Matthew J.C. Clark has the kind of house you remember. It’s a beacon on his street—a glow of yellow in the distance like a cartoon sun. A field of daffodils. A bouquet of sunflowers. He has the kind of house where upon entering the front door the oven buzzes, sporadically, joyfully, as if to greet you. He has the kind of house where you might hear a soft flapping sound that signals that his tuxedo cat, Whiskey, has let herself in.
Matthew, a writer and carpenter, has a house with memories, stories, and excitement.
Built in 1860, the Federal-style home sits a street away from the Kennebec River in Bath, Maine—a small, coastal city with a strong identity in shipbuilding. Matthew returned to Bath, where he went to high school and just a few miles from the town where he grew up, in 2015. He and his then wife wanted a fixer-upper in the area, and with a winning foreclosure auction bid, this one became theirs.
Since Matthew spent his teenage and early college years learning carpentry from Morse & Doak Builders—and continued to do carpentry through grad school—his hands-on approach to the home was a given. The first memory Matthew has of the house begins at the first fix. “It had all this old faux wood paneling in blue and the chimney was leaking and crumbling. There were holes in the floor and insulation, animal smells, and it was so cold, it was so, so cold,” he says. “We got very little done, but it felt like we started on that journey—this journey.”
The renovation was slow and steady, as to be expected with a crew primarily of one, the harsh conditions Maine can create, and an old house with a community of gray squirrels living inside. “The basic vision was beautiful, I want it to be beautiful,” Matthew says. “I don’t think I understood how that was going to happen or, in reality, how all the plumbing was going to fit together and where the outlets were going to go—but it was going to be beautiful.” He was adamant about reusing as much as he could from the original home, which was expressed through his dad pulling a lot of nails from wood boards. He also found treasures, like the name of the carpenter who built the house penciled on the back of a piece of window trim (J.C. Harris).
After about two years, it was time to move in. The yellow house is now filled with reclaimed beams from Matthew’s grandparents’ barn in Whitefield, Maine. There’s a sturdy, toe-stubbing hearth made from locally collected rocks. There are unexpected color combinations—including but not limited to the Mediterranean teal, Anjou Pear orange, and tomato bisque–like red painted on the trims and used for the kitchen counters. Looking in from the outside, it’s hard to choose a favorite element. “I love the kitchen space, it feels so nice in there,” Matthew muses. “[And] I’m excited about the Wood Mill of Maine floors. I think they look beautiful.”
The wood floors tell a story as you move through the space. “You can feel the cup in the sole of your feet and it reminds you that you’re walking on a former tree,” Matthew describes. But beyond the physicality of the floors, they are part of a story Matthew began to write—a magazine-style essay about the Wood Mill of Maine, and specifically, the owner, Bjarki Gunnarsson. The writing and the home improvement became intertwined. Matthew acquired the mill’s pine for the floors, he installed the floors, he messed up the floors—a cupped floor is not good, as beautiful as it looks to an untrained eye—and more or less (a lot more than less), the journey and the essay morphed into his recently published, debut book, Bjarki, Not Bjarki.
The book is a lot like the house: It tells the story of transition and transformation. You move through it and you’re struck by Matthew’s thoughtfulness (little nooks for keepsakes, such as a hat that makes him feel a certain way), his humor (a years-old to-do list penciled on the kitchen wall), his kindness (a chair in the pantry as a step for his cat), his creativity (a parlor for screen printing T-shirts), and his uncertainty (doors without knobs and lightbulbs without covers).
And yet, the home may continue to evolve. Perhaps Matthew will rebuild the porch and install door knobs. “I keep waiting for the perfect pieces of art to show up,” he says. “There’s very little on the walls and what’s on the walls has felt temporary.” The ideas keep churning, but it’s clear the basic vision—creating a beautiful house—has come to fruition. Matthew adds, “Maybe I’ll paint the floor.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest
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