On summer days, Peter Macomber used to steer his boat carefully out of Chandlers Wharf, past the tourists lined up for sightseeing aboard the Islander, past the stacked condos that jut out into Casco Bay, the old brick buildings of the Portland Company Complex, and the dramatic architectural expanses of glass of the Portland Ocean Gateway. Where the Fore River meets Casco Bay, he would occasionally lift his gaze up from the water and spot one particular baby blue wood- frame house. Its tidy row of windows stared right back at him as they overlooked the waterfront out toward Great Diamond Island, where he and his wife, Pam, owned a tiny seasonal cottage. Peter always wondered about that baby blue house, noting its can’t-be-beat location and what he imagined to be a view beyond compare.
Four years ago, when the couple was out doing the real-estate-and-brunch routine of home hunters everywhere, they realized that the same blue house had come on the market. Attracted to its East End location close to their jobs (Pam is the owner of Nine Stones Spa and Peter is a commercial photographer with a studio on Fore Street), the couple asked realtor Tom Landry to arrange to get the keys. That afternoon, the trio found themselves wandering around inside. “We got lost in it because it was a maze, just these miniscule, chopped-up rooms,” Peter says, “But everyone kept staring out the windows.”
The house had already been remodeled several times. “We wanted to keep some sort of semblance of its proud history,” says Peter. “But there was nothing left. It had been chopped up so much, we decided to start all over from scratch.”
After the closing, Brewster Buttfield of Prospect Design helped to design a two- family, multi-generational house over four levels, keeping the same, relatively tiny 1,100 square-foot footprint but adding a garage. On the first floor they created an apartment for Pam’s mother, who’s in her nineties, as well as a small outdoor space. The second floor is Peter and Pam’s open living, dining, and kitchen areas, while the third floor is their bedroom. The basement level is a simple but well-appointed guest bedroom suite. An elevator—whimsically outfitted with a turquoise rolling cart and champagne stand—connects all four floors, as does a steel and ash staircase, with an apparent simplicity that belies the fact that designing stairs is, according to Pam, “a mathematical nightmare.”
While the flow from apartment to apartment feels seamless, the decor of each varies wildly. Pam’s mother, who is originally from New York, has a more traditional space, with wall-to-wall cream carpeting in the bedroom, crown moulding, and ample storage for china that’s been collected over a lifetime. Peter and Pam’s unit is open and loft-like, with exposed steel beams that help visually define the space by function.
Informing the design along the way were the couple’s creative professions. The en suite bathroom, in pretty shades of steely gray and stocked with plush, neatly folded towels, feels tranquil. “We didn’t want it to feel exactly like a spa,” Brewster says, “But we did want it to feel like an oasis.” As a photographer, lighting was particularly important to Peter, and so there were many conversations to make sure that there were adequate floor, table, wall, and ceiling fixtures. Wall space was also carefully considered, as works by both local and international artists, including Graciela Iturbide, Michael Waterman, Marvel Wynn, Eric Hopkins, Juan Escauriaza, and Diane Wiencke, rotate out from house to spa to studio and back again. Gray, specifically Sherwin-Williams’s Lattice, is the dominant color. It’s a shade chosen because “With the view, you don’t have to jazz it up inside,” Pam says, though it is a departure from a custom color they’ve dubbed “Nine Stones Green” that’s used predominantly in the spa.
“Pam and I work well together because I can think in terms of volume and space, and visualize where things are and how a space might feel just by looking at a plan,” says Peter. “She can do colors and tones that I can’t do as well, so we complement each other.”
The couple, who have known each other since they were kids—their fathers were pathologists in the army together—often play host to loads of family and friends, who have all known each other for decades. “It’s kind of a party house,” jokes Pam. A jewel box of a butler’s pantry, which is meticulously organized—the labels just- so—has proven essential for entertaining. While it was designed for extra storage to help open up the rest of kitchen, the effect is so pretty “we never close the door,” says Pam.
The top floor of the home is a retreat with more private space. Besides the bedroom, Pam and Peter have separate closet areas. Hers is outfitted with a low, loungy sofa; his is in dark wood. In Peter’s, among tattered leather books and a boxy reading chair, is a red velvet tuxedo, picked up at a Florida flea market. It makes an appearance every year at the Nine Stones staff holiday party. “He tried to get away with not wearing it one year,” says Pam, “and they wouldn’t have anything to do with it.”
Recently, the house has been made even more lively than usual: Peter and Pam’s daughter, a photo stylist who often assists her father, and her wife, a massage therapist at Nine Stones Spa, barista at Bard Coffee, and nursing student, returned to Maine after a decade spent in Seattle. They’ve now settled into the guest suite so the entire family often finds themselves eating meals together around the dining table upstairs. Peter and Pam’s son, a digital photo retoucher who—you guessed it—works for Peter, will occasionally join them.
“Clean modern is one way of looking at it,” says Brewster about the home’s overall style. “But when you go there for a social engagement, with the two of them, the dogs, the whole family, there’s nothing cold and modern about it.”
The biggest change that has come from the move is that the family doesn’t spend nearly as much time on Great Diamond. Their new home is escape enough, the water right out their window. Every morning for the first year after they moved in, Pam snapped a picture of the sunrise. “I’m not a morning person, but now I am,” she laughs. “The house made me one.” Now she wakes with the sun, watching as the sky turns from dark to dusty pink to clear blue out over the water from where Peter first looked up.