A Splash of Color
Small House with a Big Personality
Kittery Point is a bohemian community on the coast of Southern Maine. Far from the hustle and bustle of the outlet malls, it lies in a quiet world of harbors, saltwater creeks, and small islands. With its proximity to Boston and Portsmouth, it is surprising that this charming little community has managed to remain affordable. When interior designer Diane Hart downsized seven years ago, Kittery Point was the obvious choice.
“I’ve always loved Kittery Point, and I was looking for a smaller home that I could afford to buy on my own,” Hart says.
As luck would have it, the perfect opportunity presented itself almost immediately. “I had some friends over for dinner and they brought a guest,” Hart explains. “Her mother had just passed away, so she was trying to sell the house. It was just a small blue ranch—nothing extravagant. But it was on a really sweet dead-end road near Spruce Creek.”
Once Hart purchased the home, it was time to put her unique stamp on the space. The exterior was landscaped, and the house received new shingles and a new roof. Hart added a large outdoor deck to the back of the house so she could enjoy the gardens and surrounding woodlands. But her changes to the interior were truly impressive.
Entering the foyer of the house, it is hard to imagine that the space used to be nothing more than a breezeway to the garage. “The floor is cork, a brightly colored emerald green,” Hart says.
Even with a large brushed aluminum and birch bench built by Hart’s former husband, Ethan Cook, and an antique chest inherited from her parents, the small space feels roomy. A large painting by Christopher Cook, Ethan’s father, hangs over the bench and a maroon oriental rug sits on top of the emerald green floor. The foyer offers a preview of the delights to come: a mix of old and new, bright colors and traditional patterns, and spectacular artwork and furniture by local artists.
“What I did to defy the smallness of the house was to use large objects,” she says. “I added large crown molding throughout the house, and it really outlines each room. I also have large pieces of artwork that help create an illusion of roominess in what truly is a small house.”
To the right of the foyer is the living room, the largest room in the house. “This was a garage,” Hart says. “I love color, and I used a lot of subtle colors in the rest of the house, but here I used an intense orange combined with a lot of green. If someone saw a color palette of the living room, they’d think it was the most garish room in the world!”
Far from garish, the space is cozy, warm, and bright. The vibrant orange of the walls combines beautifully with the built-in bookshelves, a large, comfortable couch, and a variety of chairs perfect for settling in with a good book.
Two large skylights let plenty of light into the space. Transom windows, narrow and elongated, show off the height of the room while providing plenty of wall space to hang artwork. “I knew I wanted a place for art,” Hart says. “A huge oversight today is that people go window crazy.”
Over a pillow-lined sofa hangs a large painting by Art DiMambro. This piece, like much of the artwork in her home including a painting by Chris Cook and pottery by Don Williams, was purchased at the George Marshall Store Gallery in neighboring York, Maine. “Artwork is very important to me,” Hart says. “My family—my former husband and my kids—are all artists. I have a lot of original artwork and handcrafted furniture.”
The modern birch chair by the window was also designed and built by Ethan Cook. “The fabric is a Frank Lloyd Wright, textured fabric,” she says. “Ethan built it about 20 years ago.”
In front of the chair is a found-object coffee table, made from a simple piece of glass atop two old sawhorses found by the side of a New York City street. Behind the chair is an oriental chest that Hart found at a flea market some 30 years ago. This seemingly eclectic mix of old and new, found and purchased, adds visual interest to the space, while the wall-to-wall Berber carpet lends a cozy feel. “The color is warm and draws you in,” she says, “but the tall ceilings and large objects give you a sense of height. The light in there is very peaceful. It feels separate from the rest of the house, and it’s just a nice little sanctuary.”
The main part of the house is dominated by an open kitchen and dining room. “When I bought the house, there were kitchen cabinets everywhere,” Hart says. “I tore down walls and ripped out the cabinets. I just don’t like cabinets over the counter.”
The result is an open kitchen that flows into the dining area and offers plenty of space on the walls for artwork, including an oil painting by Bonnie Goldstein. A small island houses the gas stove and provides a casual space for enjoying light meals. Large windows span the length of the back wall, allowing in plenty of natural light and providing a perfect view of the gardens.
A salvaged pillar, found in Exeter, New Hampshire, marks the division of the kitchen from the dining room. Next to the pillar is a small bookshelf. This simple arrangement not only provides space for Hart’s cookbooks, but helps to visually define the two rooms.
The focal point of the dining room is an old stone fireplace. Directly across from the fireplace is a huge painting by Colleen Forde, purchased at a gallery in Wells, Maine. “I originally bought that painting for a client,” Hart says. “It reminds me of a Degas a little bit, with the dress flowing off the painting.”
The table underneath the painting was made by George Beland, a New Hampshire furniture designer. The rocking sculpture on top was purchased at the N.W. Barrett Gallery in Portsmouth. “I saw this sculpture, brought it home, and just fell in love with it!” Hart says.
A simple dining table sits in the middle of the room, surrounded by comfortable, unobtrusive seating areas that make the space perfect for entertaining guests.
Down the hall are a small pantry, home office, master bedroom—Hart’s favorite room in the house for its fabrics, found objects, and intimate size—and a bathroom. “Being a designer, I had to have wallpaper somewhere,” she says. “So in the bathroom there’s monkey wallpaper, which is pretty traditional, combined with very modern sconces.”
Walking through Hart’s house, you cannot help but notice the colors, texture, light, and architectural elements. There is richness to the combination of old and new that creates a visually stimulating but simple space. The house itself is like a good book: each time you visit, you are bound to discover another small touch or piece of artwork that tells a bit more of her story.
The home is dotted with objects Hart has found during her travels. “I have a beautiful long runner that I bought in Morocco eight years ago,” she says. “I just loved the rug. It was different—the colors are oranges and yellows. Typically you see very bright sharp reds; this stood out because it’s so subtle. I have a little hook in my kitchen; it’s a beautiful iron bird. I hold my dishtowels on it. I found that at a flea market in Paris on a Sunday morning. I love finding things that just feel like me.”
And while the space is filled with found objects, artwork, and interesting details, it is not cluttered. “I don’t like a lot of collection; I like to keep things really simple. But I do like bringing home something that is just rich and that speaks to me. That’s what makes a design original.”