Color Theory

Artist Erin Flett and craftsman Maslen Flett embrace the chaos of modern parenthood and find balance and brightness in their Gorham home.

Erin Flett has already been up for five hours when I arrive for our 9 a.m. interview. The designer gets up early every morning to sketch and paint. “I’ve found that I get more done before the sun rises than I do all day,” she says. She pauses to reheat our mugs of chocolate mint herbal tea in the microwave tucked away beneath her kitchen island. Then she asks, “You know how some people, when they don’t work out, they get upset? I’m like that with art. I know when I’m not doing enough art. My meditation is my work.”

The evidence of creative labor appears throughout the rooms of her bright Gorham home. It’s below my feet, woven into a plush rug from her textiles line (abstracted honeysuckles twine in tones of brown and orange) that sits below her dining room table. It’s on the walls, bright blossom prints beaming down from the foyer. It’s on her floating birch kitchen shelves, where happy glasses sit in a line, emblazoned with her distinctive fish and floral designs.

Flett and her family have only lived in this house for a year, but in that time, they’ve found a rhythm that works. Maslen Flett, Erin’s husband, spends his days working as a carpenter for Caleb Johnson Architects and Builders, while Erin splits her time between working from home and overseeing production in her Westbrook studio. Their two daughters, Aryana, 9, and Breshia, 12, have diverse schedules to juggle as well. While Aryana attends public school, Breshia has decided to give homeschooling a try.

“She talked me into it after a year,” Erin says with a smile. “She’s a ballet dancer, and she’s a very serious about it. She is focused on what she wants, and fortunately, she’s self-motivated.” Breshia takes private dance lessons, practices as much as she can during the day, and is enrolled at the Portland School of Ballet. For the past three years, the young dancer has appeared in the Portland Ballet’s production of The Victorian Nutcracker.

Between Breshia’s dance and Aryana’s soccer, the two Flett parents spend quite a bit of time ferrying the kids. “When I’m off to dance, he’s off to soccer,” Erin says. Her hectic life has begun influencing her design sense. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that clutter makes me crazy,” she says. “When I come home, I want my space to be simple and clean. I still like to have a pop of color, to see fun and funky art. But that’s one of the reasons I like white walls—it always feels clean. It makes for a nice, quiet space.”

As we walk through the house, I see the push and pull of quiet-yet-inspired playing out in each room. The Fletts’ bedroom has large windows, little clutter, and bright walls. Yet the bedspread is a blazing orange quilt with an Asian-inspired print. Their daughters’ rooms are similarly colorful. “Aryana designed this with me,” Erin says, pointing at a large flower- shaped area rug. “She picked the colors. We call this color ‘porta-potty green,’ but she loves it. And you know? It worked.”

Another surprising hue appears downstairs on a sliding barn door that marks the entry into a small studio/study space. Erin found the old door on Craigslist and decided that she had to have it. “It was falling apart, and Mas said it wasn’t structurally sound, but I figured out a way to get it to work,” she says. “We built up the back and had a galvanized steel piece put in at the bottom to support the wood.” The track is original, as is much of the wood. Erin finished this project by painting the door a bright shade that falls somewhere between lemon yellow and avocado green. It’s vibrant and intense, and just a little off-kilter; a sunny buttercup might be more expected, but Erin’s choice is far more interesting. There’s also a faint ’70s vibe to her color sense, which is fitting, because this artist adores vintage treasures.

“Growing up, my mom loved antiquing, and when I was in college, she opened an antique shop in Bridgton,” she explains. “I’ve always appreciated old and recycled things. They have so much soul. Some things are great to buy new, but I sometimes feel that without the backstory, it’s not as easy to love an object.” A house without stories, she says, feels empty to her. “If you bought everything from IKEA, it might look cool, but it wouldn’t feel right.”

The living room provides another example of Erin’s mix-and-match tendencies. Vintage trays sit on top of coffee tables and on the sofa, and the walls are hung with art scoured from flea markets and antique fairs. One piece draws my eye. It’s a ’60s-style sunset silkscreen print made with big swathes of color, purple and yellow and orange. “It was my mom’s,” Erin says. “I begged her to give it to me for years.” (Her parents help with more than the art—she credits them with helping make her complicated life possible by babysitting and supporting their two granddaughters in all their endeavors.)

In that same room, not far from the evidence of her mother’s style, two simple leather chairs with clean modern lines sit facing each other, with a small coffee table nestled within arm’s length of each. This, Erin says, is where she and Maslen like to sit after a long day of work. “My grandparents are pretty chichi, and sometimes Mas and I like to joke that we’ll start instituting cocktail hour,” she says. The idea is that they’d come together at night to share a drink and talk about the day. However, often it doesn’t work out that way. “We’ve been together forever, since I was 19,” Erin says. “Mas is creative and supportive, but he’s also not a huge talker. And honestly? Sometimes, when you know somebody that long, you don’t need
to fill up the quiet with a bunch of random words. It’s like when you look across the room at a party, and you don’t say anything, but you catch your partner’s eye, and you just both know it’s time to go—you just know.” And with a house like this to come home to, who could blame them?