A Modern Seaside Home in Maine
When photographer and writer Sidney Bensimon set out to build her dream home, she had minimal design experience. But with the help of Pinterest, lots of research on 70’s design, and the eye of her architectural firm, she built a modern interpretation of a classic shingled oceanfront cottage. Situated on a tidal cove in mid-coast Maine, Stella House is a seaside aerie that provides the backdrop for much of her creative work. Inside, a round window echoes the changing light of the moon, while inventive finishes bring a playful feel to the never-serious space. We spoke to Sidney about the process of building from scratch, how she finds her inspiration for the space, and what she’s learned about creating a space that’s as personal as it is beautiful.
Hi! My name is Sidney, I split my time living between Greenpoint, Brooklyn and mid-coast, Maine. I designed and built my home, “Stella House”, from the ground up last year along with Demo Architecture. The house was named after my 14 year old lab Stella, who unfortunately passed away before the project was completed. I am a commercial photographer. I shoot a bit of everything. I am working on writing and shooting a cookbook this year with Chronicle books which I am really excited about!
Could you tell us about your home?
My home is located in mid-coast Maine. I am right on the water, a tidal cove to be exact. It is about to turn 1 as of June 2020! My inspiration was minimalist scandanavian meets cabin in the woods with a little French flair.
What did the process of building your home look like? Did you have any particular sources of inspiration?
The process was such a learning experience, to say the least! It started a bit rough but then was smooth sailing. After I started the collaboration with Demo, everything felt right. You need the right people to be by your side. Demo and I met very regularly for pizza nights, bouncing ideas off of each other, designing the house. I was heavily relying on Pinterest at the time as my design knowledge was minimal but I know what I liked aesthetically. Alessandro and Thiru from the firm were so wonderful, professional and knowledgeable. I even had 3D glasses for visuals of my home during the design phase. The entire process definitely felt like a full time job. Hours were spent researching, educating myself and trying to hone in on all the details of the house, consuming my time when I wasn’t shooting. I’m happy it’s over and the house is real now. I really would not change a thing. All the attention to the details has paid off and I find my home to be absolutely perfect for me. We are talking of designing and building a guest house/music studio when the time is right.
Did any of your initial design choices change during the course of the build?
The answer is yes. I had to change some things because of my budget. The house lost a bedroom and a few square feet here and there, also a few windows but nothing too drastic. For basically the entire time we were designing the home, the round window was a triangle shaped window. The round window was introduced at the very beginning by Alessandro and It was not my preference at first. Six months went by, and as they were presenting me with the final design of the home, they put the round window back in. I remembered crying and saying: this is it, that’s my dream house! Now the round window reminds me of the moon and casts the most amazing shadows all through the house: from a crescent moon to a full moon and back to a sliver: a shadow play fit for a photographer’s dream.
Do you find that you planned the interiors after the architecture, or did you envision them when you began designing the building itself?
From the beginning, I decided to not settle for anything unless I had to and really got everything I wanted, even if it meant waiting for a bit to have the funds. I was very, very lucky to have been able to trade products for photography for more than half of what is in the home.
What are some of your favorite design choices in space?
Everything! The window seat, the A-frame bedroom, the open plan of the kitchen and living space, the french doors opening up to the deck with the view of the cove. Those are some of the things I really appreciate and love.
Did you furnish the home from scratch, or did you bring in pieces you loved from previous spaces?
I had been going to Brimfield Antique Fair and started collecting pieces years before I even got my land, and stored it at friend’s houses that had more space. Other pieces in the home were traded for or purchased throughout!
How does your space reflect your daily life?
There are meditation nooks in all the rooms. Also empty spaces for dancing and yoga. The kitchen takes a big part of the home because I love cooking and baking. I had a client that once gave me a suggestion: have as many spots for laying down as possible, people love to lay down and relax! So I feel like that’s true here.
What’s the story of some of your favorite pieces? Why are they your favorite?
My custom dining table from Fort Standard is such a beauty. It’s perfect and sweet, it fits the space just right and the heavy legs are playful. I love the Dzek Dzek Terrazzo in the kitchen, it reminds me of a collage piece from the 70’s. The piece was a very generous house warming gift from a family I had babysat for back in high school. That stone is a reminder of being generous in life, however that looks like to you. The faucets are from Brizo and they are so chic! I want to get a Togo Chair for the guest room which will add more of a 70’s flair to the home...one of my favorite design eras. (insert peace sign here).
What's the one thing you’d rescue in a fire? (Other than family & pets, of course).
Hm… that won’t happen, God forbid! But just to play the game I will have to say my great grandmother’s treasure box and my cameras and if Devin brought his guitars; his 1965 Fender Jazzmaster. It was his dad’s guitar since he was a kid.
Is there anything you think the space needs that you haven't yet added?
I’m working on the guestroom now. I just did an accent wall with Portola paint and we are getting a desk custom built so that my boyfriend and I can both have private space to work from. I really want a Togo Chair and might just YOLO it and pull the trigger soon.
What are some of your favorite sources of creative inspiration?
Instagram, Australian homes, 70s design books such as The House Book by Terence Conran, and Pinterest.
What makes you feel most at home when you walk in the door? Is there anything you can’t feel at home without?
The smell of my house. It still smells new but also smells like cedar since the siding is made of that wood, and laundry. Living in Brooklyn and not being able to do your laundry, I really appreciate it here. It also smells like the ocean and spruce trees when you open the windows.
What’s a favorite memory you have in your home?
My contractors Nick and Jeremy from Hatchet builders had the stage up for a long time. And one day during a visit last spring, they took the staging down and had the french doors open. I walked into the house and felt so embarrassed because the view took my breath away and I went into my car and cried in secret and just thanked all my angels for allowing me to create such a miracle. I doubted I could afford it for a long time. It sounds like I cry a lot, which maybe I do, but building your dream home is nothing short of a rollercoaster of emotions.
Update: An image was removed from this post which featured a framed photo on a wall that was problematic. Going forward, we will be more intentional of the images we curate and feature here.