Home Is Where Their Art Is

Downsizers carve out space for themselves — and their collection — in 1,200 square feet.

Catherine & Charles Morrison - Portland
By Sarah Stebbins
Photos by Molly Haley
From our November 2017 issue

Charles Morrison likes to say that he and his wife, Catherine, used to have a house for their art and now they have a house for themselves with some art in it. Their former condo, in an avant-garde building in Portland’s West End, had three stories and 12-foot-high walls ideal for showcasing their many abstract paintings. But they only used a handful of the rooms, “which didn’t feel right,” Catherine says. “We thought, we’re in our 60s, what are we doing here?” So they asked their real-estate broker to look for something “little and one-story,” and they fell in love with the first place she showed them: a 1954 Cape with a front-facing gable that Catherine fondly likens to a birdhouse.

Nestled among bungalows, ranches, and Colonials in the city’s Rosemont neighborhood, the home now sports warm-gray shingles and a bright-orange front door that has a moths-to-a-flame effect on visitors. Inside the sun-filled entry-cum-living-area, paintings and sculptures the couple has amassed over their 25-year marriage are arrayed on every surface: a giant oil by former Maine College of Art professor Ed Douglas, which Catherine gave Charles for his 50th birthday; an encaustic by South Street Linen co-owner Mary Ruth Hedstrom, whose work the Morrisons so admire that they tracked her down to praise her in person; and more than a dozen others, each with its own story.

“Everything we have, we’ve chosen because it speaks to us in some way,” Catherine says.

This passion led to paralysis when it came to culling their approximately 100-piece collection down to what could reasonably fit in a 1,200-square-foot home. “Charles and I have a nice relationship, but we can get pretty knock-down-drag-out about what goes on the walls,” Catherine says. Vanessa Helmick, of Fiore Interiors in Portland, mediated the whittling. Working with the Morrisons’ existing furnishings, Helmick organized the rooms around color themes, implementing near-complementary palettes — pulled from their rugs and selected art — in the living room and bedroom and sticking to pale, neutral shades in the kitchen/dining area, which gets less light. “This is not a story of stuff,” says Helmick, offering the living room sofa as an example. “It was the right size, right style, but wrong color, so we had it recovered versus buying something new.”

Inside the home are sculptures by Zbigniew Chojnacki, Shalya Marsh, and John Wilkinson and paintings by Ed Douglas, Lynn Wessel, Jacqueline Cotter, and Terry Turrell.

The couple took a similarly minimalist approach to renovations. After toying with the idea of turning their attic into a master suite, they opted for a small addition on an existing bedroom instead. Jamie Broadbent, of Portland’s Hellbent Design + Development, cantilevered the projection over a corner column to reduce foundation work and create the effect of a floating structure, and Adam Rosenbaum, of C.S.I. Builders in Falmouth, executed the project.

Inside the expanded room, Charles smiles as he points out a pair of oils he had to fight to keep in the mix. “We have strong feelings,” Catherine admits, “but we compromise.”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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