Story by Seth Putnam and photos by Jesse Lenz
Jesse Lenz (creative director) and Seth Putnam (editorial director) are the co-founders of The Collective Quarterly.
If you had asked Julie O’Rourke at age 18 whether she’d live in Maine as an adult, she would have looked at you like you were crazy.
The apparel designer — who produces a line of children’s clothing called Rudy Jude — grew up in Blue Hill, Maine, just north of Deer Isle. Like many young residents of Maine’s relatively sleepy coast, she couldn’t wait to get out of state.
In the orbit of the Pine Tree State, if you’re not from Maine, you’re simply “from away.” But despite such an intense amount of state pride, “away” is exactly the place a lot of young Mainers dream of going. Julie spent 10 years exploring Providence, New York, Ireland and Hawaii before choosing to return home. She built a life with her partner, Anthony Esteves, who she met at the Rhode Island School of Design, and their young son, Diogo.
“It was here all along,” she says. “When I considered the midcoast, I realized for the first time that I could find independence from my family and childhood and still do that in a beautiful place.”
For Julie, their home on Rackliff Island — connected to the mainland by a narrow, two-lane bridge — is a place to focus, buckle down, and get work done. “I’m most inspired when I’m in touch with who I am and what I want to do. I think our being creatively fulfilled is beneficial to our son, Diogo, too. It’s important to me to be happy and making things in order to be a good mother.”
For the past three years, they’ve been building their home, “Soot House,” which was inspired by Anthony’s time in Japan. A sculptor by trade, he learned about the Japanese practice of lighting boards on fire to develop a thick char that protects the siding from insects and decay — while also giving it a striking black color that will fade into chocolate (and then gray) over the decades. “I’ve always been rooted in surfaces and material choice and the kind of emotion you can bring out in someone just because of the space they’re moving through,” he says. With the help of some friends, he’s executed most of the project by hand to minimize impact on the land as much as possible — hand-digging the brackets that formed the foundation, working in light shoes, making sure everyone knows to tread lightly. “I want to see Maine embrace its traditional methods of building and historical preservation. As a whole we need to honor our colonial roots.”
In the meantime, Julie has been hard at work on her clothing line, which has received rigorous testing, to say the least. “It’s durable, natural, beautiful, and gender-neutral,” she explains. “So much research goes into parenting, and I want this to be a no-brainer for any kid in any season in any climate. I’ve been working on this for all 14 months of Diogo’s life, and he’s been helping me put everything through the ringer.”
Despite the perfect nest they’ve created, Anthony, Julie, and Diogo still make it a point to venture out as often as they can, sometimes for long spells. During the winter, they decamp to Echo Park in Los Angeles, where they explore West Coast inspiration juxtaposed with their East Coast roots.
“Maine is the perfect creative base where can create work and live, but it’s great to venture out and be on an umbilical cord, too,” Anthony says. “As parents, we want to give Diogo freedom and responsibility immediately, and [traveling] is a perfect opportunity for him to thrive.”
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