Written by Rebecca Falzano
If you’ve ever been inside contemporary design showroom Periscope in Rockland, you’ve already gotten a taste of Ariel Hall and Jan Leth’s design aesthetic. Not only do the two share a strong connection to Maine (Ariel grew up on the midcoast and Jan spent time there for many decades before moving up permanently), they also both have robust creative backgrounds. Ariel is an artist, and Jan worked as a global creative director at the advertising firm Ogilvy.
Ariel and Jan founded Periscope to share their love for modern and contemporary design. The shop showcases a hand-picked, evolving selection of housewares, furniture, and lifestyle items from both established brands and emerging designers.
We recently visited Ariel and Jan (and baby Lola) at their home in Spruce Head.
THE MAINERS: Like many creatives, you moved to Maine from New York. What was your journey like? What did you give up to come here and what have you gained?
ARIEL: I felt ready to return to Maine shortly after grad school. I’d been a working artist, and also supporting myself with other jobs, and I looked ahead and just couldn’t quite see how I’d ever afford a quality of life that felt desirable or, frankly, reasonable. I was in my early thirties, knew I wanted a family, and couldn’t imagine doing that in a city with such restricted space. My dad had a bout of cancer and I thought, “Okay, that’s it. I’d like to be in Maine. What am I waiting for?” (My dad’s doing well, by the way.) At first I had it great: I was living in Maine but still working in the city at MoMA, so I was back and forth between the two places a couple times a month. I got the best of both worlds: all the stimulation of the city and all the beauty of Maine. But after two years of this I was a bit tired of the travel and my work at MoMA ended. I really miss the city’s grit, wild creativity, diversity, and my momentum in the art world, but I’m grateful for the natural world here and the ability to spread out more. This feels like a healthier place to be a kid, so I’m happy that Lola is building her sense of the world from this place; we can, and do, round that out by travel to cities and other places. I need a fairly regular dose of urban to feel balanced myself.
JAN: I echo some of that. I miss the diversity, energy, and creativity, for sure, but I do not miss the grind. Here I obviously enjoy being more in touch with nature and feeling a greater sense of community, which one just doesn’t have in a city the size of New York.
Best place to catch the sunset- On a boat in Penobscot Bay!
Favorite tourist trap- McLoon’s Lobster Shack
Best place for a swim- Clark Island Quarry or Beauchamp Point
Favorite gallery- CMCA
Go-to meal to cook for guests- Scallop ceviche
Favorite place to find inspiration- BDDW (New York)
Thing you love most about where you live- All the space! You don’t get space like this in a city, indoors or out!
THE MAINERS: Space is a huge benefit of living in Maine. You’ve done such a beautiful job curating yours. Your home is a lovely mix of old and new, and yet Periscope is decidedly modern. How do you merge the two styles?
ARIEL: Well, in many ways it seems like an obvious way to go. When you inherit items, and can be selective about which you hold onto, then the blending of old and new becomes pretty natural.
JAN: My father was an architect, coming from the Danish design world, so he and my mom already had an informed, selective taste. Over the years I’ve whittled my collection down from them to what suits me and fits with other pieces I’ve collected along the way. It’s a constant process of riffing.
ARIEL: I think we both have an inclination to temper the old with the new. Much of the older pieces are made of dark woods, but midcentury stuff started seeing a surge in lighter woods, and having a mix of the two keeps things balanced. I also really respond to the materiality of things, so texture, which is inherently different with aged than new things, plays a big part in how something feels to me. It’s nice to have smooth and shiny next to dinged and patina-ed.
THE MAINERS: I would imagine that owning a design store must be an exercise in restraint when it comes to decorating your own home. How do you decide when you have to have a piece from the store in your home?
JAN: Well, the practical answer is space! We’ve already got a furnished home, so anything that we newly acquire now has to be really spot on. There are also probably a few things from home that we could rotate out to make space for something new, but sometimes it’s hard to actually see what’s there and remember that you can reassess it. It’s easy to get so used to things that you don’t even truly see them anymore.
ARIEL: Which brings us back around to the merging of old and new. There are these chairs we carry at Periscope, a beautiful Børge Mogensen design from 1958, called the Spanish Chair, and I just lust after them. They’re gorgeous new, but they’re even better as they age. Somebody’s got to buy them new, but when you really want them is 20, 30, 40 years from now when the wood is all smoothed over and the leather is soft and creased from wear. Maybe this says something about quality and craftsmanship over other driving forces in deciding what to buy.
THE MAINERS: Your appreciation for craftsmanship is evident throughout your home. Ariel, has your life as an artist influenced the space you live in?
ARIEL: Honestly, this is the first home I’ve lived in where I haven’t been the dominant decorator slash creator! Jan already lived here, and I moved into his space. So in this situation the question points to how two people meld their sense of creating space together.
THE MAINERS: And how did that go for you two?
ARIEL: It’s a little slow and gentle. I don’t want to rush in and make changes too quickly, especially as we’re both people who feel strongly about our aesthetic choices, and we’re both incredibly stubborn.
But back to your previous question: I think I’ve always infused my living spaces with a bit of whimsy and pragmatic creativity—like, how can I creatively solve a storage problem? Could I use those gorgeous rocks I lugged home to prop up a shelf? I’ve always seen my living space as an extension of my sense of self, and it’s always functioned as a sort of “thinking” space for creative projects and my intellectual life—I try on ideas through doing and redoing, through iterating, through continual, progressive musing on the books I’m reading and the ideas they spur and the tactile results of that. Something I’ve made or found goes up on the wall and then comes down, or gets placed on a shelf, then moved, then moved again and combined with something else… That doesn’t happen so much in this house because the space begs to be left more uncluttered, and because I also have a studio in the house, which I’ve never had before, so much of that thinking process can happen in a more contained area.
THE MAINERS: Art—including your own—is so much of the soul of your home. Could you tell us about some of your favorite works? What advice would you give someone looking to start a collection?
JAN: Either the Red Devil over the fireplace, or the brush head guy I made that’s hanging in the stairwell.
ARIEL: I agree with both of those! I also have some pieces, both others’ and my own, tucked away in boxes that I’d love to unearth and put up, but since those aren’t up on the walls yet… I guess that makes me think, in terms of starting a collection, I’d say just buy what moves you. Support your artist friends, if you can, and have fun playing with proximity when placing pieces in your home. Move things around! Swap things out!
THE MAINERS: Outside of your art collection, do you have any other prized collections you can tell us about?
ARIEL: I’d probably say my jewelry. I used to wear lots of jewelry, all the time, but since moving back to Maine I’ve found I’m less adventurous that way. And now that I have a baby-almost-toddler, for whom jewelry equals toy, I’m not really wearing any at all. BUT I still have a great collection! Some of it inherited from my grandmother, some from my mother, and much of it found at thrift stores.
JAN: My motorcycles! I’ve got five. Not riding them as much as I’d like to be right now, but I’ll get back to it.
THE MAINERS: Where are you most at home inside your home, and why?
ARIEL: This isn’t what my heart would want to say, but it’s probably the kitchen. Since Lola was born I’ve spent more and more time in the kitchen, which is open to the dining room and living room. We basically hang out there all day, eating and cooking, yes, but also playing and working. I can usually get some computer work done at the counter or work on some small hand project at the dining table while caring for her. It’s an easy place for us both to be, occupied and relatively happy, for long stretches.
JAN: Sitting at the dining table in the middle of the great room. It’s central, and it’s just so open and light, I love it.
THE MAINERS: You both have long-time connections to Maine. Has your shared love of this place made its way into your aesthetic?
JAN: I think there’s an appreciation for simplicity and natural materials that we both share, especially for wood, and a certain color palette of blues, greens, and grays that we tend to both prefer.
ARIEL: That’s definitely true, and I’d add that we both like a little of the crusty funkiness of Maine, too. We like to make things from ocean detritus.
THE MAINERS: Simplicity is evident in your use of white throughout. Tell us more about color—or lack thereof in some cases—in your space.
JAN: The house was painted this slightly warm white when I moved in, and it’s perfect. A modern home like this, with such a high ceiling in the great room, and so many large windows… It just wants to be white, a clean palette to highlight outside, or allow whatever’s within the house to punctuate and stand out.
ARIEL: White walls, white ceiling, white trim: it’s clean, makes the space airy, and keeps it uncomplicated and unfussy. As for what goes in the house, I almost always tend toward what I’d call “easy” colors—naturals, mostly—with a little flare of red or neon here and there. Jan likes bolder colors in general.
THE MAINERS: What is a typical Sunday morning like in your house?
JAN: Well, I’m working seven days a week these days (on projects for Ogilvy), so if I’m lucky Sunday mornings bring a little respite with a brunch with family or friends before getting back on my computer for the day.
ARIEL: It’s true! We’re pretty much go, go, go here between running a small business, Lola, and Jan’s Ogilvy work. I’d like to think that Sundays could be precious, and maybe one day they will be again, but right now they’re like any other day. Lola gets us up early!
THE MAINERS: Speaking of Lola, how has having a baby influenced your space?
ARIEL: We’ve got a lot more stuff now! And lots more plastic. We’ve also shuffled rooms around a bit, sort of abandoning what has been our bedroom upstairs—this completely serene, tidy space—and moving downstairs into what had been the guest room. We haven’t even started on creating a room for Lola yet. We’ve hemmed and hawed about which room should be hers and finally decided that we’ll dismantle our shared studio space and make it her room.
JAN: This house wasn’t really built for a family. It hasn’t been obvious what room should be Lola’s. It’s a real sacrifice to give up our studio, but she’s obviously worth it!
FIND ARIEL + JAN HERE: