A vibrant palette and contemporary touches enliven an architectural classic.
By Laura Serino
Photographed by James R. Salomon
It’s obvious when you step into Pat Taub’s house in Portland’s West End that you’re stepping into the home of a writer. Every piece of furniture or artwork tells a story. There’s the dark rattan chair from when she lived in Key West, a dragon-spouted teapot from a trip to China, and an abstract painting by an artist from Syracuse, New York, where she raised her children. It is an eclectic mix of pieces that are reminders of friends, family, and a good tale or two.
Taub had just ended a long-term relationship in Key West when she first came to Maine to attend a women’s spiritual retreat center in Tenants Harbor. The experience was so inspiring that she took an internship with the center and bought a house nearby. After the center closed, Taub made her way to Portland. “I’m more of an urban person, so I thought it might be a great fit,” she says. A three-story apartment in what was originally a single-family residence on State Street became her “labor of love.”
To renovate the apartment and keep its original nineteenth-century details intact, Taub brought in preservation specialists Papi & Romano Builders of Portland. “I was really clear about what I wanted in the kitchen. I wanted open shelves and I didn’t want it to be cookie cutter,” says Taub. An archway to the dining room was opened up to let in more light. She called in a favor from her friend Ruth Reiter, a former magazine home editor, who helped her choose colors, including orange high-lacquer cabinets. “The orange was tricky. It could have been a seventies punch in the face, which would have been horrible!” says Taub. The color called for soft-hued partners, which Taub found in a white silestone countertop and a slate-front refrigerator. The ceiling serves as a makeshift gallery for two paintings passed down from Taub’s mother, a bright floral still life and an oil of an Italian peasant woman.
Though the resurrection of every brick and beam is an art form in itself, it’s not just an enviable bone structure that makes these walls talk. At nearly every turn is a family heirloom or treasured piece with a story that Taub can tell. Above the couch in the living room hangs a nude painting in a stunning mother of pearl and bone frame, a find of Taub’s mother, who was an antiques dealer and gallery owner. “I definitely get my sense of design from her,” Taub says. Hanging close by is Love for Sale, a painting by Tenants Harbor artist Robert Hamilton. The room’s style is inviting, but decidedly eclectic, resulting in a space that feels intimate and personal rather than purposefully designed. “I just buy stuff that I love,” Taub explains. “I don’t think about it matching. Magically it all blends together.”
An artist in her own right, Taub made many of the most compelling design decisions, like the deep red banister that brightens the front hall. “People can’t help but smile when they see it,” she says, “though I think my contractor was a bit horrified that I wanted to paint a gorgeous Victorian banister red.” Nearly covering one wall of the entryway is a large black-and-white map of Paris, which is teamed with an iron coat rack from Pottery Barn and vintage light fixtures. Taub chalks up her knack for decorating to luck. “I just ordered all this stuff, and it ended up coming together well.”
On the second floor are the guest bedroom, bathroom, and a small study. The wall of the third-floor stairway is filled with family photos, including one of Taub’s parents on their wedding day. The third-floor “mistress” suite is a sweeping, tranquil space with exposed beams and a vaulted ceiling. In one corner, a sleek Japanese soaking tub adds a modern touch. Sumptuous, flowing drapes hang on stacked windows. “It was Ruth’s idea to treat the windows in a grand way since it’s a grand space,” says Taub. The room is big enough to accommodate a few mattresses on the floor for visiting grandchildren.
“The crew was intent on honoring what I wanted in this house,” says Taub. “When I did a renovation in Key West, some days the guys wouldn’t even show up. It was great to work with a crew who were so disciplined — and really nice.”
If a home is what you make it, then Taub’s is a reminder of the most important things in life: family, friends, and sources of inspiration. “Right after I moved in, I asked a friend to do a home purification,” she says, referring to a spiritual ritual for positive energies. “She said it didn’t really need it as my space already had a very welcoming energy. It’s true. I feel good here.”