Love Letters to Portland

For John and Linda Meyers, many days start with caffeine and a rescue mission. While the coffee is brewing, the pool skimmer is checked for stray insects or frogs that have inadvertently taken a dip. Next it’s off to school with their son, a quick sweep of errands, then back to the house to turn on the wax melter and foil stamper and get to work. Meanwhile, down in the Arts District, Bob Ludwig and Adam Ayan dive into new uploads of songs that have arrived overnight, texting a contemporary Latin artist to clarify a request or phoning a well-known rocker to suggest an edit. And across town, Angela Adams and Sherwood Hamill walk down the hill to their studio and meet briefly with their creative team before Adams grabs a sketchbook and Hamill settles down in front of his computer, and the two begin brainstorming new products and designs.

This easy, comfortable vibe is just part of Portland’s charm, say the proprietors of these businesses. The city is large enough to be interesting, but small enough to be familiar. It’s blessed with a sense of community, yet connected to the larger world in myriad ways.

For John and Linda Meyers, co-owners of the decorative arts firm Wary Meyers, it is Portland’s physical beauty, coupled with its quirky treasures, that make the city such a creative touchstone. “I remember back in 2004 when we decided to move up to Maine from New York City,” says John. “We drove into Portland and headed to the East End. As we drove down Vesper Street, we could see this briny, maritime, Wyeth-like working waterfront that was earthy, real, and absolutely beautiful. We were hooked.”

“We love the maze of shops in the Old Port, too,” he continues. “Linda and I grew up in towns where all the shops were neatly organized along Main Street, but here you can zig-zag around, discovering new boutiques at every turn. And then you’ve got the unusual stuff like the drinking fountain where dogs play behind the fire station— something we just stumbled upon—and La Petite Ecole, the French school in the West End that lets its bunny hop in the yard, which is wonderful, too. There are just so many unexpected treasures in the city.”

Angela Adams and Sherwood Hamill of Angela Adams, a nationally known designer of furniture, rugs, and lifestyle accessories, cite Portland’s size and mercurial climate as the fuel that makes their creative motors hum. “The city is large enough to support a lot of creative entrepreneurial businesses, from bakeries to breweries,” Adams observes, “and Maine’s constantly changing seasons provide us with a rotating palette of color and textures, which is a true luxury to experience every day.”

For Bob Ludwig and Adam Ayan of Gateway Mastering and DVD, a leader in the ever- changing record mastering industry, the easy rhythms of the city provide a perfect backdrop for running a small business that has worldwide impact. “We only have an eight-person staff, but we’ve got thousands of discs out there with our credits on them,” Ludwig notes. “Our business is very demanding. We’re dealing with artists from around the world; on any given day, it’s not unusual for me to speak to clients in Vermont, Los Angeles, and Moscow. But when I head home at night, I soak up the beautiful views along Casco Bay, and I’m renewed.”

Renewal is a recurrent theme at Gateway. Ludwig co-founded the company in Portland with then-partner Dan Crewe 22 years ago, following a successful stint at Masterdisk in New York City. “My parents lived in Stockton Springs,” Ludwig says. “I visited often and loved the state, so when Dan and I were looking for a site for our new business, we chose Portland, with the thought that if the business didn’t succeed, we’d still be happy in the place we were living. We were sure that fewer clients would attend sessions here, but as it turned out, for a long time we had more clients attend them in Portland than in New York!”

Despite the fact that the business isn’t located in a major music center, Ludwig has worked to surpass industry standards from the outset. After opening in Portland, Gateway quickly established itself as a leader in the record mastering industry and acquired an impressive list of firsts. Among other things, Gateway was the first mastering studio to master high-definition audio using better-than-CD quality and the first to offer DVD authoring. DVDs can handle higher quality sound than CDs, and they also offer the possibility of surround sound. Thus Gateway could make DVDs for full-length motion pictures with subtitles, multi-angle scenes, and multiple languages.

Gateway boasts an impressive roster of clients, including Bruce Springsteen, Carrie Underwood, Eric Clapton, Madonna, and the Foo Fighters, and its list of achievements is equally noteworthy—during a single week this summer, for example, Gateway had six albums in the Top 20 of the Billboard 200 chart: four mastered by award-winning mastering engineer Adam Ayan, who joined Gateway in 1998, and two by Ludwig. “We’re a world-class mastering facility,” notes Ayan. “And we’re the epitome of unique in Portland—there’s no one else like us here. Our business matches the character of the city. We cultivate a comfortable, relaxed environment that encourages creativity among our staff, and our clients appreciate it, too. They enjoy coming to Portland—they view the city as a destination that’s both artistic and accessible.”

Artistic and accessible are two of the qualities that Angela Adams co-founders Angela Adams and Sherwood Hamill cherish as well. The couple is celebrated for their ability to design home furnishings with a modern aesthetic inspired by the landscape of Maine. Since meeting in 1992, Adams and Hamill have developed a distinctive language of pattern and form—she in textiles and he in furniture design—and every product they create is informed by their surroundings.

“Sherwood grew up in the Portland area, and I grew up in midcoast Maine,” Adams says, “so we understand the people, the culture, and the history here. We celebrate the natural beauty and simple lifestyle of Maine through our business and our designs.” For Adams, that often means getting outside. “Paddling or surfing in the ocean is truly a luxurious experience,” she observes. “The waves, water, salt air, birds, seals—we’re all in it together. The landscape in Maine is such a magical place.”

Although the company’s products are inspired by the state, they transcend geography and earn accolades from across the industry. Angela Adams’s Architex Sunbrella outdoor textile line received a Best of Year Award by Interior Design magazine, and the company has also partnered with Shaw Contract Group—a commercial brand of Shaw Industries, the world’s largest carpet manufacturer—to bring Adams’s contemporary designs to a wider audience.

Portland’s picturesque surroundings similarly inspire John and Linda Meyers with ideas for their latest creations: soaps and candles that John describes as “beautilitarian”—a combination of lovely and useful. After meeting in New York City—Linda was working as a graphic designer in the same building where John was doing set designs for an Anthropologie store—the couple married and decided to go into the design business together. Manhattan was deemed too costly, so they relocated to Maine where they began re- imagining private interiors as well as those of local businesses, such as the Via Agency.

“We used to do a lot of comprehensive interior design projects,” John explains, “and I mean right down to which pens were on the desk. Towards the end of every project, Linda and I would look at each other and say, ‘What candle are we going to use on that bedside table?’ or ‘What soap do you think would look good in the bathroom?’ We never seemed to find something exactly right, so we decided to start making our own!”

Today, the two handcraft all-natural soaps and candles. The line includes Sea Air glycerin soap, which is “enlivened with the scent of swinging open the cabin doors of your yacht in Cap d’Antibes,” and the Mainely Manly candle, which sports “undertones of native balsam, burning pine, and primitive musk with a soft, close whisper of patchouli.” Currently, they’ve joined forces with Camden ceramicist Ariela Kuh to design and produce a porcelain candle cloche and soap dish that will be sold at K Colette. The couple is also developing a new absinthe-inspired candle called Swiss Kiss.

“We’ve always had a laid-back vibe,” Linda confides, “and being here in Portland has allowed us the time to figure things out. For example, shortly after we introduced our candle packaging, we realized it just wasn’t us, so about six months in, we decided to change it. We looked around and thought, ‘The graphics need to be more relaxed; they need to reflect our environment.’ So we changed them to incorporate the beautiful sunrises we enjoy here. It’s always that way—it doesn’t matter how hard we’re working on a project—when we look out the window, we’re inspired.”

Ayan and Ludwig echo that sentiment, as do Adams and Hamill. “Sherwood and I set out designing jobs for ourselves that would allow us to be creative, independent, and constantly learning,” Adams says. “Doing that here in Portland versus somewhere else wasn’t even a question. We’re both from Maine and we are, and always have been, a Portland company. We hire local craftspeople, salespeople, designers, marketers, and business people, and we work with dozens of other small companies based here. Many of us walk to work and to lunch in the neighborhood, and we share the experience with our neighboring businesses and friends. We love it here—it’s our home.”


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