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A creative couple leaves Boston to restore an ancestral home in Maine and builds a thriving design business

Adam and Kelsey in Brooklin, Maine

The natural and mysterious landscapes of Hannah Wade's paintings are enveloping. Her most recent work - large and unabashed - makes itself known on five-foot tall canvases painted in lush green tones. No doubt, Hannah has been influenced and inspired by the colors and textures of her new home.

As a globetrotter and former urbanite, Hannah is familiar with the cramped confines of city living. Having lived in San Francisco, New York, London and Puerto Rico before returning to her home state, Hannah was always forced to keep it small. In her prior life, finding adequate studio space tended to be an uphill battle. She often would have to share cramped, unheated spaces with other artists. Yet, it was too small for the work that was in her heart to create.

Hannah grew up on a farm in a small rural area town in midcoast Maine. She didn't have a lot of access to other artists or an artistic community, so when she graduated high school, the first thing she wanted to do was leave. But circuitously, her life and inspiration led her back to her home state. When her husband found an old hay farm and farmhouse to purchase in Woolwich, Hannah leapt at the opportunity to start a new chapter where she would have more time and space to create the work she longed for. 

"I like to play in the forest. I love our trees. I like to share our forest with the wild animals that live there like the bears, the moles in the ground, the deer, the raccoons and the forest kitty. I want to feed the deer but I’m not supposed to." - Indigo (Cati & Ryan's daughter)

Hannah and her husband were concerned that they would have a hard time making friends and finding an art community in their area. However, since moving, Hannah has found even more of a close-knit artistic community than she had before. Another fear that held her back from moving earlier was wondering if she could keep her art career progressing in a small town - hours away from any major city center. Instead, she's actually found genuine connection and organic networking opportunities to be that much more fruitful as result of living in a smaller community.

 

In Maine, Hannah has been able to relax into her work, creating less from a place of stress and relentless productivity, but more from her intuition. While Hannah has been painting landscapes for awhile, the astounding effects of living in a place with four distinct seasons and a spectacular natural environment has inspired her to push her expression even further and paint from a place of peace and belonging.

ericamoody.com

 

 

Q & A

What motivated you to pick up your lives in Boston and move to rural Maine? 
Kelsey: We had been working on our house in Brooklin for a year or so without any real solid plans for what we were going to do with it. We thought maybe we’d rent it out when we were finished to help us pay for the renovation costs, but we had been feeling burnt out on the city for a while so we started moving towards the idea of living in it ourselves. It meant planning for jobs that could be remote, so we gave ourselves a year to set that up. The prospect of living in a house that was our own (not renting), getting a dog, having some relief from the rat race, and trying something new is what pushed us towards making the jump. We originally decided to give it a year or so, but we’ve been here for 2 and half so far without plans to leave.
 
Adam: Kelsey and I had been living in Boston for almost 12 years at this point and where going through the motions. Hoping on public transit, working long hours and consistently leaving the city any chance we could get. Whether it was a day trip to NH for a hike or a weekend in Deer isle, on our way back to Boston we’d get a pit in our stomachs and dread what was soon to come. Wake up, work long hours, over and over again. Brooklin was a fresh start. It was closer to the things we loved, the ocean, the wilderness, big skies and quiet days. It was a means for us to live more deliberately, creatively,  physically, and intellectually.


 
I know you have ancestral roots here but were there any other driving factors that made you decide to settle in this particular community in Maine? 
Kelsey: Honestly, I don’t think we would have without the roots. While absolutely beautiful, it’s a long way from where we’d made our life for the past twelve years and it’s really different. If I hadn’t spent so much time up here growing up, nor had the house, I doubt we would’ve made the jump. 
 
Adam: I echo Kelsey’s response. This area of Maine is off the beaten path. You have to very deliberately drive down into the Blue Hill Peninsula. I wouldn’t have been introduced to it’s charm and beauty if it wasn’t for Kelsey’s roots, but I’m glad we found our way here.
 


What did your friends and family think about your plans to leave Boston and restore your family’s homestead?
Kelsey: We had some mixed reactions for sure! While most people were really excited for us and supportive, there were some that seemed skeptical from the start. The skeptics that have visited have changed their minds though, I think! 
 
Adam: I think a lot of peoples first reaction was why would you leave the city? Followed by a statement of that’s in the middle of nowhere, what are you going to do for work. I found that those folks didn’t get it or care to get it. I find that people who leave the conveniences of the city find solace in the unknown. It’s new, exciting and unchartered; and we could make of it what we’d like.
 


Has your move inspired any of your friends to consider leaving city life behind?
Adam: I think most of our friends play with the idea but aren’t sure it’s for them. For us, we got to a certain point in our life and we were looking for change. We wanted to put down roots, buy a house, get a dog, start a family and that seemed a little smothering in Boston. I think more and more of our friends will shift gears in the next few years as they contemplate where they’re at and what they’d like to be doing with their lives.
 
 
Did you have any experience with home construction or remodeling before taking on this project?
Kelsey: I had none but knew my dad could probably help us figure out whatever we didn’t know. Adam knew more and some basic woodworking skills, but his knowledge (and skill level and confidence) have grown so much over the past couple years. We both went to art school so we felt comfortable taking on some things we may not have otherwise -- I felt like, well, I took photography and glass blowing and small metals, so I can definitely tile a backsplash. 
 
Adam: I had worked alongside friends and family on a number of projects but nothing as extensive as what we’d done on the house. I’ve always been super curious and have had an interesting in building/ making things. More often than not I’d try to make things before I go ahead and buy them. Hands on learning is where I thrive and this project was just that. I asked lots of questions, watched lots of youtube videos and tried things out until they worked properly. 
 


Did you hit any construction or remodel road blocks? If yes, how did you navigate through them?
Kelsey: We were really naive when we started the project. We kind of thought we’d just take a couple walls down and be done with it, but we found out a large part of our sill was rotten so we hired someone to replace that (it requires jacking up your house) and then we realized that the support for the second floor probably wasn’t adequate enough to be a continuously used living space with a new bathroom up there so we basically rebuilt the second floor -- new joists, subfloor, floor, etc. We had a contractor friend from Massachusetts come up for several weekends to help us with that - one weekend was a wedding gift, and then Adam did a trade with him to “pay” for the other time he spent with us (designed a logo and some other things for his business). 
 
Redoing the second story totally blew the timeline we’d had for ourselves and you just have to cry about it a little bit, and then re-set your expectations. This house is 160 years old, so of course it’s going to throw us curveballs. Because we weren’t living here at the time, it was also easier to just say, “Ok, this is going to take us longer.”
 


What did you do for work in Boston? 
Kelsey: After graduating from MassArt in 2009 I worked at a couple different arts non-profits, most recently New England Foundation for the Arts. I kept my job with them and work remotely from Brooklin now. 
 
Adam: Since graduating, I’ve worked a number of gigs as a graphic designer. From a husband and wife boutique design shop to a world renowned innovation consulting company. Along the way I tried my hand at freelancing but ran into roadblocks and jumped back into more stable full-time gigs. After my time at IDEO I felt like I’d grown a lot as a designer and had more business acumen, which boosted my confidence at giving freelancing a third try. It’s been almost 3 years since I took the dive and I haven’t looked back. 
 


How have your careers/businesses changed since moving here full time? 
Kelsey: Luckily I have the solid base of working for NEFA part time. This affords us health insurance which is absolutely critical and a huge issue for other small business owners and people in our community. 


Since moving here, I’ve begun to shift some focus on growing a home design business for myself as well. Working on this house reawakened the creative side of me, and it was a good thing to focus on while feeling really apathetic and unsure about my career path. It has been the thing that I’ve enjoyed doing the most since graduating. 
 
Adam: My work situation has changed and evolved since we’ve made the move. Before leaving Boston I formed a design studio with an old colleague, we called it Frank. We worked with early stage startups that were primarily in the tech space. Our work stretched from creating pitch decks to creating full blown visual identities and product designs. After about a year we discussed what the future would hold. I was over traveling to and from Boston and ultimately wasn’t loving the work we were doing. We amicably went our separate ways and I revamped / repositioned the studio in what it is today. I evolved the name to Frank Design Co. and narrowed my focus to brand identity work for those who are makers. If you create something with your hands and need help expressing who you are than I’m your guy. Furthermore, I’ve made a very conscious effort to work with hyper local and Maine based companies. Maine is such a beautiful place that houses boatloads of talented makers and producers. I love hearing their stories and getting inspired by their passion. I often live vicariously through the folks I work with.

What has been the most challenging part of your transition thus far?
Kelsey: Definitely missing our social circles. We really didn’t meet many people our age until we had our son this past spring. Before that, it was hard to tap into social circles with people our age. Since March, we’ve met so many new people that we’ve connected with. 

 


Have you noticed a trend in the millennial generation to move rurally? If yes, why do you think that is?
Kelsey: I think it’s really rooted in financial necessity -- houses and living expenses are more affordable in rural areas - you can actually buy a house! And that house has land! So you can raise animals and have gardens and take the time to build a barn by yourself because you’re living within your means, and not spending hours of your day commuting. 


After living in the city for twelve years it was really important for us to connect back to ourselves outside of the rat race. I think for people who have totally burnt out on city life, it seems obvious to just go the total opposite way and reconsider where you’re spending your time and resources. 
 


Do you feel like you have more creative opportunities here or less?
Kelsey: That’s a hard question! I have more time, which affords me more opportunities for sure. 
 
Adam: If you take things at face value there is definitely less opportunity. If you can look beyond the obvious the world is your oyster. Since I work for myself I find that there’s an abundance of companies that could benefit from my design services but making those relationships come to fruition is slow and tedious. In the city people understand the value of design, it’s in their face day in and day out and are super receptive to the idea that design could elevate and drastically improve their business. People in Maine are receptive to the idea but are 100% more resourceful than city goers. They make things work, they figure it out to the best of their ability and most of the time that’s good enough. It’s a different challenge that requires me to be patient, persistent and consistent. I’m constantly working on improving those three attributes of the business.
 


Are there any things you really miss about living in a more urban environment?
Kelsey: I miss having different types of food to choose from, and being in a more diverse environment in general. The first year I really missed living closer to a Target, but I’ve slowly gotten used to that and I’m SURE I’m saving money but not wandering around in there once a month. 
 
Adam:  Adam: I miss friends, live shows,  late nights, and multicultural food at your fingertips. I’ve been riding BMX for a very long time and now living in Brooklin there’s nowhere to ride and no one to ride with. Since the closed skatepark is an hour+ drive, I knew I had to build something in our yard. I stacked away funds over the course of a year and built a 7’ tall, 30’ wide mini ramp in our backyard. Similarly to the house I’d never built a ramp before but after consulting friends and other ramp builders, I slowly but surely brought the ramp to life. I fulfilled one void and I’m currently working on solving for the rest, I’ll keep you posted.
 


Have you been able to build a good community here or are you still working on making friends and connections?
Kelsey: We’ve just recently met some people that we really connect with, so it’s still a work in progress. Working from home, and for ourselves, has made meeting people difficult -- workplaces provide an instant network for you - so having Levi has definitely opened up doors for us which is great. We were really missing that. 
 
Adam: Slowly but surely we’re finding our people. Folks keep themselves here, us included so going out and being social is much more deliberate. Having Levi has been the best ice breaker a new parent can ask for.
 


What do you love about Brooklin and the neighboring communities in Deer Isle?
Kelsey: There is a really solid sense of community and support. People really want to invest in their friends and neighbors, they take “farm to table” and “shop local” seriously. Living in a place that sees a lot of seasonal change with tourism, people really want their year round communities taken care of. 
It’s also the most beautiful place in the world, if I do say so. 
 
Adam: I think my favorite thing about Brooklin is that it’s quiet. You can appreciate its beauty and all the little things that make it unique as slowly as you’d like. People are warm but keep to themselves. People give each other the space to live the way they’d like, which is a breath of fresh air from the city.
 


What are your favorite things to do/eat/see in this area?
Kelsey: There are a bunch of land trusts in the area so we love to go explore new trails - Shore Acres on Deer Isle is my favorite I think. There are also a ton of small owned businesses we love - 
Roaring Lion Market - They own a farm and the former drive-in restaurant next door which they’ve transformed into a market/cafe. Their breakfast sandwiches are so good I always regret not ordering two just for myself. 


Brooklin Inn - They just completely renovated their inn, restuarant, and pub and it looks incredible. Adam did their branding.


44 North - woman owned coffee roaster. They’ve been a great anchor business to foster and support others as they come up - like Milkweed & Monarch who has people lining up and waiting for them to drop off their legendary hand pies. 


Tinderhearth - Bakery at a farmhouse with pizza on certain nights. During the summer, they are open 5 nights a week and you eat in their backyard garden with twinkle lights, a bar, and ice cream stand. It’s magical, and some of the best pizza you can find. 
 
Everyone we’ve mentioned above is really inspiring, young, hard working, friendly, supportive of the community and their neighbors. 
 
 
Have you noticed a shift in your values system - career, quality of life, family, etc. since moving here?
Kelsey: I’m not totally sure if there has been a conscious shift in how I think about, or prioritize, these things. But, I definitely have more time to devote to them, which is so important. Adam and I also spend the majority of our days together because we share an office, and it’s allowed us to have more conversations about our goals together in an easy, casual way, just as we think of things, rather than scheduling time to have some big conversation or waiting until late in the day when we’re tired. It can be difficult to be together so often, but it’s been really great for us too. 
 
Adam: I think the shift has been completely organic. We moved up with little to no expectations and have slowly but surely adjusted our mindset and expectations to fit our current circumstances. I echo what Kelsey said about communication, since her and I spend so much time together our communication skills have grown tremendously and have clearer individual and combined goals for the future. I think the most obvious change is that I embrace the fleeting moments. I take breaks from work to reap the benefits of having a ramp in the backyard. I go for a walk every morning with Pizza and make sure to make time for family. That might be hanging out in our sun filled living room, drinking coffee while appreciating the beautiful little human we created or making time at the end of the day to have a real conversation with Kelsey. I do find myself having tunnel vision when it comes to work but I’m much much more conscious about the little things that make all the hard work worth while.

 

You recently welcomed your son into the world, how have things changed since his arrival?
Kelsey: I think I’m a lot calmer in general. I felt that way as soon as I found out I was pregnant - this enveloping sense of calm. In a super generic and stereotypical way, it just really does put everything in perspective. Things that used to bug me, I don’t worry too much about. He has also been a great motivation for us. It’s made me want to take my ambitions more seriously and work much harder.
 
Adam: Levi has been the most sobering and grounding thing to happen in my life. His presence has forced me to be very conscious of how I spend/manage my time. He’s been a huge proponent for me slowing down and enjoying the little moments throughout the day.
 


What advice do you have for people considering moving from the city and restoring an old house?
Kelsey: Find a job that lets you work remotely (or for yourself), follow @cheapoldhouses, and go for it! But for real - there is much opportunity in small and rural places for people to live a life they can afford comfortably. And I’m sure in those small and rural places there is at least one other person or couple or family who is trying to do the same thing you are, and you just have to find them. A friend of mine who has moved around a lot always says, “You just need one friend,” and I think that one relationship can help sustain you if you take a big risk and move away from what you know. 
Also - be prepared to cry, be overwhelmed, question yourself, and want to quit during the renovation process. It’s the absolute hardest thing we’ve ever done and we always joke, thank god no one told us that before we started. But it’s really worth it. 
 
Adam: You can do it! When there’s a will there’s a way. My one word of advice is don’t jump in blind. Visit the area, get the house looked at by an honest contractor, be realistic about what you can and can’t do and don’t be too hard on yourself.
 


What do you appreciate the most about the life you are building here for you and family?
Kelsey: That we have so much time together and we’re living without the chaos or stress that comes with traffic and commuting. I don’t feel like we’re racing against the clock here. There are of course days that are hard and stressful and feel overwhelming and like there aren’t enough hours to get everything we want done, which is just a part of life. But we’ve stripped out some of the external factors that exacerbate that. 
 
Adam: The headspace to pursue and try new things. Enjoying my time in the car, not dreading it. Hiking a trail and not seeing a person, truly being able to enjoy the amazing natural surroundings.  
 


What are your plans and goals for the coming year?
Kelsey: We are actually about to close on another little house on Deer Isle. Adam’s mom is going to move up and live there while she gets acquainted with the area and decides to buy something for herself. I’m super excited to give it a little cosmetic facelift and add that to my portfolio. We’ll eventually rent it out seasonally. 


I want to really grow my home design business, finish up some little things here at our own house, work on some new projects directly with Adam and his design business, and watch Levi grow! I’m looking forward to seeing him learn to crawl, and walk, and say his first words.


Adam: Try to find a good balance between work and play. I’d love to be able to do 4 day work weeks during the summer, especially since they feel shorter than ever. I’d love to build a separate studio on our property so I can “go to work” and leave it in the studio at the end of the day. I’d love to work with more Maine based food producers, restaurants, and makers. I’d like to help Kelsey grow her business and position herself an interior designer who has a deep love for marrying the old and new. Most importantly, I want to make time for Family and friends. Work can’t be everything.
 

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