At the start of the show’s fourth season, the cast of Maine Cabin Masters talks about what’s next and the meaning of going upta camp
When Chase Morrill heard that a production company was looking to do a reality show with a Maine carpentry crew, he thought it might make for a good story. Four years and more than 40 restored camps later, Maine Cabin Masters has fans all over the world. In addition to Chase, the cast includes his sister, Ashley Morrill, and her husband, Ryan Eldridge, along with Matt “Dixie” Dix and Jared “Jedi” Baker. Each episode on the DIY Network has them renovating a different run-down Maine cabin, but behind the scenes, they’ll have as many as 12 projects going at a time. They recently opened a headquarters and event space for their business, Kennebec Cabin Company, in an old house in Manchester that was owned by the same family whose cabin they renovated in the pilot episode.
How do you balance doing a project and making entertaining television?
Chase Morrill: We leave that to the producers.
Ryan Eldridge: They’re so creative; it could go any way. A different producer would see it a different way. They take us—we’re doing our thing—and they create storylines.
Ashley Morrill: And those “aha” moments, it’s just the silliest thing sometimes. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, will the window shut?” Dun, dun, dun.
Ryan: We just have fun, and they get our humor. We were nervous to start. Are they going to understand us? Are they going to make us look good? And they really do—half the credit goes to them.
Chase: They make us, and they make the state, look good. They just show off the beauty of it, which I think is a big draw for people to the show. A lot of people have some connection to Maine.
Ryan: Once we were at the Lobster Festival [in Rockland], and we started talking to a German couple there and asked, “What the heck you guys doing here?” “We saw your show and we decided to come here on vacation.”
Chase: Then we saw them later. They were vacationing near where I live, and they said, “Oh, we decided to buy a place here, too.”
Ryan: Even deeper than that, though, I’ve had at least half-dozen people say, “I was down on my luck. I was depressed.” One lady said, “I was suicidal, and I saw the show and it gave me this hope and it made me move back to Maine.” I’ve heard that a couple times. It’s gotten some people through some bad times.
What’s your favorite part about the work?
Ashley: That I’m not in an office, that every day is different. Our office is all of these different lakes—the whole state of Maine. I’ve discovered so many places in Maine that I never spent that much time in and fell in love with them.
Chase: I like the creativity, the creative freedom it allows us. The camp owners hand us the keys and walk away. It allows us to get where we need to. That also helps us keep the budgets down because we can get from point A to point B, how we need to. We went out to Peaks Island earlier and met an old carpenter up there, and she’s like, “I tell the homeowners, ‘I work for the building, not you.’” And it’s true. Same with this. What is going to make the most sense and be the most efficient use of our time and material and budget to get to the point it needs to be?
Ryan: With a lot of these camps, I say, we’re really just saving the memories. You know, a lot of these camps should probably be torn down, but you’re saving a lot of memories. It’s a lot of money for some of these families. We meet some people that are very financially well off, but a lot of these families, they realize it’s an opportunity, and they scrape together $30,000.
What’s your design process, Ashley?
Ashley: I go in and I see what they have. Most of the time, people bring all this stuff to camp that they don’t want at their house, but there’s always a few pieces you can come in and find, like family heirlooms, stuff like that. So, I just pull out the stuff that I want to keep. I have a small budget that I can use to work with local artists and craftsmen. I also love to go to the antique shops and all those sorts of places. It still has that camp feel. We don’t want to go in and make it all fufu, like a lot of these shows do. When we first meet with them, we say, “Is there anything that you don’t want us to touch? Is there anything that definitely means something to you, that you want to save?”
What makes a place a Maine camp?
Ashley: A cribbage board.
Ryan: Just a big table. A cribbage board.
Chase: Every camp is different. It could be a huge mansion on the coast, and people will say, “I’m going to camp,” or it can be a tent on a platform up on the Allagash.
Ryan: It’s camp. It’s just a place to hang out with family, not worry about work.
What’s next for the show?
Ryan: That’s a very good question That’s the million-dollar question.
Chase: That is the million-dollar question. Because the DIY Network is becoming the Magnolia network, and the Magnolia network, from what I’ve been told, is being very selective about what shows they’re bringing into their brand. It’s typical—we don’t usually hear whether or not we’ve got a next season until at least three or four of the episodes have aired because ratings still do matter.
Ryan: Chip and Joanna [Gaines] pretty much have our fate. Supposedly ten episodes are going up on DIY, and then they’re saving ten for Magnolia, and then they’re going to see. It’s been so up and down. The first couple of years we let it get to us a bit, a little nervous. It’s like, just go to work. We’re going to be building camps, whether we’re doing it with a TV crew or not.
Chase: They’re looking for family-oriented shows, which again, is one of our greatest compliments. Fans or people who watch the show come up to us and say, “Hey, we love your show because we can sit down and watch it as a family.”
Ashley: Because there’s no swearing, stuff like that.
Ryan: And literally little kids love it, and the grandparents love it.
Ashley: But there is lots of swearing… They don’t bleep it out. They just can’t use it at all.
Chase: Jedi knows, if he doesn’t want to be on camera, he’ll swear and smoke cigarettes.