At their Portland home, Lucian Burg and Marie Pollard create a feast for the eyes inside and out.
Lucian Burg and Marie Pollard had a lot in common when they met in San Francisco. She was running a catering company; he was a chef at the famed Zuni Cafe. Entrenched in the restaurant business, the two shared the long hours, the joy of preparing food for others, and the pressures of a kitchen. But there was an even deeper bond that linked them: Pollard was born in Maine and Burg had spent the last several summers running a restaurant on Vinalhaven.
After they got married, Pollard sold her catering business, and in 1991 they made the cross- country move to Maine. At the time, housing in Portland was much more affordable than in the Bay Area. The couple wanted a house that had a studio where Burg, also an artist, could paint. When a friend mentioned to them that a house was for sale in Deering Highlands, that it was previously owned by the dean of Maine College of Art, and it had a studio/ carriage house, the two practically bought it on the spot. Enamored with the house itself, they realized the neighborhood was icing on the cake. “It had beautiful old trees, space between houses, so many families and artists,” says Pollard. “We have loved this area from the moment we arrived, and our feelings have only deepened over the years.”
From the moment they moved in, Pollard and Burg have been putting their own mark on the home, filling it with personality and flair, and opening it up in the way they know best: sharing their love for good food with friends. The couple has done the majority of the renovations inside and out themselves. One of the first things they changed was—no surprise—the kitchen, rearranging an awkward layout and getting rid of an electric stove in favor of Burg’s old restaurant stove. They also created separate prep areas for each of them: one for Pollard for baking, another for Burg for cooking. (They also installed a Tuscan grill in the living room fireplace, where they cook many winter meals over hardwoods.)
Burg and Pollard’s artistic touches are noticeable around every corner -in his paintings, but also his craftsmanship. To delineate the dining room from the kitchen, which open to one another, they built a coffered ceiling and decorated it with stenciled and gold-leafed oak and maple leaves found on the street. They designed a custom “vitrine-style” coffee table and built bookcases that line the study walls. “Books are my favorite. I just can’t have enough of them, so we have them everywhere,” he says. Burg also made wooden vase forms from old pieces of wood. Items from the couple’s travels fill the rooms as well. “Having a house is like a huge canvas,” Burg says. “Every single thing in here has an incredible story, and we keep adding to it.”
Outside, Pollard and Burg have created a peaceful urban oasis of gardens and sitting areas. “My mom was a great gardener, so I grew up around a great garden,” he says. “When we got here, neither one of us was really handy, per se, but suddenly, we had our own house and all those things became important.” During their first winter in Portland, Burg took a landscape course at Southern Maine Community College and started creating a design for a garden.
Nothing was growing in their yard at the time—moss and mud covered the ground, shaded by three massive Norway maples (“they’re called trash maples because they take everybody’s water and don’t play nice,” says Burg). Ten dump truck loads of dirt later, they got to work. They created a seven-foot retaining wall, took out the giant maples, and planted a star magnolia, a weeping cherry tree, Japanese maples, and many dwarf evergreens. Suddenly they had light. Burg continued studying landscaping and read Elements of Garden Design by Joe Eck. “We realized the more you cut up a small space, the bigger it becomes,” he says. “The more rooms you create, the more places there are to go.” Now, separate sitting areas are carved throughout the backyard, providing places to sit and read the paper in the morning, drink a cup of coffee, or lie down and catch the afternoon sun. “It has been a long process and hard work with tight budgets, but it has all been worth it and makes our home very personal for us,” says Pollard. “It gives us pride that we created this nest of comfort, beauty, and contentment.”
Although the two are out of the restaurant business now (Burg owns Lu Design Studios, a graphic design/book design office and Pollard works for Portland Adult Education) they still do a lot of cooking and entertaining, often for local chef friends, like Sam Hayward of Fore Street and Scales, with whom Burg worked at Fore Street years ago. Every year, they host a party for Pollard’s coworkers after their graduation. “We’ll have about 40 teachers here for the celebration—the whole front room is filled and people are playing the piano and singing,” says Pollard.
When they aren’t cooking for others, Burg and Pollard are making meals for themselves, using loads of fresh fish and vegetables from local purveyors like the Portland Farmers’ Market, Harbor Fish Market, Standard Baking Co., Rosemont Market, and Micucci Grocery. In the 1990s when they first arrived, Portland was nowhere near the culinary mecca it is today -more like a culinary wasteland, according to the couple. “There was no decent bread to be had,” recalls Pollard, “no great coffee roasters, and a paltry selection of gourmet foods.” The couple used to mail-order Peet’s Coffee from San Francisco and drive to Boston with their cooler to load up with supplies. Today, they are overwhelmed with options when it comes to not just ingredients, but restaurants as well. “We like that young people are coming in and doing a really good job,” says Burg. “The foodstuffs are amazing here. I have friends who are famous cooks who live in a town ten times the size of Portland, and they can’t get half of what you can get here. We are really lucky.”
Like so many Portlanders who moved here decades ago, Pollard and Burg have watched their city change over the years—they believe for the better. “I love that this is such a creative city,” says Burg. After being involved in starting first Mondays at MECA (before First Fridays became a thing) and Creative Portland’s efforts to bring young, creative-minded people to live in Portland, Burg has enjoyed watching the city grow. “I don’t think we should be afraid of growth,” he says. “I say, bring it on. A city should act like a city.”