YARMOUTH, Maine — Creaky, well-worn floors. Dark corners once loaded with small parts bins. The hardware heart of a do-it-yourself village culture has been captured and transformed with an urban sensibility.
Artist Charlie Hewitt saw the half century-old Goff’s Hardware store on Main Street and instantly knew he wanted to live there. “It took me 40 years in New York to find the perfect loft in Maine,” said Hewitt, a Lewiston native.
The sculptor and painter left Maine at 17 and ended up in New York. After decades of orbiting the art world from SoHo to the Lower East Side, to Jersey City, Hewitt, who has a colorful piece on the High Line in New York City, and his wife Kate Carey, a painter in her own right, were eager to settle in a community and put down roots. Trying to raise two children amid the urban frenzy gave urgency to the move.
“What attracted us to Yarmouth was the schools. We didn’t know if we wanted to live in another house. But then this store came up,” said Hewitt, seated in a bright, new banquet in his spacious, open kitchen. When Goff’s Hardware which opened in 1960 and closed last summer, went on the market, Hewitt saw great potential in the building’s generous 6,000 square foot layout.
They put in an offer the day it came up for sale. Then they got busy. The year-long odyssey, ripe for an HGTV episode, was a total rehab from floor to exterior.
The whole basement had to be redone. They added bathrooms, a modern, white kitchen, painted all the walls, updated the floors. “We built it as we went along and we followed the lines,” said Hewitt, who is no stranger to real estate projects. As an investor in Jersey City, where his work studio resides, he has an appetite for development. He’s owned and sold two homes in Portland’s West End, and pioneered a condo complex in Portland years ago.
Though he loved living in Victorians homes, “I felt like I was just borrowing it.” And unlike the ghosts of owners past, he didn’t want to stick around to be “taken out the back,” to his final resting place.
Delighted by the blank canvas in this town’s Lower Village, next to a Rosemont Market, the couple spent the past year reconfiguring the commercial space for their urbane, artistic and familial needs.
They knocked down walls to create a clean space, while adding display walls to showcase his blue chip art collection. Numbered among his prizes is Robert Rauschenberg’s “crazy cardboard,” which some might dismiss as rubbish, but this eclectic cat loves. A Chuck Close piece looks down from another wall and work from Robert Indiana and Kiki Smith makes the first floor, accented with sleek furniture, feel like a lived in gallery in Chelsea. The lively Hewitt doesn’t need any more stimuli.”The lack of color on the walls helps me relax,” he says sinking into a chair with Carey in the sunny, front room.
In the back, an attached outbuilding is a work in progress. One room has been built — the calm, white space now Carey’s painting studio.
A courtyard, their “Brooklyn backyard,” will soon become a showcase for Hewitt’s work, which is currently in exhibitions or in his New Jersey studio.
“As much as I’d like a lawn, I’d feel a little lost living way out in the country,” said his wife. “And we don’t have a lawnmower,” he added.
From the outside, the traditional, Main Street two-story building stands refreshed and inviting, betokening new life. “We added a little bump to the rhythm of the street — something to look at,” said Hewitt, who used green material like yellow pine soaked in vinegar and black board made of compressed paper to update the exterior. “You are going by and all of a sudden you see a different thing, which is part of life isn’t it?”
His wife, standing outside next to a bright orange mailbox, points down the street.
“That’s Mayberry and this is modern,” she said.
The fusion of old Yarmouth and New York City funk, has caused locals to poke their heads through the large, updated windows and ask to take a peek. Hewitt, a French Canadian who likes colors, boldness and dancing, is happy to oblige. Who says New Yorkers have an edge?
“It’s charming. Being so intimate with the community. Intimate with the street, trees and the nature, and the nativeness of the people,” he said. “They are so Maine, unique and wonderful.”