9 Steps to a Healthier Maine Home

9 Steps to a Healthier Maine Home

Local pros weigh in on the ways — big, small, and for the better — homes are changing in the COVID-19 era.


Working from home. Learning from home. Exercising at home. Eating every meal at home. Many of us are asking a building designed to handle some of these activities some of the time to absorb them all 24-7, while also shielding us from an insidious virus. Now that we’ve had months to ponder the specific deficiencies in our own dwellings (and, God love them, the people we share them with), we wondered what updates we can make now to cut down on germs, improve the outdoor spaces we’re spending more time in, and isolate the remote worker conducting Zoom calls at the kitchen table, and what structural changes and tech advances we can expect to see in the future. After picking the brains of 17 local pros — from architects, builders, and designers to a professor, real estate broker, chicken keeper, and swimming pool dealer — we bring you nine trends likely to have a growing impact on Maine homes.

separate structures for a healthy Maine home
Photographed by Trent Bell; Designed by OPAL; Built by GO Logic

Separate Structures

The traditional summer home, where family from all over can congregate, is undergoing a rethink. Architect Matt O’Malia, of Belfast’s OPAL, says clients are gravitating toward multiple smaller dwellings that facilitate quarantining, have a “lighter touch on the landscape,” and are easily adaptable — “you can start small, and then add on or change, which is great in these times of uncertainty,” he says. The downside? Compound structures can cost up to 50 percent more than a single building of the same square footage. A compromise Gavin Pond, of Freeport’s Warren Construction Group, is seeing are homes with separate living/bedroom quarters connected to a central kitchen via glass corridors. Beyond being quarantine friendly, the arrangement affords “more privacy, so the owners don’t feel like they’re always entertaining,” he says.

work from home flex space
Photographed by Erin Little; Designed by David Matero Architecture; Built by Corey Rattleff; Interior Design by Jeanne Handy Interior Designs

Flex Space

In the age of remote work and school, seasonal and seldom-used rooms are luxuries many people can no longer afford, says nearly every pro we talked to. Designers have been carving out office areas — or, in the case of Portland’s Jan Robinson, a yoga studio — in guest rooms to create a healthier work/life balance than the kitchen table provides. In spaces, like the Portland yoga studio, that will be frequently visible on Zoom calls, Robinson suggests swapping a guest bed for a sofa-like daybed. Portland designer Jeanne Handy has also been putting doors on formal dining rooms so they can double as offices and specifying adjustable, ergonomic stools multiple family members can use, such as Interstuhl’s Up stool ($122, ori.com). Warren Construction Group, meantime, is reworking a Belgrade lake house’s screened porch into a year-round workspace.

Hoo air quality sensor

Air Quality Control

“What we breathe inside our homes can have a direct impact on our health,” says Emily Mottram, of Cumberland’s Mottram Architecture, who uses a uHoo air quality sensor to measure the levels of humidity, carbon monoxide, dust particles, airborne chemicals, and other toxins in her home. Humidity, for example, can spur mold growth, eliciting allergic reactions and respiratory problems. A dehumidifier in the basement can help. And working in an unventilated home office all day can expose you to CO2 spikes that cause fatigue and headaches. “This is a common thing that is handled in office buildings, but not talked about much in homes,” Mottram says. Knowing when to crack a window may head off the problem and a fresh-air ventilation system can mitigate it if CO2 levels remain high. $329; uhooair.com

antimicrobial surfaces

Antimicrobial Surfaces

Designers expect to incorporate more inherently antimicrobial materials, such as quartz, copper, and porcelain tile, into kitchens and baths in the coming year, with large tiles that minimize hard-to-clean grout lines holding particular appeal. In the latter category, Lindsay Jolin, assistant manager at Portland’s Old Port Specialty Tile, loves Akdo’s new-to-the-United States Tradition series porcelain tile. With whopping 4-by-9-foot pieces resembling marble slabs, it creates a luxurious look on floors, fireplace surrounds, countertops, backsplashes, and shower walls, but “can withstand heavy-duty cleaners and scrubbing,” she says. From $12/square foot. oldporttile.com


use outdoor fabrics indoors

Outdoor Fabrics Indoors

Technological advances in the durable, solution-dyed acrylic fabrics previously reserved for patio furniture have rendered them softer and more suitable for use on sofas and chairs indoors, says designer Angela Ballard, of Boothbay- and Portland-based Knickerbocker Group. “In Maine, we need fabrics in our homes that stand up to our outdoor lifestyles, and these provide peace of mind, especially with the sensitivity to cleanliness during the pandemic,” she says, noting that they can be spot cleaned with dish soap, a bleach-and-water mixture, or household cleaners. Bonus: all-weather materials resist liquid, making them less likely to mold or mildew. Thibaut Landmark fabric in Sadie, from $132/yard. covebykg.com

backyard pool
Photographed by Myriam Babin; Designed by Ted Carter Inspired Landscapes; Installation by Quality Design Pools

Backyard Pools

Between camp closures, reduced capacity at beaches, and (gah!) sharks in Maine waters, interest in backyard pools soared last summer, says Sue Geyer, vice president of Falmouth’s Ledgewater Pools, who saw inquiries increase 500 percent and sales jump 60 percent. “The only reason it isn’t more is because we can’t get the product fast enough,” she says. More broadly, Swimply, the Airbnb of backyard pools (which, alas, does not yet have locations in Maine), reported a 2,000 percent jump in bookings and revenue over the summer, and Instagram and Pinterest have fueled a surge in adorable DIY pools constructed from pallets and livestock tanks. Another option for those with small yards is a plunge pool, says Ted Carter, of Buxton’s Ted Carter Inspired Landscapes. Averaging 10 by 16 feet and priced up to forty percent less than a full-size, in-ground pool, “they’re a nice compromise, while still giving you a peaceful destination in the landscape,” he says.

homesteading backyard chicken coop
Photographed by Greta Rybus; Built by Horizon Structures


In the wake of last spring’s picked-over supermarket scenes, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension saw a 61 percent jump in gardening page views on its website, compared with the same period last year, and a 52 percent increase in poultry page views. “People want to provide [healthy food] for themselves,” says UMaine Extension professor Donna Coffin. Dixmont master gardener/chicken keeper Lisa Steele saw a similar bump on her Fresh Eggs Daily website — page views were up 46 percent from last spring. “People in suburban areas with just a regular backyard are now raising chickens,” says Steele, who cautions would-be poultry owners to check with their town about regulations and install a fence to deter prey. Not the farming type? Heather Jackson, of Freeport’s Jackson Built, frequently builds shelves across kitchen windows for potted herbs. “They’re great for indoor air quality too,” she says.


touchless faucet

Touchless Tech

Recognizing that the kitchen faucet is “a hotspot for germs,” Shane Eliasen, project manager at Yarmouth’s Centerline Design & Build, says his firm frequently specifies touch-free faucets that turn on and off with a motion sensor, an innovation that also improves water efficiency and makes life easier for bakers with floury hands. The hitch? A robe sleeve or creeping cat can accidentally trip the sensor, says Centerline lead project designer Kate Kyle, who recommends pricier models with sensors you can turn off. As the technology advances and demand continues to increase — a 2019 kitchen trends study by Houzz found 57 percent of upgraded faucets are high-tech — she expects costs to come down. Also on the horizon: more motion-sensor toilets and keyless entries in apartment and retirement complexes, predicts Ed Gardner, of Portland’s Gardner Real Estate Group, noting that the city’s Stevens Square 55-plus community he’s developing will be key free. Moen Align Motionsense faucet, $808.60. centerlinedesignme.com

Photographed by Jonathan Reece; Designed by Whitten Architects; Built by Douston Construction; Styled by Krista Stokes 

Reimagined Mudrooms

“The mudroom is the hardest-working space in the house,” says Rob Whitten, founder and principal of Portland’s Whitten Architects, “and now we’re asking it to do another thing” — absorb potential contaminants, and accompanying stress, before we enter our living spaces. Light, ventilation, and machine-washable rugs are key, says Whitten, who foresees integrating covered exterior storage for grocery deliveries into future home plans. Renovator Laurel LaBauve, of SoPo Cottage in South Portland, recommends adding plastic bins for clean and used masks to mudroom shelves and, when remodeling or building new, locating a laundry room next door. One such setup she’s working on in SoPo incorporates a large laundry sink so owners can wash up when they come in. “Once a vaccine comes out, we likely won’t have to be as careful about washing hands,” she says. “But the sink will still be great for mud-covered clothes, bathing suits, and dog washing.”