Stefanie Mahr Damien moved to Maine in 2015 after falling in love with an Auburn man. She started Refresh, an interior design, staging and sewing company now in the Pepperell Mill, the next year.

She talks design, sewing corn costumes, selling Jaguars and gently steering people away from a case of the color regrets.

Name: Stefanie Mahr Damien

Age: 55

Hometown: Auburn

How did Refresh get its start? My passion has been sewing since I was 11 and asked my mom to use her sewing machine. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, then moved to Wisconsin between my junior and senior year of high school. That year I had my first “design sewing client” and made a dress for her. I wanted to ski, but didn’t have a ski coat, so mailed away for a kit to make one.

I moved to Massachusetts in 1984, because I saw the ocean for the first time when I was 12, and decided that someday I would live near it. I settled in Salem and was married in 1988. In 1989, I wanted to be a stay-home mom, so I started Stefanie’s Stitchery in a spare bedroom. Word of mouth quickly spread and I created wedding dresses, bridesmaid and prom dresses, costumes and did alterations for the neighborhood. I wanted to have curtains and full-length drapes for my home, but they were very expensive, so I learned how to make them. It was great to make extra money and be home to raise Zoe and Hannah. When my youngest daughter started full-day preschool, I opened my 400-square-foot shop called the Interior Design Workshop, home of Stefanie’s Stitchery.

A few years later I moved my shop to the historic district in downtown Salem. I worked on historic window treatments for some of the most beautiful homes in Salem. I also did work for other designers and the Peabody Essex Museum. We grew to six employees and took over all three floors in that building. We created a 60-plus artist cooperative on the first floor, sewing and upholstery workshop on the second floor and classroom and office space on the third floor.

Funkiest costume you were asked to sew in Salem: It’s a toss up between the ear of corn that I made for my 6-month-old baby Zoe and the Pink Power Ranger I made for her when she was 7. For the Peabody Essex museum, I recreated an oriental silk undershirt and silk jacket with velvet collar outfit for a mannequin that was carved by Samuel McIntire and used in the museum exhibit.

You took a few years off your business to sell high-end vehicles — is there a skill set that applies to both selling Jaguars and design? Attention to detail is the key in working with both high-end vehicle and design customers, and really anyone. You have to be a very good listener and communicator. You have to let the client know that they are the most important piece of the transaction. I believe that everyone has an invisible sign hanging around their neck that says, “Make me feel important,” and I do that both on and off the job.

What sort of jobs has Refresh had in the area and who are the typical clients? Clients include Realtors and downsizing homeowners who want to make the most amount of money when they sell their home, and sell it quickly. I come in for a couple hours and make a “to-do” list for each room. I suggest the client keeps the list on the refrigerator, so they can cross off each item when it’s done. If they need help with the list, I have a husband who loves to help with the “honey-do list.” We can provide whatever assistance that is necessary to get the house on the market as soon as possible. And provide design and move-in assistance when they get to their new home.

I worked with Jim Marston, owner of Uncle Andy’s Digest and LA Metro magazine, who is also a member of my BNI (Business Network International) networking group. I gave his offices a Refresh makeover by making new drapes and cornice boards, and bringing out the super hero personality of the employees. Jim is very involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, so I found blue fabric at the Fabric Warehouse with the star symbol to tie in with that and Captain America. Was a super project!

Then there are my sewing and upholstery students, who I really enjoy spending time teaching at our new workshop at 550 Lisbon St. in Lewiston.

Does the Maine aesthetic differ from Boston, Ohio or Wisconsin? Ohio, Wisconsin and Maine aesthetics really embrace the outdoors, and there seems to be a relaxed, casual, country feeling. I find Boston is more contemporary and modern.

Someone’s sitting down in class to sew their own drapes for the first time. One piece of advice: Be sure that the fabric you select works well with the window treatment design you want to do. Good design incorporates the size of fabric design repeat and the way a fabric hangs. It will make a big difference in how the project turns out.

You also volunteer three hours the last Wednesday of the month at the Auburn Sherwin-Williams giving paint color consultations. Ever had to talk anyone out of a very questionable color or design idea? Selecting a room color based on a tiny sample is challenging. One customer pulled out the brightest yellow/orange sample, almost the color of the middle of the road line color! I said that was not a good choice and we landed on a light, buttery yellow. The thing about selecting colors is that they need to create a palette that flows from room to room. You can’t just think of your house as separate spaces. The colors and rooms need to relate to one another.

Seems like TV home shows these days are all about gray. If you could look into your design crystal ball, what’ll be the hot new color after gray? I think that pale yellow/gold will be the next hot color. Specifically the color of butter, to the golden hues of a sunset, with a bit of gray/green. Shades of yellow work well with gray and will make a good transition color.

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Stefanie Mahr Damien recently moved her business, Refresh, into space in the Pepperell Mill in Lewiston. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)


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