Teodora and Joseph Porta knew they would make an offer on their home in Freeport, Maine, before they even stepped inside. Perched on a bluff with unobstructed views of Casco Bay, the 3,500-square-foot split-level house sits amid spacious patios and lush plantings situated far closer to the coast than current zoning allows. Says Joseph Porta, “We felt connected to it right away.”
One problem: It wasn’t for sale. The owner, a real estate developer who had shown the couple another property, spent summers there himself and was reluctant to let it go. Undeterred, Porta wrote him a letter about what it would mean to them to settle down and raise a family there. They’ve since closed on the house, tied the knot, and had a daughter.
Drawn to Portland-based designer Tyler Karu’s use of color and textiles, Teodora contacted her to turn the high-ceilinged foyer into a “wow” space. From there, Karu slowly transformed the home into a refined refuge that suits the well-traveled pair. “The interior didn’t reflect who we are,” Porta says. “We wanted to feel the same way about the inside as we do about the outside.”
Although the home’s buttery-yellow walls and coastal blue accents needed undoing, the seller left behind a few fabulous furnishings that helped set the tone. Karu says of the homeowners, “They didn’t want their home to look like everyone else’s, with pieces acquired in one day from a big-box store.” Taking cues from the existing 55-year-old hand-carved Balinese altarpiece in the living area and the plank-top dining table with carved corners surrounded by 10 rattan chairs, she devised a collected scheme with a multicultural feel.
A trip to Mougalian Rugs in Portland kicked things off. The trio selected a vintage Persian-style design in a bold combination of rust, orange, and teal to anchor the dining area. For the dining chairs, Karu chose cushions covered in a textural animal-print-like pattern. “We went with brown to keep things neutral rather than pulling out a color from the rug,” she says.
To add storage in the dining room, Karu designed custom maple-lined cabinetry with pierced-metal panel doors that play off the Balinese altarpiece. She painted the cabinetry the same color as the trim so it would recede rather than compete with the carved-wood showpiece. Raw brass sconces by Ralph Lauren, which will oxidize over time, line the top.
Rust-colored textiles in tribal-inspired geometric patterns carry the color scheme from the dining area to either end of the house. The main living area and the sitting room flank the dining room, each holding a sofa with a mid-century silhouette, comfy chairs, and a soft rug with a bit of sheen. In the sitting room, which also connects to the kitchen, a leather ottoman coffee table and the rug are child-friendly touches.
The kitchen received an upgrade, with a quartz countertop, frosted-glass pendant, and counter stools with striped seats made from natural fibers. The room also had a tiny closet, which Karu converted into a dramatic wet bar. A remnant slab of honed black marble with orange veining, sleek cabinetry stained matte black, and Schumacher sisal-grass-cloth wall covering printed with an octagon and Greek-key pattern are striking counterpoints to the all-white kitchen. Joseph Porta says, “It’s every guy’s dream to have a wet bar like this.”
He wanted a similarly moody feel for his office and asked Karu for “something smoky with some wood” — but says he never would have had the guts to go as dark as she did. Says Karu, “The door to the ocean lets in lots of natural light.”
A wall painted Benjamin Moore Midnight Oil, a deep blue-black, makes up one side of the room, where cushions upholstered in Belgian linen screen-printed with comic book-esque stars impart fun and wit. On the facing wall, black-and-metallic-gold Hygge West wallpaper in a pattern inspired by Southwestern textiles amplifies the effect.
Of Karu, Porta says simply, “She told us to trust her, and we did.”