Painter Sarah Madeira Day grew up in a 19th century hotel in Maine that was always full of people and constantly needed repairs.
So when she met her husband Wes Day, a pharmacist, it was only natural that she’d be drawn to renovations. The couple first updated a house in downtown Portland, and then brought a fixer-upper in Cumberland back to life. By their third project, they thought they’d take another page from Sarah’s childhood: They’d renovate with the intention of hosting guests.
“I always had renters in my house growing up, so it seems very normal to me,” she says.
They found a gambrel-style cottage in Freeport that was built in 1920. The lot drew them in with its tall, mature trees and proximity to a little tidal beach, but the building itself needed a lot of work. “It was really cute, but it was in rough shape,” Sarah says. “Over the years, it had a lot of band-aid fixes. It ended up being a project that we had to bring all the way down to the studs.”
Though the house is just under 1,000 square feet, it had numerous oddities and issues. Low ceilings throughout most of the home made it feel unnecessarily tight. The water meter was in the middle of the house, not outside, and most of the rooms felt like closets. Not to mention, there were also carpenter ants, black mold, and bees nests that needed to be exterminated.
Sarah and Wes envisioned an airy getaway with lots of natural light, so their work began by removing all the drop ceilings and their various coats of colorful paint. Their next plan of action was focusing on the kitchen. They wanted to make it as big as possible, so they removed one entryway to give room to a longer countertop. “Wes and I both cook a lot. We wanted the kitchen to be the grandest part of the house,” Sarah says. “And something that’s really a luxury, even if I’m going to be cooking in a tiny kitchen, is appropriate counter space.”
Sarah was set on having green cabinetry, which she achieved with Semihandmade DIY panels. “We liked the option that Semihandmade offers: just the raw wood so that you can paint it whatever color you want,” she says. “It can really make a space feel very customized without the price tag of a customized kitchen.” Sarah chose a combination of Shaker doors and Slab drawers, all of which were painted in Benjamin Moore Calico Blue. Though the word “blue” is in the title, the color appears as a muted forest green.
For the countertop, Sarah and Wes had a helpful hookup. “Wes’s dad owns a countertop and solid surface company, so we got things at wholesale pricing,” Sarah says. “We chose quartz and picked the lightest color we could get that looked similar to marble.” To finish up the space, she settled on mix-and-match finishes, like brass sconces and a stainless steel stove, for an eclectic look that still feels thoughtful.
Wes’s dad also supplied soapstone scraps for the living room’s fireplace so that they could build a sleek, dark gray mantle. “If you’re going to do the minimal theme throughout, it’s nice to have one thing that seems like a luxury item,” Sarah says. Down the hall, the only bathroom was updated with leftover quartz on a slate gray vanity, open shelves that Wes constructed, and subway tile that Sarah installed. She chose nickel fixtures from Signature Hardware to complement the look. “I splurged a little on the Cedar & Moss sconces because they’re just so pretty,” she says.
They added a closet and a bigger window to the downstairs bedroom, and furnished it with a Zinus platform bed from Amazon. The upstairs bedroom took shape in what was once an open attic—they added insulation and a wall to separate it from the hallway—and picked a West Elm bed as its centerpiece. To treat the windows, Sarah got crafty. “I hacked some Ikea drapes, where I hemmed them to size and I made them pinch pleat, so they look fancier,” she says.
As the project was winding down, the couple had a setback. “We were 90-percent done and the pipes burst and ruined a bunch of things,” Sarah says. But they didn’t let it phase them, and were actually glad it happened before guests arrived. “It pointed out a major problem, which was that we had pipes that were not insulated underneath the house, so we brought them inside,” she adds. When the home was once again primed for finishing touches, Sarah added pieces from her rug and art collections to make guests feel at ease.
They named the property the Fancy Freeport Fix-Up, and it wasn’t long until guests inquired about buying it from them. When one offer was too good to pass up, they sold.
“Being accommodating and making a space that’s beautiful for someone to come to and enjoy, I really love that,” Sarah says. But she and Wes love taking on new projects, too.
B+A’s Before You Go…
We had a quick chat with Sarah Madeira Day on her favorite things about Maine and her advice for renovating with a partner. Read on to learn more about her…
If there’s one thing you’d like people to know about Maine, what is it?
It’s called Vacationland for a reason, come see why.
What advice do you have for those who are interested in taking on renovations with their partner?
Divide and conquer. Find your strengths and capitalize. You may be the builder while your partner is the finisher. Wes and I have different methods for tackling a project, and if we work together, it can be chaos. Remember, there are many ways to climb a tree. If you both make it safely to the top, the view is all the same.
What are your favorite places to shop for accessories—locally or online?
How do you know when a room is “finished,” and alternatively, when can you tell that it’s time to make a change?
This is the hardest part of any project! We tend to feel like a room is finished when everything we set out to do has been accomplished—so, the room is functional and doesn’t need any additional design features. And on the other hand, if I enter a room and think, “How would I live here normally,” then most likely, there needs to be a few changes.
What are three of your favorite places in Maine, and why?
Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park: I grew up here and love it. I was aching to leave in my teens and now it is always the first place I want to visit.
Lakeville: Wes’s Dad has a camp in Northern Maine on Junior Lake. It is isolated, calm, and one of our favorite places to go throughout the year.
Portland: Portland offers what I feel is the best of both worlds. It has great food, people, and music—and it’s close to the ocean and the wilderness. It has all our favorite things.