Back in Black

A Designer’s Bitty Cape Gets a Bold Update

Architectural upgrades and a dramatic palette turn a designer’s whisper-of-a-house into an eye-catching statement.

ABOVE New Mathews Brothers windows and LP SmartSide engineered-wood siding in Abyss Black revitalized this petite Cape.


It was essentially a box with a roof,” says Portland designer Tyler Karu of the 1,300-square-foot southern Maine Cape she bought last summer — one of more than a dozen homes she’s lived in and flipped. “The challenge was, ‘How do I get creative and clever?’”

Working with Windham’s MGM Builders, she put on a rear shed-dormered addition and tore down walls on the first floor, turning a front bedroom into a dining area that connects to the living room via a pass-through at the base of the staircase. A low-backed sectional sits beneath banks of windows in the living space, where previously there were two small windows and a front door. “There was absolutely no need for the door in a house this small with side and back entrances,” Karu says.

yellow door on a black house

ABOVE A custom sectional from Portland’s Home Remedies hugs a corner of the revamped living room, which also features a rattan ottoman from Portland Flea-for-All and a wool Afghan Turkmen carpet from Mougalian Rugs in Portland.

A matching run of windows in the dining room creates a pleasing symmetry on the exterior, which Karu reimagined in charcoal black with inky-black trim to give the 1997 house “some presence.” Copper gutters and lighting and a marigold-colored side door add warmth and levity, like sunrays breaking through a storm cloud. “Yellow is not in my design toolbox, per se, but it’s one of my favorite elements in the home,” says Karu, who used it on throw pillows, draperies, and bath tile.

While she only stayed six months in the house, it holds an outsize place in her heart — she spent her first days as a newlywed here. But when a larger project nearby caught her eye, she took inspiration from the Cape and moved on. “I built a wall in my new living room to create a space that mimics the old one and used the same furniture — I was so happy because I didn’t have to buy a thing!”

Designer: Tyler Karu Design + Interiors

General Contractor: MGM Builders

Finished Square Feet: 1,500

Project Time: 5 months

Cost: $225,000