Antiques dealer/designer Sharon Mrozinski and architect Paul Mrozinski are a pair for the ages! Married for 34 years (and project collaborators for 40 years), they know a thing or two about unexpected challenges, risks, and a life of creativity.
They’ve covered a lot of territory in their life together, from running a B&B (bed and breakfast) out of an 18th-century sea captain’s house when they first moved from California to Maine. To helping to cofound a community farm. Or operating Paul’s old locally-supplied store and eatery TREATS in Wiscasset, Maine.
But those stories are only a tiny part of the picture. What makes Sharon and Paul’s story so inspiring is that they’ve managed to figure out what many strive for: a life that is inspired, considered, and adventurous.
Kinship + Craft corresponded with Sharon and Paul from their part-time home in France about the creative life they have built together and Marston House, their architectural design and antiques business based on the island of Vinalhaven, Maine. Their insights are proof that there’s no single way to live your life — the key is to simply listen to your heart.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Photographs by Buff Strickland.
Building the life you want to live
K+C — For years, you’ve been building and putting your own personal stamp on the life you share together. From raising children, running multiple businesses, traveling, and working on creative projects together, could you tell me how your collaborative creative work initially started?
S — Paul is a great listener with an engaged heart. I discovered early on that he could read my heart or knew what my heart felt and would work with that. Covid isolation has given me the most time to really appreciate this relationship we have. I have always felt it, but I realize now, with no distractions like clients or to-do lists, how unique we are. Twenty-four hours a day of togetherness, and we are still impressed and surprised by one another. The secret perhaps is allowing each other to be.
P — When I started my practice in Central Coast, California, I worked with a young builder who had previously worked with Sharon at the IBM office in Monterey, California, when she moved to California in the late 1960s. Sharon and her then-husband had a home in Carmel Valley with a serious site problem. She called the builder, who told her that she needed the professional advice of an architect, and he knew one who had just started his practice. Maybe he could help. I was that architect. Sharon and I worked together on her project; we worked together quite well. We completed the project in 1978 and occasionally would see each other on the road. Our romance began in 1980. We started with that small project at her home in Carmel Valley and have now worked together for forty years on many design projects, antique’s fair booths, residential for ourselves and clients, projects in California, Maine, Massachusetts, England, and France.
K+C — Wow!
Both Sharon and I saw in each other, and in our relationship, a fulfillment of a dream. That dream was to be with someone with whom you shared everything. There is no separation between work and play; this may sound exhausting, “What! No time away from the office?“ But we never looked at it that way. It is more like there is no office; there is life. You have total freedom to make your life the way you want it to be. We planned our life to include fulfilling dreams, goals, fantasies, achieving professional and personal goals. It was also about paying the bills, raising the children, having fun, and working hard to achieve our goals and make our life together the best that we could imagine.
I remember, as a young apprentice to that architect in Salinas, I was given my “pink slip“ [notice to leave the job] with no advanced warning. I was 31 years old, and at the time, I was excited. Now, I could do whatever I wanted to do to create my life. I had freedom! I still look back at that as a pivotal point in my life. Freedom! I had no one to blame but myself if things went badly!
Sharon and I had this life concept from the beginning of our relationship.
Both Sharon and I saw in each other, and in our relationship, a fulfillment of a dream. That dream was to be with someone with whom you shared everything.Paul Mrozinski
When hearts align
K+C — Looking back, what personal qualities and skills have helped you build such an intertwined, creative life together?
S — Honesty and love; each is essential. You must love what you are doing. It is also a “red flag” when you are not loving whatever you are doing. It is essential to be honest about this. If there is something you do not like, tell one another. I am extremely edited, and I immediately know what I do not like or want.
I am not normally negative, so I move forward easily, trusting myself discovering the unknown … to know.
Paul is a natural student and loves learning. I am neither. I have always preferred listening to my own heart without anyone influencing my thinking; not easy to live with. Fortunately, my parents gave me, and Paul gives me the freedom to feel and to fight for what I want or don’t. I was always allowed to disagree. My heart is always engaged first, and my head is last.
I depend completely on Paul’s knowledge and technical skills. Our hearts are aligned. I honestly believe we are each other’s “better half.” Our respect for one another is tremendous. I have been allowed to discover and make mistakes.
K+C — And Paul, what would you say?
P — We have immense respect for each other. We trust each other’s opinions, ability to make decisions without fear and we both work hard and have the ability to get things done. But we also have, without discussing our roles, settled into our roles. There are aspects of our professional life together that I prefer doing and parts that Sharon prefers. The things I do, she would rather not do and the same for me, parts she does I leave to her. This makes for a great harmonious relationship with very little if any micro managing. This also applies to our personal life. I think the skill that we have is the ability to visualize. We can visualize a solution, trust our intuition and trust each other. There is no fear only optimism. Doubt is something we never deal with.
Adventure and beyond! (But the practical, too)
K+C —It seems there’s always an element of adventure in the background in the making of your life together. What has drawn you to the places you’ve lived?
P — Beauty and opportunity, we moved to Maine to start a new life together and raise our children in a four-season climate. Sharon [had] dreamed of moving to Maine since she was a child. Growing up in Chicago, I loved the seasons, spring, autumn, snow, the beach.
In 1986, while on a month-long vacation with our four children and buying trip for Sharon’s [first antiques] shop Tancredi and Morgan in Carmel Valley, California, we found our 18th century home. It was vacant. We loved the village of Wiscasset and saw this home as an opportunity to renovate, establish an antiques business, Bed and Breakfast, and I could begin my practice in Maine. We said, “Let’s do it!” It was impulsive, but again, we trusted our intuition and left California in May 1987.
We bought [our home in] France in 1999. We visited this region in France to buy for the shops, Marston house and TREATS. One night, out to dinner and leaving the restaurant, we saw a falling shooting star. It was a significant omen. The next day we met with a realtor and toured about five properties. The one we fell in love with was not done up or redone. It was raw with potential and an incredible view, and the price was right! Plus, we knew the apartment had great possibilities.
Our properties in Apt were an opportunity to build rentals that would generate revenue in France to pay French bills. We would rather put our money to work than let it sit in a bank. Stock market investments were no fun and did not work for us. We preferred hands-on investments like property and antiques.
K+C — Likewise, what was it about the creative projects you’ve undertaken that initially drew you to them, whether they’re architectural, interior/antique collaborations with clients, or working with local artisans?
S — Paying the bills was always necessary, and we decided that our investments would pay for themselves. Everything we did had to pay for itself. That required our willingness and innate abilities to know what was important to us and the community we were adopting and adding to.
P — I think that you must make a distinction between design commissions and independent projects that are self-initiated. Both types of projects do have similar selection criteria but normally happen under different financial constraints. It can be difficult to take on an independent project when the financial resources are not there. That presented another set of challenges that required an alternate creative road. I agree with Sharon that our self-initiated projects must pay their way. The commissioned design follows a different set of criteria.
- What is its physical location?
- Considering our bi-country life, can we provide the client with the professional service required to execute the project?
- What is the timetable?
- Can we get excited about the project?
- Are we emotionally, mentally compatible with the client?
- Do we have the same design goals?
We have not taken on projects “just for the money. “ This is dangerous. We’ve also never had a problem finding artisans to help with our projects. Selecting or deciding to take a commission has never depended on whether we could find artisans or tradespeople to execute our design.
K+C — Are there still times when you surprise each other while working on something, creatively or otherwise?
S — I am never and always surprised how easily we work together. We are like two peas in a pod. This does not mean we agree on everything, we don’t. However, we both make really good decisions. I know deeply and immediately when something is not right and we adjust or reject it. Paul knows what can and cannot be done. His technical and architectural skills are finely tuned and spatially we are in sync.
P — I don’t think that I am surprised, I am grateful. Sharon and I have worked together for forty years, we have sculpted our respect for each other and the skills that individually we bring into a project. Each project is unique, the solutions are unique and the design process is always respectful of the others’ design or intuitive side. I know and respect Sharon more than I do a client so the solution is always respective of her input before a presentation is made to the client.
A life of creativity starts with life’s pleasures
K+C — I understand that you’re keen to slow down and enjoy leisure activities more these days. What do you both usually wake up looking forward to?
S — I wake up excited to get out and into nature. I love finding beauty or treasures, whether it is in nature or at a flea market. I can get as excited about an abandoned nest or branch I find as I can about a piece of homespun linen or a clay pitcher.
Then we bring it home and place it alongside something else or other things we have found and create something beautiful. So, hunting, finding and displaying, and turning a sale… These continue to wake me up in the morning and give me lots to look forward to. Making our home and shop beautiful naturally is pure delight. I seem to never tire of being in love with nature and beauty.
P — “Breakfast.“
I wake up excited to get out and into nature. I love finding beauty or treasures, whether it is in nature or at a flea market. I can get as excited about an abandoned nest or branch I find as I can about a piece of homespun linen or a clay pitcher.Sharon Mrozinski
Architecture, Antiques, and Artisans
K+C — Paul, you’ve worked as an architect in California, Maine, and France and are conscious and respectful of various traditional architectural styles, building methods, and materials. How do you typically approach your projects, and in what ways — if at all — does it differ from place to place?
P — Each project has a base list of criteria and control points:
- Who are the clients?
- What are their objectives, their design program?
- What is the site? Orientation to sun, wind, view?
- What is the feel of the neighborhood? What is the local vernacular?
- What are the resources available? Craftsmen, artisans, materials, building methods.
K+C — (Also, Paul) What resources do you refer to in the design process? Are there elements of exploration and discovery?
P — My primary resource is myself — 45 years of design, making decisions, mistakes, learning techniques, observing, traveling, reading history. But the design process also includes research of systems, heating, solar, heat pumps, insulation, all that technical stuff that goes into the process. Form and function come from years of experience. But I do have a treasured resource that wraps up all the emotional, historical, [and] people considerations in the design process. A client, older and wiser, who became a dear friend and who unfortunately passed away suddenly, gave me a copy of “A Pattern Language” when we completed our first project together in Berkeley, California. I recommend this read to all designers of the environment, whether it be urban landscape, planning, or a residential project big or small.
K+C — Sharon, what sparked the idea to collect and sell antiques? Has the way you approach it changed over the last 40 years?
S — I discovered in my early 20’s that I enjoyed buying things that I loved and often could not afford to keep. So I would sell when a friend complimented me or asked where I got it. I had a friend who sold a small handful of really great clothing and accessories — this was before the big fashion week shows, etc. (Back in the ’60s and earlier, men would travel with their cars full of samples and take orders.) He always had clothing samples at the order season’s end slightly worn or maybe soiled. I was the sample size, so he would give me the sample pieces, and what I didn’t want, I would try to sell. It was fantastic. I discovered and kept what I really loved, and what I didn’t, I sold.
Then in furnishing my first home in Carmel Valley, I did the same. The discovery of knowing what I liked was essential, and if I didn’t need or want to live with my finds, I could sell them and make a little money. The approach is the same, but the platform has changed since opening my first shop in 1980. We have never been collectors. But we only buy what we love and could live with forever.
K+C — (Also, Sharon) In what ways have places and people (clients, artisans, other creatives) influenced your design and antique work, and what resources do you refer to in the design process?
S — In nature, I am as much bird as a human. My eyes never rest, seeing everything. I feel the same when hunting antiques, my eyes are searching for treasures. I rarely shop with anyone other than Paul; I am focused and hunting.
There were always a few stars in this business [such as places, or in the Americana or French antique decorating arts, or magazine editors including Mary Emmerling, Martha Stewart, Emelie Tolley]. We loved to shop the stars and see what they have discovered. People like these magically gave sparkle to some things we may have missed while hunting. They still exist and inspire us to shine the light on the things whose rough edges or repaired beauty go overlooked. We always loved bottom feeding from the best.
I do not look for trends in magazines etc. I prefer to go out antiquing with no idea or hopes of finding something in particular. When a dealer asks what I am looking for, I literally have no idea; my heart is the hunter.
K+C — You’ve both collaborated with local creatives and artisans. How did these collaborations initially start and how have they evolved over time?
P — Supporting local artisans and the local community is always necessary. I can visualize, and I have the gift of being able to draw to execute a design on paper. I think that if I can draw it, I can find someone to build it. The search for the artisan always starts with references from another designer or another maker.
I do not understand the current default of “looking online.“ Get away from that computer, go out into your community and tap its resources. The artisans are likely there; it is your job to find them.
K+C — What advice would you give to someone who wants to work with local artisans on bespoke projects?
S — We love working with creatives, especially those who have found themselves and love making their art.
I imagine each creative has a tool box that is filled with all they likely need. But if I can offer a tool it would be to trust that inner voice, the heart or whatever it is that fills your heart. Let go of those tools or anything that do not make your heart sing.
P — Select the best, give them a concept and get out of their way. We have learned that artisans would rather create than be told the details. They are the craftspeople, they know their craft and the best way to reach a stable, structurally sound solution. It is important to give up control.
One for luck
K+C — I’m sure you’ve inspired many people to live a life that is entirely their own — inspired, considered, and adventurous! Do you have any advice for those of us still attempting this?
S — We are each unique. My suggestion is to follow your heart and/or intuition. Ask yourself, if you are on the fence, can I live with this decision? These are our native guides. If we ignore them or dull them, we lose them. While growing up in the desert, where I was allowed to wander, I discovered that my imagination and wonder were ignited, and only nature continues to have this effect on me.
Being in and with nature has always been my best guide. It has always grounded me and connected me to everything that has ever resonated with me.
Technology goes entirely against my highly wired body. However, I am extremely grateful for it allowing these types of connections.
P — Do not be afraid to follow your heart. Don’t focus on money. Create a good product that you can stand behind; you will be happy and success will follow. No project is too small. Make that small project big. Use that opportunity to design. Lessons are learned — client relations, budget management, build your craftspeople network. There is a lot to be learned. I started with kitchen/bathroom remodels, and I still do them. Even Bruce Springsteen started by playing at bowling alleys, shopping centers, Battle of the Bands events, and fairgrounds. You must log your 10,000 hours.