Two young innovators find their community in the End End.
Brooke Chornyak and Dylan Jones seem like such an easy couple, so united in their tastes and energies, so lovingly able to pass the conversational baton one to the other, that it’s a surprise anything ever stood in the way of their match. They met at a rowing club in Virginia, where she was a tenure-track professor in graphic design at Virginia Commonwealth University, and he was working in finance in Richmond. They both loved biking, dogs, and the outdoors. Before they got serious, though, Chornyak felt Jones had to understand one thing: Virginia wasn’t home. Maine was home, and despite their good jobs, that was where she eventually planned to live. If he wasn’t on board, things couldn’t proceed.
But he was on board, and within two years, the couple headed north. After a summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, they moved to Portland. “For a job?” I say, when I meet them in their airy one-bedroom condo at the top of India Street. No, they admit. The jobs came after. They both simply wanted to be here. Chornyak had grown up in Calais, where her father was an Episcopal priest, and then in Ellsworth. Many members of her family still live here, and on visits, both she and Jones found Portland particularly fun.
Jones is now a technology strategist for Capital One. He telecommutes from a small stand-up desk in his kitchen and frequently travels to the Washington, D.C., and Virginia area. Meanwhile, Chornyak teaches at the Maine College of Art and is the cofounder of Collective IQ, which helps businesses design better experiences, services, and products. Through Collective IQ, she offers branding services and workshops on design thinking, as well as a product line of paper goods.
After a year of renting in Portland and after being outbid on two properties they hoped to buy, Chornyak and Jones learned about East End Lofts, a new development at the intersection of Congress and India Streets. Originally built in the 1860s as a single-family home, the large brick building eventually gained a third floor, tenants, and a storefront. At different points in its history, the storefront was home to a bakery, several barbers, and the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, the business that eventually became A&P. Most recently, Angela Adams and Sherwood Hamill owned the building. Angela Adams’s rug and home goods showroom was out front, and a furniture shop, offices, and other studios were elsewhere in the building. For a time, rugs were also produced there. Now, the retail space is occupied by Print, Portland’s newest bookstore, and the warehouse space has been replaced by 10 condos, developed by partners and friends Scott Pearce, Kevin Dwyer, and Tom Landry. The units are modern, clean-lined studios and one-bedrooms, some of which have retained period details like exposed brick and beams. Landry, the owner of Benchmark Residential and Investment Real Estate, observes that the project proves that buyers are willing to forgo space for proximity. East End Lofts tenants can easily walk to museums, restaurants, jogging paths, shops, theatres, and the waterfront.
“The greenest properties are the ones you never build,” says Landry. He and his partners worked with Evan Carol of Bild Architecture, David Milliken of Horizon Residential Energy Services, and Tom Gagne of CornerStone Building and Restoration to renovate the existing building and design an energy system, which employs mini-split heat pumps for heat and air conditioning. Chornyak particularly appreciates the tightness of the building envelope: “I grew up in a drafty old house in Calais, and you could hold a candle to the window and it would blow out.”
To reach the apartment, I walk around the back of the building and through a propped-open door, to a stairwell with two bikes mounted on the wall. Once I knock, Chornyak and Jones’s dog, Pan, arrives first at the door, then Chornyak and Jones themselves. The order in which I experience the space speaks to what Chornyak and Jones are all about—activity, dogs, people, and place. Beyond the biking, and Jones’s running, the two have discovered SailMaine, at the other end of India Street. The community center teaches young people how to sail but also has lessons for adults, as well as Friday night social sailing when people meet others in the community. The rare time Chornyak and Jones find themselves using a car is when they go rock climbing (“another of our weird hobbies,” says Jones) at Salt Pump Climbing Co. in Scarborough. Pan is an integral part of their life—and mine for the stretch of the time I visit with the couple, as he can’t stop licking my hands as I type notes on my computer. As for place, Chornyak and Jones are sensitive to it inside and out. The size of their apartment—one multipurpose room, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a loft space for storage—means they need to be rigorous about what they keep and what they don’t. In the keep pile: modern furniture acquired from Room and Board and CB2, as well as a new custom walnut bedroom dresser and artwork that they’ve collected in Virginia and Maine. A corner of the living room includes Wolfecut #1, a wood block piece by Anna Hepler, and one of Chornyak’s custom calendars. (Since graduate school, Chornyak has produced calendars, always of phases of the moon and always with different designs, as an annual gift for family and friends.) As for outside, Jones loves the condo’s view of the Time and Temperature building with its various messages, and both appreciate living next to the synagogue Etz Chaim with its lovely landscaping and flowers in summer, and its winterberry bushes against the snow in winter. The rabbi even gave the couple permission to put raised planting beds on the synagogue grounds.
As I am saying goodbye, I admire a poster for Oxbow Brewing Company, which Chornyak and Jones tell me is located in Newcastle, with a tasting room and warehouse in Portland. This gets them talking about the artist who made the poster’s cartoon image of a man with his hands thrown up over his head, and other collaborations they know about. This segues us into talking about Miles and Molly Spadone, siblings who have started a home goods line in porcelain and cast ceramics. Chornyak met them at Engine Room, a Portland coworking space for graphic designers, photographers, marketers, and other innovators. It’s where Chornyak’s been doing her work for Collective IQ. (She’s designed a catalog for the Spadones as well.) I leave impressed by Chornyak and Jones’s energy, their liveliness in work and play, and their inventive peers. It’s a group that seems to believe, as Chornyak said early in our visit, “There’s so much creativity here. It’s deeply within the culture.”