In Newcastle, Parisian Transplants Build a New Home With an Old-World Feel

The farmhouse is also home to a nonprofit farm that grows produce and flowers for local schools and food pantries.

Exotic plants, such as lofty euphorbia trigonas, mingle with home-grown squash and dahlias in Erica Berman and Alain Ollier’s Newcastle living room.

Exotic plants, such as lofty euphorbia trigonas, mingle with home-grown squash and dahlias in Erica Berman and Alain Ollier’s Newcastle living room.

By Michaela Cavallaro
Photos by Hannah Hoggatt
From the Fall 2023 issue of Maine Homes by Down East

Perched on a vintage metal kitchen stool that appears plucked from a 1950s chemistry lab, Erica Berman declared, “I don’t like new stuff.” The irony, of which she’s fully aware, is that she sits in a light-filled Newcastle home that she and her husband, Alain Ollier, built on 30 acres, in 2014 — a spring chicken by Maine housing-stock standards. But the couple, who previously lived in a 19th-century Paris apartment, went to great lengths to take the shine off the new construction, applying textural clay plaster to the heavily insulated, 12-inch-thick walls; incorporating antiques and red-oak doors and windowsills Ollier crafted from trees harvested on the property; sourcing vintage doorknobs and window latches; and laying pine floorboards salvaged from a nearby teardown. A zinc-topped kitchen island and pulley light over a pair of yard-sale dining tables nod toward Parisian styling.

Clockwise from top left: Euphorbia trigonas, a lemon plant, and whimsical tile from popham design enliven the primary bath; Moroccan cement-tile backsplash from popham design and vintage-inspired vinyl floorcloths create an intriguing constellation in the kitchen, which also features black-granite countertops from Topsham’s Morningstar Stone & Tile; in the kitchen/dining area, reclaimed pine flooring, hand-crafted oak doors and windowsills, a cupboard Berman picked up in Boston during her college years, and yard-sale tables inject warmth.

The couple bought the property in 2012, after moving to the area from Ollier’s native France, where Berman founded a luxury-vacation-rental company. She’d grown up visiting South Bristol and had been enamored of the midcoast ever since. The neglected wooded lot they found offered so much potential that Berman calls it their “lifetime project.” First up: the house they largely designed themselves, prioritizing an open floor plan. “This is where everything happens,” said Ollier, a high-school French and Spanish teacher, gesturing around the airy kitchen/dining/living area. To limit visual clutter, the windows and closets have no trim —“that drove our builder over the edge” — Berman says — and the kitchen- window sashes are set high, allowing for unobstructed views while cooking. Off the living room, a heated sun porch provided safe lodging for guests during the pandemic and its flat roof serves as a second-floor deck.

Upstairs offers two bedrooms, a second full bath, and an office/sitting area — more square footage than the couple needed, due to the design of the first floor. “We wanted the space downstairs,” Ollier says, noting that a substantially smaller upper story would have dictated forms they didn’t like. “You’d have a Saltbox or maybe an A-frame,” he says. However, the extra rooms have come in handy since Berman founded Veggies to Table, a nonprofit farm that grows 85 types of organic produce and flowers that get donated to local food pantries, schools, and summer lunch programs, in 2019. In spring, much of the home becomes a de facto greenhouse, complete with grow lights and a troupe of employees and volunteers traipsing through when it’s time to transplant the seedlings.

Clockwise from top left: Berman’s nonprofit, Veggies to Table, grows organic food and flowers on-site for donation to food pantries, schools, and other organizations across Lincoln County; Ollier and Berman largely designed their cedar-shingled home themselves, incorporating personal details like a porch nook for stacked wood and foundation cladding made from granite excavated during building; the season’s produce bounty often overflows into the home.

The garden the couple planted in their early years here now covers three-quarters of an acre and its bounty sometimes spills over into the downstairs living space, alongside the begonias, Chinese money plants, and massive euphorbia trigonas that thrive in the south-facing kitchen and living room. Over the last few years, they’ve added a cold-storage building, an outdoor kitchen for staff and volunteers, and three raised wooden platforms where long-term volunteers can set up camp.

Still, Berman looks forward to the day when all farm tasks happen outside the cedar-shingled walls of her home, when she can spend more time relaxing in one of the antique Bergère armchairs she had upholstered in soft gray and blue and gaze out past the elm that towers protectively near the house, to the land she and Ollier have cultivated so carefully. “I really wanted to make sure that our farm was not only efficient and productive, but beautiful too,” Berman says. “We take great joy in looking out at it.”

April 2024, Down East Magazine

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