When David Duncan Morris and Justin Burkhardt decided to relocate from Washington, D.C., to Maine, they planned to settle in Portland. Then, a shingled three-bedroom they saw online beckoned the pair to Cape Elizabeth, about 20 minutes outside of the city. “The kitchens and baths were terrible, but I do this for a living so that was no big deal,” says Morris, an architect and the director of design at Caleb Johnson Studio in Portland. “Everything I couldn’t create — the woodwork, hardware, and windows — was all there.”
The couple leaned into the home by respecting its original features. The most substantial undertaking was restoring the windows, which they did in phases, and they survived two Maine winters with plastic covering the openings. The floorboards were in excellent condition, as were the hexagonal brass and glass doorknobs, and the plain- and quarter-sawn oak woodwork, which they steadfastly refused to paint. Had the house already been significantly altered, Morris admits they might have taken a different approach. “We didn’t want to be the ones that came in and ruined something that’s been around a hundred years,” he says.
Morris began in the living room, where the pairing of dark teal walls with the oak mantelpiece set the tone for the rest of house. Inspiration for the color came while gazing at the blue-green Casco Bay from nearby Fort Williams Park on a winter day. The “bottom-of-the-sea” shade, he says, makes you feel secure and surrounded, but not stifled, thanks to the beautiful light that filters through the original glass windowpanes. Painting the walls dark colors cultivates an uplifting effect. “Before, the woodwork felt heavy because there was too much contrast,” he says. “When we painted the walls dark, the wood came to life; you saw it dance.”
To infuse modern day freshness, Morris swapped the fireplace’s faux marble-painted brick surround with handmade terra-cotta tiles set in a bold, pop-art pattern. The design is the room’s wow moment and echoes the framed black and white needlepoint by Burkhardt’s grandmother that sits above it. “The mantel is tall, so we knew we would display a series of small, meaningful objects instead of one big artwork,” Morris says. “The tile is the statement.”
For continuity, Morris tied elements from the living room to other rooms in the house. The powder room is teal and the soapstone sink is similar in material and color to the tile surround. In turn, both the surround and the sink link to the black and white malachite pattern wallpaper that Morris chose to enliven the dining room.
The paper’s pattern also ensures that the room’s centerpiece, a 1950s chrome and glass table in the style of Milo Baughman that the couple brought from D.C., would not look out of place. “The wallpaper bridges the two languages,” Morris says, referring to the room’s historical details and minimalist furnishings. While the shape of the dining chairs complements that of the table, the brass-tone finish juxtaposes it. “I have a strong feeling on mixing metals,” Morris says. “You should feel completely empowered to do it.”
He followed suit in the kitchen, where the island countertop is sheathed in unlacquered brass and the red range sports polished brass knobs and a stainless steel top. The room’s most distinctive aspect, however, is its lack of enveloping color and departure from traditional design. “We kept it light and simple since it’s a work space,” Morris says. Still, there are nods to maintaining the “honest” feel, such as the linoleum floor that reminds Morris of his grandmother and the linear tiled backsplash that recalls the V-groove paneling in the kitchen’s prior iteration.
Morris employed the same clean, light, and unfussy approach in the bathroom upstairs while doubling down on saturated hues in the bedrooms. The palette is successful throughout. “The rooms feel cozy, like they want to hold and protect you,” Morris says. The couple also painted the exterior a very dark, very deep blue, as a kind of preview of what’s inside. Initially, it shocked the street, which is dominated by white and gray shingles, but the neighbors soon said they loved it. “The house took us on an adventure,” Morris says. “We played, but we listened to her.”
Designer: David Duncan Morris
Contractor: Woodhull of Maine, woodhullofmaine.com
Marni Elyse Katz is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.