We are so happy to share our next Designer Q&A with the talented Michele Zajkowski of Ocean View Designs in Cape Elizabeth. We’ve enjoyed following Michele’s work since collaborating with her on the bright, colorful dining room (pictured on this post) that she designed for her clients’ Scarborough home, anchored by a custom Gates Table and a lovely Laurie Fisher painting.
Earlier this summer we had the chance to photograph Michele at work in the gorgeous space she designed, and she was kind enough to answer some of our questions about her work. Scroll down to read more about Michele, her experience working with Huston & Company, her aesthetic, and more.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a wife and mom to two teenagers and two yellow labs. I grew up on both the east and west coasts, and studied Communications at the University of San Diego before pursuing my Master’s in Boston. I worked in Broadcast Advertising in Los Angeles, Boston, and a had a short stint at WGME-13 when we moved from Boston to Maine 20 years ago. I was a stay-at-home mom for many years volunteering at the kids schools, The Children’s Museum of Maine, and with Share our Strength.
During that time, we were on our second full house renovation in Maine and I loved all of it! Taking things apart and putting them back together in a way that makes a home flow, and putting my stamp on the material and finish choices was so much fun. After our second renovation, people would ask me for advice so, I decided to take 2 classes at SMCC – one in interior design and the other in architecture. One of my teachers pushed me to look into attending the Boston Architectural College and after 3 long years, I graduated in May 2015.
While in school I joined a designer “co-op” in Portland – there are 6 designers, we each own our own business and we share office space, rent, sample books, and camaraderie. The road to becoming a designer has had many twists and turns but it is so wonderful to be able to work with clients and make their house a “home”. Each client and project is different and I am always learning something new and meeting new people. I am also color certified and love helping people pick out paint palettes for their homes.
When I am not working – I like to spend as much time as I can with my family in Casco Bay. Seven years ago we bought a cottage built in 1898 that needed a lot of love. It had great bones, a wonderful yard, and we can see the ferries going by. We have taken our time fixing it up and we finished our renovation last summer. I am still decorating it at a slow pace – looking for antiques and pieces that are just right. Our family would call it our happy place – a place to unwind, sleep, read, boat, beach, and socialize with friends.
How would you describe your style? What is your design philosophy?
I would describe my design style as “casually elegant”. It’s similar to how I dress – a great pair of jeans with a nice silk blouse, a great pair of boots or shoes, and a nice handbag. The shoes are the foundation – like a great rug to ground a room and the handbag is the art, accessories, and lighting -similar to the homeowner’s personal statement. The jeans are the work horse of the room, much like a good sofa or comfy chair. Think of the the blouse as pillows or drapery – something pretty where your eye is drawn. Our lives get hectic and I think we all function better when we love coming home.
I also consider my style a “timeless mix.” I love blending old and new, high and low – it is how we really tell the story of our homes. We can always reuse and repurpose a quality piece of furniture, a family heirloom or sentimental piece – sometimes it needs a coat of paint or to be refinished. I will also try to push clients out of their comfort zone – and it is usually in an unexpected way. Art is a great way to introduce color and create a great vibe for a room.
Describe your experience working with Huston & Company.
My experience working with Huston & Company was seamless. During my final project in design school, I was having trouble finding the right table for the assignment, my teacher suggested I look at Huston’s new Gates line. I fell in love with the style of the Gates table and its driftwood finish. I drove to Kennebunkport to meet with Bill, took a tour of the workshop, and proposed the custom table to my client, who immediately approved the design. I was able to go back when the table was being built to see the progress and decide on the final finish. The craftsmanship is impeccable and both my client and I loved that the table was made in Maine. It is one of those pieces of furniture that can be handed down to her children one day.
When do you advise clients to consider custom furniture?
I advise clients to consider custom pieces of furniture when we cannot find what we are both envisioning for a space. Custom can be more expensive, but is made to last. Each client is different – one may want to invest in a quality sofa that will last 20 years and can be reupholstered many times during its lifetime. Other clients enjoy entertaining and want a custom dining table that is appropriate for their living situation and will reflect their personal style.
Do you have a dream project or collaboration that comes to mind?
I love a good renovation – I just finished helping friends (he is a builder/she has an incredible eye) with some material and finish choices. As a designer, I was their sounding board. They knew what they were doing and had a great vision – they needed some confidence in some decisions and I did lots of lighting research and met with the kitchen planner as they made final decisions. I love those type of collaborations, and to watch the home they built come together is so gratifying. I would love to eventually work with a builder/contractor and/or a house-flipper. I have also been crushing on the design work of Sarah Bartholomew and Mark Sikes – their crisp use of color and layers of fabric make me smile! I find there is always so much more to learn in interior design.