IDA & LOREN, MARSHA & PHILIP
SEGUIN TREE DWELLINGS
Stockholm & New York City to Georgetown, Maine
Their homecoming plan was born the day brothers Loren and Philip Francis and their partners, Ida Lennestål and Marsha Dunn, traversed a 21-acre hillside property for sale overlooking tidal marshlands, just a stone’s throw from where they grew up. Looking up into the canopy of oaks and pines, the four dreamed up Sequin Tree Dwellings together. The parcel, mostly on a steep slant, wasn’t ideal for building a typical home. On that fateful day they stood at the base of a large oak tree and dared to dream, big. With their powers combined, they could transform this slope into a childhood fantasy come true; Scandinavian inspired contemporary treehouses that would make the most of the incredible marshland view 10-15 up from the ground. The income generated from the rental treehouses could be the extra financial safety net that the two couples would need in order to embolden their relocation to the small community of Georgetown, Maine.
Philip and Loren, children of the Back-to-the-Lander movement, would be following in their parent’s footsteps. Their parents made landfall in their sailboat on the banks of the Georgetown peninsula in the early seventies. They bought 55 acres of waterfront and woods for a song and built their Back River Boatyard almost entirely on their own. They welcomed four sons into the world, Philip, Loren, Christopher, and Ernie. It was an idyllic childhood for the boys, they were free to run wild and explore their paradise peninsula. Yet, the dazzle of the city still beckoned all of the Francis boys once they were old enough to embark on their own adventures. Philip moved to New York City and Loren traveled from one city to the next until settling in Stockholm where he met Ida.
Once they closed on the property, each person took a role in the ideation and development of Sequin. With her design background, Marsha became the architect and interior designer. Loren a skilled carpenter, constructed each treehouse in their family’s boathouse down the hillside and used a crane to secure them in place. Philip worked on marketing and securing the various permits they would need. Ida worked on building their online community, photographing the spaces and designing their website. In May of 2017, less than a year after closing on the property they welcomed their first guests, a couple who had booked their honeymoon at their deluxe treehouse with only architectural renderings to reference. It was a hail Mary to the finish line getting everything completed in time. The power company came to hook up the electricity just an hour before their guests arrived. They were finally able to share in a quick collective exhale from the fevered pace of building Sequin before the busy tourist summer season began.
Philip and his wife Marsha had been trying to figure out a way to move to Maine from New York City for years. Philip, a professor of Philosophy at New York College, was worried about leaving a tenured track for the unknown. Marsha, a visual designer, also didn’t know if she would be able to transition her full-time position into a freelance career. With two young children entering school age, they were more motivated than ever to find their way to Maine. For Philip, Seguin meant that he would have some extra income to help in the summer months when he would be out of session at his adjunct position at University of Maine, Farmington. For Marsha, it was an exciting opportunity to try her hand at designing buildings and interiors. In New York, her visual design position mainly consisted of sitting in meetings, listening and drawing out the goals, points, etc. that was gathered in the meeting. Although she loved this job, she had always wanted to expand into other areas of design and this project would enable her to do just that. While they worked on getting Seguin up and running, Marsha and Philip moved from New York into a rental house a short drive from the property. They weren’t ready to commit to buying a place until they knew that this unique venture would work for their family. After Seguin’s successful first season, Marsha and Philip stumbled upon a piece of property nearby for sale with a spring-fed pond that the brothers used to swim in when they were boys. It felt like fate. Marsha could design the home of their dreams from scratch and they could live in a place that held many cherished childhood memories for Philip. Moving to Maine did require some compromises, Philip makes the 1.5 hour drive to University of Farmington two to three days a week to teach and they drive 30 minutes to take their kids to school each morning. While they spend more time in the car now than they did in New York, they’ve seen such a positive change in their kids and themselves that they couldn’t imagine ever returning to city life.
For Loren and Ida moving from Stockholm to Maine meant that Ida would be leaving the country she grew up in to settle in Loren’s childhood home. After closing on the property in February of 2016 the couple found out they were expecting a child. Without a place to live, they then began searching Maine for vintage airstreams that they could transform into a temporary home on his parent’s property. Loren found their mint-condition vintage Spartan trailer on Craigslist for $500, but there was a catch, they had to remove it from the dilapidated house that had been built around it. After relocating it and making some updates, they built a screened in porch to make the most of the view and the cool coastal breezes of summer. They eventually added two vintage airstreams to their homestead – one to be used as a bedroom and playroom for their daughter and one to serve as their closet and storage space. Their daughter Pippi was born just a few months after they bought the property and has been along for the ride ever since. Pippi would ride in a pack on Loren’s back while he worked in the boathouse to build the treehouses. She would accompany her mother on runs to the hardware store and happily crawl around on the floor while Ida would work on the website and take photos of the finished dwellings. Now Pippi is part of the unofficial welcoming committee, running full steam down the road that connects the three treehouses with an unabashed grin from ear to ear. For Ida, moving to Maine meant leaving the country she’d grown up in to have a baby in a foreign land. It wasn’t an easy decision for her and she worried that she wouldn’t be able to find community in such a small place. Fortunately, Ida was instantly embraced by a group of local women that have become like family to her. The couple have been pleasantly surprised by the enormous creative community they’ve found in Georgetown and on the surrounding peninsulas. By day Loren runs his parent’s Boatyard business and Ida works as a freelance photographer and web designer. Although she still misses her family and friends in Sweden, this place has really begun to feel like home. While they don’t plan to live in their caravan of trailers forever, they love the freedom of not having a mortgage payment. This freedom has allowed them to travel during the winter season to escape the cold.
For both couples, building Seguin allowed them to step outside of their comfort zones, take a risk and build something that could grow and support their move to the country. When asked if they ever get into arguments or find it hard to work with siblings and their spouses, they all say, “Not at all. We identified our roles early on and have always had a shared vision of what this place can and will be.” In just two short years Seguin Tree Dwellings has been featured in numerous high-profile publications. They are nearly sold out for the 2019 summer season. When Urban Exodus visited they had just broke ground on their large treehouse gathering place. It was completed just in time for Loren and Ida’s wedding celebration in August of 2018. Their gathering space will allow Seguin to expand its offerings to include workshops, retreats, performances and discussions. In Spring of 2018, they kicked off their Artist in Residence program, hosting poets, photographers, writers, and visual artists. For these two creative couples, Seguin serves two purposes - income and a way to nourish and grow their creative community in Maine. (Click here to jump to their interview)
Why did the four of you decide to leave city life behind? Where did you all move from and how did you all meet?
Marsha and Philip left the New York City area to have more space--creatively and land-wise--and to live near family. Philip had also landed a job at UMaine Farmington and Marsha was interested in a career change incorporating more creative use of design and graphic facilitation.
Loren and Ida left Stockholm, Sweden, for the same reasons. Also because we wanted a change of pace. Living in big cities can be really inspiring but you're also constantly bombarded with creativity and information without really having any room to reflect on it.
Why did you choose Georgetown? Do you feel like you settled in the right place?
Philip and Loren (brothers) grew up in Georgetown and it gradually drew us back in. We love that its a small town with a strong sense of community, including lots of back to the landers and 4th generation lobsterman. Georgetown also has a storied history in the arts. Artists ranging from F. Holland Day, Gertrude Kasebier and Paul Strand (photographers), Marsden Hartley, Marguerite Zorach and Dahlov Ipcar (painters) and Sculptors Gastor Lachaise and William Zorach (sculptors) have all been made Georgetown home. We enjoy small town life while still being close to cultural activities and amazing foodie options in Portland, Brunswick and Bath.
Ida: I often ask myself that question. How the actual hell did I end up in Georgetown, ME!? It seems crazy looking back at the big move from Sweden to Georgetown but at the time it felt so natural. I definitely feel like I've settled in the right place. Sure, life here does not have some of the comfortable perks as Sweden but it has offered me so much more freedom and flexibility in my everyday life. You kind of need to work for it out here and that makes you appreciate it a little bit more. I am also lucky to have connected with a lovely community that are full of makers, artists, creatives and just all around loving and caring people. I thought that would be very hard to do in a rural area because there's just not that many people around. But for some reason, that also came naturally. I feel like people look after their neighbors in a different way in a rural setting. I also think that people who have decided to live out here are on the same wavelength. We share a lot of foundational values which makes it so much easier to connect on a deeper level.
How did Seguin Tree Dwelling come about?
Loren and Philip grew up right next door to the 21 acre Seguin lot, but had never walked the land. When it came on the market, we explored and were stunned by the elevations, the ancient trees, and the expansive views of the river and conservation land. Once we climbed the trees and took in the even more spectacular views, the vision for tree dwellings came into focus. We soon expanded the concept to include a gathering space up among the trees where we could host lectures, performances, celebrations, yoga classes and facilitated meetings.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
The initial hardest part for Philip and Marsha was leaving friends and loved ones in New York. Once on the ground in Maine, the bummer part was having to spend more time in the car. Living in a small town, you have to drive to get to everything (schools, grocery stores, etc).
Ida: Hardest part: leaving friends and family and moving a whole ocean away at the same time as you're about to have a baby. Having to deal with American bureaucracy + navigate healthcare system.
Do you feel like living in a rural area has presented you with more creative/work opportunities or less?
Philip and Marsha: In one sense, there are fewer "opportunities" presented to you here because there is just so much less going on than in NYC. But on the other hand, its feels like there is so much more opportunity to create your own thing here. There is more space, things are more affordable, and not everything is a competition.
Ida: There's something about the openness/vastness/lack of people/solitude that triggers your want/need to turn inward. Being an introvert I feel like it's a lot easier to take the time and space to tune inwards in a rural setting. I always thought that I needed to be in a big city to get creative, but turns out it's the opposite. Living in a big city can be very inspiring, and perhaps I was inspired but I kept on chasing that inspiration rather than actually sitting down and doing the work. I feel like moving out here gives you the patience to apply that inspiration to real life.
How do find balance between work life and home life here?
For Marsha and Philip it emerges pretty naturally. We work when the kids are at school and we're off when they aren't.
Ida and Loren: Because we run businesses together work/home life is very fluid. It is hard to find a balance there. There’s a lot of work-talk in our home-life but to be honest I don’t mind it because it is our choice. On the other hand I feel like it will be harder and harder to find balance between the two as traditional work structures dissolve and make way for more fluid/freelance/home-office type of work.
What advice do you have for people dreaming of leaving the city behind?
Do it! - if its the right time. The timing is everything. Marsha and Philip had lived in urban areas (Boston and NYC) for 20 years. So we were ready. Also, we wanted our kids to be immersed in nature. We miss friends in Boston and NYC, but I wouldn't say we miss the city.
Ida and Loren: If you're ready to get creative about the way you make a living. cutting out the prestige and shaking it up big time - do it.
What do you appreciate the most about the life you’ve created here on the coast of Maine?
For Marsha and Philip its being able to purchase a good piece of land and build our own house, having our kids enrolled in an affordable nature-based education school, and being near family.
Loren and Ida: The flexibility. Because we run seasonal businesses we are able to take time off in the winter-time. This means we're sacrificing a lot of our time in the summer but you win some you lose some right?
Also, in terms of flexibility - you don't have to do the whole living (big house) and working (career/ 9-5) thing like everyone else. Again, some sacrifices here too but for us, having flexibility here, has added a lot to our quality of life.
What advice do you have for someone interested in moving to country and managing short term rental properties?
Be prepared to work when everyone else is off work. Also, be prepared to work in bursts.
What is your favorite time of year here?
The Fall. The tourist season has wrapped up, the weather is perfect, and the leaves are changing.
Is there anything you miss about living in a more urban area?
Would you ever consider moving back to the city?
No, except maybe in retirement - to be able to walk to things...
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in your small community?
It is what you make it. You can move to the country and bring the stress of the city with you. You do have more space to make it what you want it to be, but you need to actively make it happen.
What are your plans/goals for Seguin Tree Dwellings in the coming year?
We will finish our gathering space, which will be a large open room up in the trees accessed by a 18 foot spiral staircase. It will have walls of windows and full view of the river and marshland. We want it to be an inspiriting space for people to convene.