medium-character white oak engineered wood from E. D. Bessey Lumber (a favorite local source!) in all of the living spaces. It's an absolute stunner.


(Images from flooring selection day)


(Cleared out and ready for floors!)


(Floor installation progress)



We are still very much in the middle of this project and have no "after" photos to show quite yet, but the text thread with my lovely client looked a lot like this (and sounded a lot like "OH MY GOD" "yesssss" "obsessed") after flooring install. Sneak peaks of some of our favorite furniture purchases, too :)


Procurement

During the paint and flooring phase, we did a ton of furniture and lighting procurement. We worked on making, tweaking, and finalizing room layouts (primary for the living spaces), lots of sourcing, pulling material samples, and then the real meat of my job -- order placing, tracking, invoicing, and delivery scheduling. This took about 4-5 months and we're still finalizing. And of course, this all happened while coordinating with contractors, gathering and evaluating estimates, tweaking our phase program as things got more complicated, etc. Basically, project management is an ongoing part of the job that we start the minute we're hired and consistently work on while we layer other tasks on top.


Remember, our style goals here were:

  • European "farmhouse" - The beams and stone fireplace did a lot for this, so we had to be careful not to go too far with farmhouse-y furniture

  • Warm minimalism - We did this through warm earth tones and soft furniture lines. Creams, whites, browns, muted greens and purples/rusts.

  • Elevated bohemian - The clients would describe their style as a bit boho, but were ready for what they called an "adult" home. No macrame, no wicker chairs. We did want the space to feel somewhat youthful, though, so we added playful touches with funky furniture like the bookshelf (**note the through-line of curved/soft furniture lines in the kidney coffee table, chair arms, and curved bookshelf**), fun colors like rust and "purple," and a less serious storage option, like lockers.




A few favorites picks...

Chair / Coffee table (vintage) / Pouf / Sofa / Sconces / Lockers (vintage)



 

Bathrooms & Kitchen


Another big aspect of this job are the three bathroom renovations and the kitchen redesign. We have nearly completed the powder bathroom which was a simple coat of paint, wallpaper, a new faucet, and new stone floors. As this bathroom is on the first floor, that project made sense to tackle while we were ripping out the wood floor adjacent to it. We're waiting on wallpaper install and our new faucet and this guy will be done! I love how this space is a seamless continuation of our natural, organic, youthful theme but accomplishes it in a moodier, sexier way.



The primary bathroom is next on our list -- we'll probably tackle that this spring. This is a full gut, nothing is safe.



(Primary BA before)


The plan for this space is to add a tub, separate the enormous double vanity into two smaller, personal ones, and of course introduce a style that is consistent with the rest of the house. We'll do a beautiful hexagon terracotta floor tile for most of the floor and then transition to a while Zellige tile on the tub/shower platform. We'll do Roman Clay or Venetian Plaster walls, lighter beams, off-white vanities with Cararra marble countertops, and antique brass finishes. Here are some renders and materials!





Kitchen

We had originally planned to tackle the primary bathroom this winter, but the kitchen has become a higher priority so we're starting on that soon. We are working on finalizing a plan before Thanksgiving and beginning work in ~February.


Here's what we're going for :



And here's what we're starting with!

The house is only about 7 years old and the kitchen is in great shape. For budget and sustainability reasons, we're not ripping this kitchen out and starting over. The style is far too traditional for these clients, so the plan is to make some big-impact, low-investment adjustments to bring it a more organic, youthful, earthy vibe. Here's the plan!



We'll be swapping all of the cabinet doors for an olive green shaker door with a radio weave cane panel. We'll remove all of the high-profile molding from the cabinet side panels and crowns and we'll give it all a nice coat of the same green. The countertops -- a beautiful Viscount White granite -- are staying as is! We'll swap hardware and lighting and remove some uppers (specifically the ones next to the sink) and add a monochrome green Zellige tile backsplash up to the ceiling. Because we don't love the space above the upper cabinets, we're considering building up to the ceiling or doing a very intentional and interesting collection of vintage clay vessels. To be determined! All of the surrounding walls will be the same warm white from the rest of the house. Beams and ceiling paneling are obviously staying and exactly as is :)


The guest bathroom is a distant thought at this point, but we'll continue our theme of de-traditionalizing it adding some warmth and soul through organic textures, materials, and colors.



 

Some final thoughts on our Belgian Farmhouse...


I have a few major takeaways from this project so far. The first is that the client relationship can absolutely make or break a project for both parties. There are so many things that can go wrong in a renovation, and the stakes are pretty high when there is so much money and time involved. Hiring a designer is one of the best things you can do to maximize your investment and keep things going as smoothly as possible, but it absolutely does not mean this will be a flawless process. Being easy-going, considerate, and grateful to each other as you work through a project can really make a world of difference.

The second takeaway is that working in rural communities is a totally different ballgame. The reason this project has taken so long is simply and decisively labor. It is so hard to find quality work in the area, and those that do good work are booked for years on the biggest projects in the area. A handful of small projects is not extremely enticing, so getting consistent labor has been a challenge. We have a great GC now, but he's fitting us in where he can and we have decided to take the time, appreciate his help, and wait for a quality result over a rushed one.


Finally, this project really has made me extremely grateful to do what I do. The clients, the home, the creative freedom, and the thought of a coffee + wine-filled install/shoot with new friends someday is such a pinch-me experience! Thank you all for being here and supporting this. Xoxo.


 


BONUS!


Eek, happy holidays everyone! I am feeling so ready for a warm, happy holiday season with lot's of champagne and candles and those kinds of parties where everyone hangs out for hours after it ends and just keeps talking.


This year, I've been thinking a lot about hosting and what it means for most people to host a dinner or holiday party. I realized that I think we can tend to take hosting a bit too seriously and that maybe the pressure and cost of hosting stops us from doing it as often as we'd like? I mean, that and the fact that we all love our beds a heck of a lot. I love the idea of taking off some layers of formality, keeping it easy and fun, and not spending a ton on a really nice, charming little get-together. Check out some ASI ideas on hosting the way we like everything -- casual, yet elevated -- so you can host and gather as much as you want this season. Xoxo




For me, one key to keeping parties easy and affordable is champagne! I buy a few bottles, pour some in my vintage glassware for when people arrive, and offer a few options to make little champagne cocktails. This time we made a pear and blackberry mimosa and a cranberry option. They're so easy and saves you time, money, and a bunch of leftover booze.



Put extra chairs out ahead of time! Pull from your dining table, basement, whatever, but just make sure you've got some extra chairs around before people arrive. You want to make them feel immediately at home and comfortable, and it'll keep things a little easier for you while you're trying to make drinks and get dinner going.





Finally, keep your eats easy, especially dessert! No one is expecting the best meal of their life when they come over for a hang. Roast a chicken and some vegetables, use candles and natural items as decor, and honestly -- a Lindt truffle and another cocktail will be juuust fine for dessert. Take the pressure off and prioritize the time with your people, not being the perfect host.



Happy Holidays, all! Thanks for being here.