Arielle's Portland Carnevale

Arielle's Portland Carnevale

Ronee Saroff
Dec 8, 2009

Names: Arielle, Kavi, and Theodore the cat
Location: Portland, Maine
Size: 1,400 square feet
Years lived in: 5

Sometimes inspiration comes from the smallest source — a cocktail napkin, a photograph, a favorite scarf. For Italian Professor Arielle Saiber, it came from a playing card. When the scholar set out to update her small Federal style cottage in Portland's historic West End, she drew on the whimsical colors, patterns, and motifs of a European carnival, bringing warmth and drama to this snowy seaside escape.

While some folks might have gone with a pale, neutral scheme to maximize light, Arielle chose to combat the long, dark Portland winters with a bold palette of saturated blues, reds, yellows, and pinks. Most of the interior doors have been removed, allowing the colors to play off each other in interesting and unexpected ways. Other space- and light-enhancing moves involved adding skylights, removing the crawl space above the kitchen, and turning a former shed into a mud room addition.

Throughout the house, relics from the past mix with contemporary art, found objects, and family heirlooms to create a space that is both warmly inviting and deeply personal. A bust of Dante presides over the salmon-colored dining room where a glass-topped table made from an old barn door is flanked by modern abstract paintings. In the living room, a side table constructed from a salvaged boiler stand shares space with an Italian antique chess table and an original print by Salvador Dali. As in most smaller homes, the furniture and accessories serve multiple functions. Outside the cottage's only bathroom, a fanciful antique grain carrier does double duty as a laundry hamper.

This successful blend of styles and periods reflects Arielle's commitment to honoring the past and celebrating the present. The home's once unobstructed view of Casco Bay has long been obscured by neighboring structures, but like the wax tablet above the doorway bearing the motto of Renaissance Humanist Leon Battista Alberti, it continues to ask, Quid tum — What's next?

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My style: eclectic, whimsical, bold, and playful, rustic Americana mixed with European antiques and modern art

Inspiration: European carnival. You see these colors on the outside of masonry over there. Some of it is Mediterranean, some Northern European. I've traveled a lot and lived in many places, so I've drawn from the colors and shapes that I like. I write a lot about math and literature and that's reflected in all the geometric patterns and abstract art. I also inherited several antiques from my grandparents, and I wanted to honor them. My grandmother did the decoupage on the dresser in the guest room. The space is very fun, personal, and open. Kids love it!

Favorite element: The skylights in the bedroom and seeing the snow fall while under a warm down blanket in bed.

Biggest challenge: Transforming the shed was a huge job. It was not connected to the house and it had a dirt floor. We had to knock through the walls to make a doorway and then build up the floor. But the toughest thing for me was not having total freedom because the house is on the National Historic Register. I can't do anything without a lot of time, approvals, and architects.

What friends say about my home: Everyone loves it. They say I brought New York to Maine because it doesn't feel folky. Across the board, people love the colors.

Biggest embarrassment: The outside — I have no time to garden!

Biggest indulgence: The built-in bookshelves were surprisingly expensive because of all the uneven floors, and the 18th century iron cafe table from Como, Italy.

Best advice: Take risks, especially with color because you can always paint over it, and have fun with objects. Reuse things for other purposes so they can make a statement. I get the most compliments on the grain carrier laundry basket and the vintage door dining table.

Dream source: An antique store with a lot of cast iron.

Resources of Note:


    • Painting by Elise Ansel
    • Theater chairs from Architectural Salvage
    • Coat Hooks from Wyler Furniture
    • Credenza from Foreside
    • Mixed media artwork by Arielle


    • Acrylic on glass by Jess Esch
    • 18th century iron cafe table from Como, Italy


    • Table made from salvaged barn door and vintage saw horses
    • Chairs from a local grainery
    • Paintings by Stephen Lanzalotta and Arnold Helbling
    • Wooden grain carrier from a local antique store
    • Bust of Dante and wax tablet by Megan O'Connell


    • Side table made from boiler stand from Architectural Salvage
    • Charcoal by John Whalley
    • Rabbit sculpture by John Kearney
    • Salvador Dali print from Vincent Price's private collection
    • Velvet chair inherited from Arielle's grandmother
    • Lamp by H. Hoover for the film Runaway Bride
    • Sofa from Wyler Furniture
    • Horse head armor (unknown source)
    • Hallway print by Stefano Ramunno


    • Linens from Hue Company (closed)
    • Decoupage dresser by Arielle's grandmother

Thanks, Arielle!

Images: Ronee Saroff

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