Siblings Tag Team a Hip, Homey New Vibe at Portland’s Mercury Inn

Siblings Tag Team a Hip, Homey New Vibe at Portland’s Mercury Inn

See how Tim and Tyler Karu reimagined the 19th-century space.


I don’t do typical,” Portland designer Tyler Karu says, sitting near a kitchenette wall in the 1891 Mercury Inn, where she would soon be installing an antique French poster of the hotel’s namesake god above an ash sideboard bearing neon-yellow candles in elegant turned holders and groovy black concentric ovals on its doors. “So much of my client communication is convincing them to get out of their comfort zone.” One client she did not need to sell on the merits of a Victorian/70s/80s–style mash-up, or any of her other schemes, is her brother, Tim, who owns the inn in Portland’s Parkside neighborhood with his husband, Jake Krueger. “I’ve seen enough of her work to know that it always makes sense to let her run,” Tim says.

The siblings collaborated on the inn’s previous revamp in 2014, which Tyler calls “more youthful and poppier,” with a yellow, chartreuse, and electric-blue palette. But when Tim and Krueger, who live downstairs, decided to rework the Queen Anne’s upper two stories, formerly divided into six small guest rooms, to accommodate four bedroom suites and a pair of kitchenettes, Tyler says, “a more moody, sophisticated” vibe was in order. The owners wanted to attract visitors for longer-term stays — presaging, it seems, the COVID-19 era — and a design rooted in rich blacks and grays with judicious color bursts would “feel less ‘I’m here for the weekend,’ and more ‘this could be my living room,’” says Tyler, who worked with Windham’s MGM Builders.

ABOVE Portland’s Mercury Inn, co-owned by Tim Karu and designed by his sister, Tyler, combines Philomela drapery fabric with local contributions: photos by Justin Levesque, tile from Capozza, and furniture, including an ash sideboard (top), from Fiore Home.

That is, if your living room paired graphic curtains as crisp and tailored as a Brooks Brothers shirt with a mosaic marble or terrazzo and Calder-esque paintings by Yarmouth’s Christopher David Ryan, or arresting photographs by Justin Levesque, Erin Little, both of Portland, or Sherman’s Travis Tyler. In the kitchenettes, which baking enthusiast Tim stocks with fresh goodies, onyx cabinetry and Fireclay Tile and a snowy retro Smeg fridge provide a strong yin-yang moment. “I love working with my brother because there’s no BS,” Tyler says, hitting on a description one might also apply to her clean, contemporary designs.

From $1,050/week. 273 State St., Portland. 207-420-2420.