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A '70s-inspired revamp creates groovy penthouse home in Maine

Far out!

Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re are looking for until you see it. That was the case with Brian and Krista Haapala. The Portland, Maine, couple went looking for office space and ended up with that and an urban family retreat.

Brian is an investment banker, Krista is an author, poet, and relationship counselor. When they set out to find a place to work and meet with and entertain clients, they envisioned more traditional office space. Then, a friend suggested they take a look at the two-story penthouse unit that was recently constructed over an historic building. Their initial hesitation was erased when they got a look at the water views and the layout of the home.

The Haapala family (a woman, a man, and two sons) sit on a built in sofa in the living room; two iconic, modern chairs sit by the window; old Portland buildings and a peek of the Casco Bay are visible from the windows.
Clockwise from top: The Haapala family gathers on the built-in sofa in the living room. The feature reminded Krista (far left) of a conversation pit and sparked the design of the home; a pair of Wassily chairs are by the window; the view from the windows takes in downtown Portland and Casco Bay.

They quickly decided that the unit could serve multiple functions: office, entertaining space, and a downtown residence. Their other home is more traditional and, though in Portland, removed from city living. “We had planned on moving downtown anyway once our older son heads for college,” says Krista. “But we had anticipated buying something in two years, so you could say this purchase was a bit unexpected.”

Once the deal was signed, the Haapalas turned to their friend, interior designer Tyler Karu to help them recreate the space to fulfill their multiple needs. Karu, the principal of Landing Design, developed a vision for the home after hearing Krista’s off-hand remark about the built-in sofa.

“The sofa looks like something from the 1960s or early 1970s. Although it isn’t sunken, I remarked that it reminded me of a conversation pit,” says Krista. “Honestly, I can’t even say that I’ve actually seen a conversation pit in person. But I knew what it is and I knew I wanted to have that feeling of gathering there. I wanted it to be a cozy place where you could sit around and relax; where you could light a fire, put your feet up, and have great conversations. I wanted it to be like a salon.”

A midcentury-style light fixture with many pendants hangs in the hall; metallic wallpaper makes the bar area glamorous; vintage vases and cookware is in a metal medical cabinet; the kitchen gets a new look with a fresh backsplash, counter, and light fixtu
Clockwise from far left: The Jonathan Alder Rio multi-light pendant hangs over the stair; designer Tyler Karu chose Crescent wallpaper by Kelly Wearstler for a glam look in the bar; the Haapala’s collection of vintage glass and serving pieces are contained in a medical cabinet; the kitchen received what Karu calls a “mini-facelift.” The stools and penny-round backsplash tile are from Wayfair.

That was design music to Karu’s ears. “Given my personal style and aesthetic, it was the greatest thing she could have said to me,” the designer says. “In this part of the world, I do a lot of traditional interiors, and I love them. But I personally love midcentury modern and 1970s-inspired homes, and based on that comment, I could picture this home with that look.”

When the couple purchased it, that was not the style of the place. “It looked more like a single man’s den,” says Krista. “The walls were very dark, and there were lots of paintings of fish. Let’s just say it appeared nothing like it does today.”

Instead of a fish motif, Karu went with beautiful wood elements and cool colors. “The idea was to combine 1960s lighting and more glam gold-toned elements that are from or reminiscent of the 1970s for a look that’s timeless,” the designer says.

Shots of a rattan end table, basket, and chair; the bar and living room are open to each other, separated by a minimal two-sided fireplace; an old map of Portland hangs in the hallway; a tight shot of Krista Haapala and her bright blue mascara.
Clockwise from top: Rattan accessories decorate the living room; the bar area and the living room are separated by a double-sided fireplace; a vintage map of Portland hangs on the stairway; Krista loves the color blue.

For instance, the aesthetic is established in the living room where a Brutalist metal wall sculpture hangs over the built-in sofa. The piece is as 1970s as bell bottoms and the Allman Brothers Band. It’s complemented by a hanging wicker chair and a pair of Wassily chairs. The latter were created by Marcel Breuer in 1925, but a fixture in many “me-decade” interiors.

The style subtly shifts from earthy to glam in the adjacent bar. Kelly Wearstler’s Crescent wallpaper in a metallic tone sets the stage for the more fabulous side of the 1970s. “To me, this wall covering is perfect for a bar,” Karu says. “We accented it with wooden cabinets and orange and gold-toned accessories.”

For the Haapalas, it’s a space for work and play. “We work at this table, we play board games at this table, and we entertain at this table,” Krista says. “And since we are a family of space nerds, we love the Sputnik light fixture over it.”

The bar has a small, round table perfect for drinks or games. The master bedroom is painted a bright, turquoise blue.
Clockwise from top: The table in the bar serves as a place to entertain and a game table; the master bedroom is painted Krista’s favorite blue shade: Galapagos Turquoise by Benjamin Moore.

In the kitchen, a soft makeover made a big impact. “We left the wood cabinets, but we highlighted them with a pearlescent-tile backsplash, a countertop with a cooler color, and brass hardware,” the designer says. “It was like a mini-facelift.”

The bedroom is just one room that displays a brilliant blue color. “Krista wanted a deep blue, but a jewel tone,” says Karu. “We went with one that has very little gray in it, called Galapagos Turquoise by Benjamin Moore. I feel like the color resonates with the views of the water in the Casco Bay.”

What you can’t see is the working aspect of the apartment. Krista maintains an office downstairs, but Brian’s standing desk is on casters and conveniently rolls out of sight. “We love our work, but we wanted to be able to use this area for play too. You could say that it was designed with that in mind,” says Krista. “To be honest, making a place where you can work, play, and entertain is a tall order for a designer. Tyler filled it admirably, and gave us a beautiful, inspirational space.”

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