With Grit and $130,000, They Built Their Dream Home

With Grit and $130,000, They Built Their Dream Home

Peek inside Ariel Birke and Luke Olson’s 960-square-foot modernist abode in Lincolnville.

The living room’s woodstove, a Danish-designed Morsø from Mazzeo’s in Rockland.

ABOVE The living room’s woodstove was the only thing the couple disagreed on. She wanted a brightly colored mid-century model; he favored a traditional, locally made unit. Their compromise: a sleek, Danish-designed Morsø from Mazzeo’s in Rockland.


From the March 2021 issue of Down East magazine

After trying and failing to find a house to buy, Ariel Birke and her partner, Luke Olson, decided they might as well build. They wanted to live between Rockland, where Birke owns the women’s clothing store Daughters, and Belfast, where Olson, a property manager, keeps his sailboat, but everything in their price range needed gut renovations they couldn’t afford. So they put their down payment toward two wooded acres off a dead-end road near Lincolnville Center and secured a $130,000 construction loan to build a 960-square-foot, energy-efficient, two-bedroom, two-bath home. Olson acted as general contractor and enlisted help from friends, and within weeks, their modernist abode began to take shape. “Working on a budget makes you line up everything perfectly,” Olson says. “You can’t afford to screw it up.”


Ariel Birke and Luke Olson outside of their Lincolnville home

Designed by Birke and Olson’s friend, architect Alex Domenico, the house is shaped like a T, with a bedroom at either end of the top stroke and a pair of baths in between. The tall Andersen A-Series casements on the south-facing living room wall maximize solar gain and were the priciest part of the build. Vertical shiplap cladding over horizontal clapboards, both stained in Behr’s Slate, add subtle contrast.


a mixed-media study by Rockland’s Kathleen Florance in the kitchen

Olson made the island from a mahogany slab he found under concrete rubble at a building he manages in Rockland and powder-coated steel legs purchased for $15 apiece from Harbor Freight. It grounds a mixed-media study by Rockland’s Kathleen Florance and vintage frosted-glass pendants Birke unearthed at Waterville’s Modern Underground. Radiant heat warms the cork flooring.



planters, vases, and dishes are by Ariela Kuh, of Camden’s ANK Ceramics

Most of the home’s planters, vases, and dishes are by Ariela Kuh, of Camden’s ANK Ceramics. On kitchen shelves Olson stained mahogany to match the island, Kuh’s plates and bowls mingle with pieces by Hasami, items from Goodwill, and tins of Bellocq tea from Rockland’s Black Parrot.


a teak-veneer table from an auction and a spare brass pendant from Modern Underground in the dining room

Birke found a set of mid-century cantilever chairs, so new they still bore their “Made in Italy” stickers, for $4 apiece at Goodwill. She paired them with a teak-veneer table from an auction and a spare brass pendant from Modern Underground. “We are both big minimalists,” Birke says. “I think it’s because both of our parents have a lot of stuff.”


1970s brass Milo Baughman coffee table

As a young man, Birke’s father bought the 1970s brass Milo Baughman table that occupies a living room corner. It was the only piece she wanted from her parents’ New Hampshire home, and she convinced her mom to part with it by promising to help her find a new one.


Italian ceramic tile from Marden’s in the bathroom

Olson clad the shower in the couple’s bath with 12-by-24-inch textured Italian ceramic tile from Marden’s. The brass sconce is from Modern Underground and the sink and cabinet are from Wayfair. Birke uses greenery, including a jade plant on the sink and a golden pothos on a shower shelf, to liven up neutral rooms.



Number 4 knotty pine on the ceiling in the bedroom

In Birke and Olson’s bedroom, a ceramic Goodwill lamp sits atop a vintage teak dresser from Modern Underground. The home’s walls are Behr’s Gallery White and the ceiling is Number 4 knotty pine, the cheapest finishing option. “But I really like it,” Birke says. “Without some of these warm things, it would probably feel like an igloo.”