If there’s a phrase that’s been repeated regarding real estate more than most in the past few years, it’s that it’s a buyer’s market, what with foreclosures all over the country and generally gloomy economic climate.

Jane Liedtke knew that. But her decision to purchase and renovate 12 cottages, a nine-room motel and a house on a green, windswept stretch of coastal Route 1 in Lincolnville was only partially motivated by the market. The real reason? She, like so many others, wanted to retire to Maine.

“I knew I wanted to come back to Maine to retire,” said Liedtke, who taught at the University of Southern Maine until 1980, before eventually taking a position teaching industrial technology at Illinois State University in Bloomington, Ill., where she still lives part of the year. “I have such positive memories associated with the state. I always knew I wanted to come back.”

Liedtke read an article in Cottage Living Magazine about Cabot Cove Cottages in Kennebunk, a rundown cottage rental business that was purchased and heavily renovated by its owners into a luxury Maine getaway. She was intrigued by what she read.

“I just thought it was the coolest idea, to fix up old-fashioned Maine cottages and turn them into something really nice and modern,” said Liedtke. “I knew that was something I’d like to do.”

Two years later and that idea is a reality with the almost completely renovated Bay Leaf Cottages and Bistro, formerly known as Bay Breeze Cottages, set to open on June 11. It’s a potentially lucrative venture for the now-retired Liedtke and her nine investors, who envision a family-friendly, affordable resort for visitors from near and far alike. Over the week of May 9-16, Bay Breeze also was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for 14 interior design majors at ISU to get some real-world experience.

In addition to being a college professor, Liedtke is an ardent advocate for adoption, specifically adoption from China. She adopted her daughter, Emily, from China, and has since formed the organization Our Chinese Daughters Foundation, or OCDF, which puts together tours of China for families from around the world, so they can bring their adoptive children to the places they were born.

“I have so many connections in that world that I found a group of investors for this project, some of whom are from China,” said Liedtke. “I was looking around at all kinds of foreclosed properties in the midcoast. Cabot Cove is really high end, and we wanted to do something [that is] a little more accessible and affordable and family-friendly, but was still really nice.”

A few potential properties came and went. Liedtke finally settled on the former Bay Breeze Cottages, just past Lincolnville Beach on Route 1, which had been foreclosed on and was up for auction by the bank. After a few months of negotiations, Liedtke and her investors closed the deal on May 3 — less than three weeks ago. To say they had their work cut out for them is a bit of an understatement.

That’s where the interior design students at ISU come in. When Liedtke knew she was going to close on the property, she approached her colleagues in the school’s interior design department with a unique idea.

“I asked these two classes if they wanted to have a competition,” she said. “The students in the Interior Design Studio 1 classes would come up with designs for the cottages, two of the investors and I would come to class and listen to their presentations, and then we’d pick the best designers to come and work on the cottages.”

Liedtke asked the total of 45 students to bear in mind the theme of Bay Leaf. Each cottage is named after a spice or herb, like Coriander, Rosemary and Saffron, while each motel room has a Maine theme, such as Lupine, Schooner and Puffin. Liedtke and company also stressed that each cottage and room must be child-friendly and comfortable — and that they couldn’t spend more than $1,000 of Liedtke and her investors’ money on each cottage.

In April, before they had officially closed on the property, Liedke selected 14 students and their designs to come to Maine after their semester was over. Students flew to Boston on Monday, May 10, drove up to Lincolnville the same day, and began work on Tuesday.

By the end of the week, the cottages were finished and the motel was almost done; renovations on the office, house and adjacent apartment, as well as the restaurant area, will be completed later in the month. Cottages range in size and look, from the cozy Rosemary, with its white, black and green accents, to the expansive Saffron, which sleeps up to six. Think rustic, old-fashioned Maine with a crisp, contemporary edge.

The students switched around furniture already at the cottages, got rid of most of the old decor, sewed curtains, painted cabinets and kept as much natural wood as possible. But there was a twist. After the students arrived, Liedtke changed the budgeted amount for each room to approximately $100 — though you wouldn’t know it from looking at the final results. Students used salvaged, repainted wood to create geometric headboards for beds, refinished old tabletops to give a fresh, clean look, and shopped area antiques stores for unique decorative items. Brianna Falk, who designed the Caraway cottage, felt as though she was on a show similar to TLC’s “Trading Spaces.”

“It’s kind of like being on, like, an extreme home makeover reality TV show,” said Falk, a junior at Illinois State. “We had this amount of time and this amount of money to completely renovate all these cottages. It’s been a crazy amount of work, and it’s been really amazing experience. Who gets to do something like this?”

“We got to do a lot of things that you just don’t get to do in a classroom,” said Jennie Chambers, also a junior, who designed Coriander. “Plus, we get to come to Maine right after we got done with classes, which is just beautiful.”

Liedtke already has gotten to work on the other main attraction for Bay Leaf. She’s developing programs and events, much of it focusing on children, which will be available to guests. Opening weekend will include a storytelling workshop and arts and crafts. In the months of July and August, certain days will be available for families to stay at Bay Leaf, with children aged 8 to 14 given the option to go to Hidden Valley Camp in Freedom as a day camp experience, returning to Lincolnville in the evening. A kayak building workshop, a Chinese language and culture workshop, and special programming for adoptive families also are set throughout the summer.

“We’ve got lots of ideas,” Liedtke said. “We want it to be an all-inclusive experience for families, that’s as relaxing for the parents as it is fun and interesting for the kids.”

For information or to make a reservation, call 505-0458, or visit www.bayleafcottages.com.

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.