Fashion Designer Alexa Stark Spiffs Up the Waldoboro Inn

Inside the circa 1880 sea-captain’s mansion, the clothing designer mixed cutting-edge style with Yankee frugality.

The Waldoboro Inn's elaborately decorated living room
An oil portrait from Stark’s childhood bedroom presides over the inn’s elaborately decorated living room.
By Sarah Stebbins
Photos by Nola Logan
From our November 2023 issue

For more than a decade, Alexa Stark has designed envelope-pushing clothing, pieced together from old garments and surplus fabric from textile mills, for shops and museums all over the world. Now, she’s bringing her signature high-low style to Waldoboro. In the living room at the Waldoboro Inn, housed in a circa 1880 sea-captain’s mansion Stark purchased with three partners last year, an antique scroll-arm sofa, rendered in grandmotherly floral wool juxtaposed with cobalt and tangerine mohair, conjures the vibrant patchwork on a backless sweater in her current line. In a guest room, an antique silk-upholstered settee sports cartoonish airbrushed flowers, like those on oversized blazers and a billowy shirtdress sold through a Tokyo client. And in an attached carriage house turned wine bar, chair and sofa covers stitched from cut-up blue jeans recall the upcycled denim skirts and pants (often rocking two waistbands) that have been a fixture of her work for years.

Growing up in New York and New Jersey, Stark spent summers at her dad, Eric’s, Waldoboro place, where he now lives full-time. When she was a teenager, she begged her parents to send her to boarding school in Maine, and wound up at Gould Academy, in Bethel, known for churning out competitive skiers. “I was the awkward, artsy kid,” Stark says. “I think I skied twice.” After attending New York’s Parsons School of Design, she settled in Portland, Oregon. When an aging Waldoboro Italianate built for Captain John B. Stahl came on the market, she saw a creative outlet and a chance to fulfill her dream of returning to Maine. (She currently lives in a second-floor bedroom.) “I felt like I could create a place that added to the community, was highly designed, and allowed me to make a lot of things,” says Stark, who co-owns the inn with Eric and Oregon-based partners Nathan Reimer and Danielle Lombardi.

In keeping with her reuse-and-rework design philosophy, Stark left the living room’s groovy, 1970s, gold-flowered wallpaper intact (“It’s faded, an insane color, and gorgeous,” she says), matching it with the tricolor scroll-arm sofa, an elaborately patterned brick-red Persian carpet, and a coffee table she fashioned from giant plywood curlicues from Eric, a former art dealer and interior designer who helped furnish the inn with items from his basement. Given the room’s ornate tin ceiling and marble fireplace surround, “I felt like the only direction this could go is abundance,” says Stark. The three guest rooms retain their old pastel floor paint and feature eclectic antiques, sheer curtains stitched from her grandmothers’ silk scarves, handkerchiefs, and Chantilly-lace wedding-dress remnants, and private baths. One is finished in dark greenish-brown paint Stark likens to a clay mask; another juxtaposes an impressionistic landscape mural by Jackson Joyce, one of seven artists-in-residence Stark has hosted this year, with a blue-and-white checkerboard floor and an antique clawfoot-tub she painted coral.

When word got out about a designer with a Yankee’s thrifty sensibility in their midst, locals began dropping off boxes of old clothing and linens with Stark and sharing stories about them. Some items may find their way into décor or, perhaps, a line of robes, pajamas, and house dresses inspired by the inn. “I love how meaningful the pieces are,” Stark says, “and being able to give them new life.”

926 Main St., Waldoboro. From $225/night.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

Get all of our latest stories delivered straight to your mailbox every month. Subscribe to Down East magazine.