Home on the Hill

  • Don Head in the den, reading below Laurence Sisson’s "Turquoise Tidal Pool".

Maine Art Collectors Don Head and Caron Zand discover the upsides of downsizing at 118 on Munjoy Hill.

Styling by Janice Dunwoody

Don Head and Caron Zand’s collection of Maine art is spilling out into the hallway of Portland’s new boutique condo development, located at 118 Congress Street. Walking out of the elevator on the afternoon of my visit, I pause before a dreamy skyscape of warm purples. Don Head opens the door before I have time to knock, welcoming me through the art-lined entry of their home to the expansive living space of the fourth-floor unit, featuring the most dynamic views of Portland that I have ever seen. Across two walls of windows, each pane contains a unique portrait of the city. Zand pours me a glass of cold water and graciously indulges my urge to identify: House Island and its fairytale fort; Portland Head Light; the Time and Temperature Building; Maine Medical Center topping the subtle rise of the peninsula’s West End; Back Cove at high tide; the White Mountains making an appearance as faded caps of blue on the horizon.

“We traded in a view that had nothing to do with people, for one that has everything to do with people,” says Head, going on to describe the landscape they left behind in Cape Elizabeth, of woods surrounding a wide-open view of Spurwink Marsh. Both retired, a few years ago the couple began to flirt with the idea of downsizing. While they loved their home on the marsh, they didn’t love the upkeep it required. Condo living would free up time and money to travel, and city living in particular appealed to them—they wanted to be able to run errands on foot and to be part of a vibrant and diverse community.

“We’ve always been downtown people, but now we can walk to the symphony, or to Portland Stage,” says Head. Adds Zand: “Walking has become really important. We haven’t discussed it seriously, but becoming a one-car family wouldn’t be hard here. We went down to Harbor Fish Market the other night to pick up fish for dinner, then went to Rosemont for our veggies. Living together in a building with our neighbors so close together, it’s a different lifestyle. I’m very social, so I like it.”

When they began to investigate the real estate options in Portland, their friend John Ryan of Wright-Ryan clued Head and Zand in on a project his construction firm was working on at 118 Congress Street. At that point, the 12-unit development, headed by husband-and-wife team Chip Newell and Susan Morris of the NewHeight Group and their partner Ed Theriault, was still very much in its infancy. Prior to moving to Boothbay Harbor over a decade earlier, Newell and Morris had lived in Washington, D.C., where Newell worked as a real estate developer for years and Morris worked in marketing. Portland combined what they loved best about city living and Maine living, and after identifying an opportunity to develop prime property at the apex of Munjoy Hill, the pair set about designing their dream home in the city, confident that there were others in Maine who would join them.

“When you live in a place like Portland, the businesses within walkable distance around you—Rosemont Market, Hilltop Coffee, the yoga studios and gyms and parks—become an extension of your home,” says Morris, who did exhaustive research on condo living while working with Archetype Architects, which designed the condominiums. The units are between 1,550 and 2,200 square feet, and each room is designed with the potential to serve dual or triple purposes so as to make the most of the space, the natural light, and the views. Local art was intentionally incorporated in the building’s public spaces. Passersby will notice picture windows containing sculptures by Maine artists Lin Lisberger, Dick Alden, Sharon Townshend, and Jac Ouellette running through the center of the building.

Because the NewHeight Group’s plans allowed them to customize the design of their condo, Head and Zand chose to incorporate many of the same colors and materials they enjoyed in their Cape Elizabeth property, including paint colors that they knew would complement their art collection. It took time for them to get a feeling for the space and to find each piece of artwork’s rightful home within the home. Despite limitations set by walls of windows and half the square footage, with the help of friends like Peggy Greenhut Golden of Greenhut Galleries, Head and Zand found a way to display almost their entire collection.

In general, Head and Zand are enjoying their new perspective on the art that is by now deeply familiar to them. “Friends will say, ‘Where was this piece before? I don’t remember seeing it,’” says Zand. “Something about the layout here. You’re closer to the work, you get a different feel for it.”

A variety of Maine and Italian landscape paintings hang salon-style in the warmly lit butler’s pantry, filled with sparkling glassware. Off the entry, in a lofted space which serves as an office and library (and, thanks to the unit’s smart design, provides hidden storage below) there is a painting by Beverly Hallam, as well as prints and proofs by Will Barnet and Salvador Dalí. To the west is the Portland Observatory, which Head helped raise funds to renovate back in 1998 and where he volunteers as a docent. To the right of the fireplace, two paintings by Joel Babb depict the stunning architecture of the Old Port’s Middle Street. During my visit, a tanker floats in front of Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, the tide is high in Back Cove, and the blue sky is spotted with cumulus clouds. This interplay of Maine artwork and artful views of the harbor, peninsula, and cove distinguish Don Head and Caron Zand’s home from every other place I’ve been.

They wouldn’t say so themselves, but I will: Don Head and Caron Zand have had a direct impact on Portland’s cultural and economic growth in recent years. Both moved to the Portland area in the early 1980s, when the city was going through tough economic times. They watched businesses flee Congress Street as shopping shifted to the Maine Mall in South Portland. Head laughs to recall how slim the restaurant options were when he opened up his investment business in the Old Port, compared to the embarrassment of culinary riches we enjoy today. Head and Zand have helped to nurture Portland’s art scene in myriad ways over the past three decades. After working in development for MECA, Zand served on its board for 12 years, as well as on the board of the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Maine for 20 years. Head currently serves on the board at PortOpera, and on two advisory boards at the University of Southern Maine. In addition to volunteering time and energy, the couple has been patronizing local artists and galleries, filling their own homes with artwork that holds great meaning for them. Their space is a tribute to Maine art.

Before I leave, we venture out onto the deck. Outside, the sounds and smells of Portland combine to create an even stronger sense of place. We all admire the view toward Casco Bay, but Zand directs my attention toward the city’s main boulevard. “At nighttime you can see the lights of traffic on Congress Street all the way up to MECA,” says Zand. “I find myself being ultimately fascinated with the cityscapes.”


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