Sharon has been following her intuition and her dreams for her entire life. With her husband Paul, she founded Marston House, on the central coast of Maine. They stock the store with their finds from France, where they are currently staying and have been spending half the year since the late ’90s. It is a life run on the principles of creativity, intuition, and beauty in all things.
How has this weird Covid time been for you?
The days fly by here for us too, just like the States, but our time is spent on us two. Walks and yoga and long talks and observations on the ancient beauty and the profound differences that is these two countries, USA and France.
Growing Up In Arizona
You have had a journey from Arizona to Maine and France. Nature seems to be a recurring theme. How do you relate to nature and what is its position in your life?
Indeed, nature is very high on my priority list. I grew up in the desert and loved everything about it. It was still possible to farm and ranch in the ’40s to the middle ’60s when I was growing up there and my dad sold gas from his station or delivered fuel to the farmers and, most of all, ranchers.
In fact, the first time we came to the south of France, early ’80s, I thought these beautiful, tanned, healthy men reminded me of the ranchers from my Arizona childhood. We moved to Arizona when I was less than 1 because my sister had asthma and Arizona was the place to live for clean air then. Hard to imagine now. I would not return. In fact, it was hard to return to visit Mom before her death in 2008.
I loved the desert then. It was great for an imaginative mind and life. I loved being a “little Indian.” My parents left me to wander and play and I found the town dump was my favorite, filled with treasures for me to make use of. At that time it was jars of all sizes for making and selling for pennies, skin products and creams that I mixed with wild plants, mud or clay of the desert. I always loved making things and a little bit of money here and there. I made mud brownies and sold them, too — just neighbors supporting this little wild child.
There were 20 years spent in Carmel Valley since leaving Arizona as a young adult. It had the river and the farming and the open space I needed with the ocean just a short drive away. We had traveled to Paris over New Year 1983 and stayed with a friend, house-sitting an apartment for the month of January 1983. It would ultimately change our lives completely.
Following a Dream to Live in Maine…and France
Then in 1987 Paul and I followed a dream of mine to live in Maine. We started our Marston House in the home we bought there in Wiscasset and Paul continued on with his architecture practice until he opened TREATS in 1993. I was pulled by the beauty of the seasons — the autumn and the snow. Things I had never experienced in Arizona or California and I had only seen photo postcards that someone would send to us from Maine when I was 5 or so. I would save and study them, digesting the natural differences. I longed to go. Paul loved the early clapboard-clad simple home structures. We would wake the kids after a snow storm and grab the sleds to go sledding down Tucker Hill, no longer allowed. We would skate the frozen lakes, or at least the girls and I would. The guys would use brooms or anything to support them so they could stay upright.
In 1999 we came to France to buy French homespun peasant fabrics for my Americana clientele and ended up switching to only French furnishings and inventory. We ended up buying our first purchase here in Bonnieux at that time. It is a long lucky story for another day perhaps, proving that anything is possible; if you want it badly enough you will figure a way.
This was the best thing we have done, we both think, and it is now our sanctuary against the COVID-19 storm in the States. We are grateful each day.
Maine and Bonnieux: “Simple, hard-working, peasant-type places”
How would you contrast where you live in Maine with southern France?
In Maine we have the ocean which we are literally on top of now since 2016 when we bought on Vinalhaven. Our foundation is literally a granite slab in the salt water Carvers Pond which our home was set down on once the original structure The Toll/Gate House burned down in 1906. It is now our home and shop — Marston House Vinalhaven on Main Street.
Just across Main Street is the ocean and the working harbor of the fishermen. We are about 1 hour 15 minutes from the mainland in Rockland by ferry. It was home to a granite quarry in the 1800s where Italian stone cutters were brought over to cut some of America’s greatest architectural and decorative granite pieces.
In Bonnieux, France, we are at the top of the hill in the village and we have the ancient Luberon hills to wander freely and explore on a daily basis. The ancient trails and early stone walls give us hope for our future in America, knowing the history and imagining the blood that was shed in these ancient medieval hilltop-perched villages from the royal conquers to the religious wars and everything horrifying in between. Whether you had great riches or not, everything was up for grabs and the battles were horrific.
The places we have chosen to live are each simple, hard-working, peasant-type places. Neither of these places are easy, but their beauty and their peasant souls appeal deeply to both of us. I specialize in peasant things, especially peasant homespun linen cloth. This is the stuff that keeps me humbled and happy. Each piece comes with its maker’s hand, with his or her signature that if you dig deeply enough you find. This is the appeal of Maine and of France. Digging deeply is all you ever need to do to get to know all you need know about a place or a person, in fact. We love digging deeply.
In France, we read none of the news. It is a constant battle of the minds. We are able to be sort of 5-year-olds still. We are not fluent although we can get through just about everything. Paul is better than I am. I just don’t want to work hard enough to be fluent. I prefer feeling much younger than my years pretending not to be older than 5.
“I have always dressed in natural fabrics…easy clothing where I never have to look in a mirror”
You have a wonderful way of dressing, elegant but down to earth. Tell us a bit about your style.
Thank you for your compliment. I have always dressed in natural fabrics — synthetics are just not healthy and I knew this intuitively. Easy clothing where I never have to look in a mirror. When we were given a choice and chose to stay here in France and not return to the USA I had no summer clothes here. Paul had a few pairs of shorts which I stole one pair, rolled up the legs, cinched up the waist, and threw on a cotton shirt. A friend on VH recently asked if we needed anything and I asked her to go into my closet and pull a pair of sandals, 2 shirts — short sleeves, and 2 summer dresses. She wondered and asked for descriptions of which ones of my summer wardrobe I wanted and I said “Any of them; they are each me,” and it is true.
“To me, elegance is simplicity”
I dress like I live and I dress like I furnish my home and shop. I only buy what I love. It is who I am. I was always more of a tomboy growing up and have always loved men’s style much more than women’s. I am not much of a girly girl. To me, elegance is simplicity. Dressing up or down should take no more time than a shower does. I wore all my boys’ clothes once they grew out of them…
Were you into dressing when you were young, or is this something that has come to you later in life?
I have always dressed easily and with confidence. I think given the freedom and independence I had as a child gave me confidence in my decisions. My intuition is my guide, and I always naturally listen to it. My decisions are fearless, perhaps an unintentional gift of my parents. In Arizona summers, clothing was not essential so I wore as little as possible. In Maine winters I got to wear several layers at once which I enjoyed as a new experience of layering. In France we brought most of our winter clothing in 1999 when we bought here since we are normally only here winters. And I continue to layer in Maine, and now only summers I layer my linens. Maine has taught me to always have a layer or more in case the weather changes, as it often does. We love the storms and weather systems of Maine. France is similar. Whatever it is, it is determined.
Secret to Happiness in a Long-Term Marriage
How long have you and Paul been married? What is your secret to happiness in a long-term marriage?
Paul and I were married in 1987 in Carmel Valley with our blended family and friends…ten years after meeting one another. Find someone you adore and make certain they adore you too. Honesty and laughter are HUGE. It is essential to be able to laugh and cry together. We surprise one another, we read to one another, we share our kids, our grandkids, our projects, our ups and our downs, and we give permission to disagree and to speak our deepest truths to one another. And maybe most important is to take nothing personally. I believe we came into our relationship as whole people not looking for a “better half”.
We literally love spending 24 hours a day together. Paul and I are normally close enough to touch. My parents were great mentors for me and I noticed from a very young age that if my parents were close enough to touch they were always touching. It was a lovely thing to witness growing up and knowing that it is possible.
Plant-Based Diet and Intermittent Fasting
How do you take care of yourself? What are you eating? Do you do yoga, meditate, exercise?
I have always been strong physically and athletic. My mom was the same. I loved climbing trees and hanging from my knees. I used to run a lot. I treat myself more softly now. We take long walks daily, and yoga and lots and lots of stretching and breathing.
We forage in the wild. We changed gears in 2005 diet-wise. We had always eaten well, as adults. Almost never going out for a meal. We both love to prepare meals together with friends and family and this is what we have almost always done with few exceptions. We love to buy directly from the farmers that grow our food and we started that back in late ’70s in CA, in our other lives.
As we learned more in mid-2000, we gave up flour and meat and pasteurized dairy products and all processed sugars — anything changed by man was out. Neither of us have ever had weight problems. We both are the same weight and size that we were as teens. So we know our bodies well and pay close attention.
This year with the Covid pandemic we decided to fast after a late lunch. We eat a late breakfast after a long walk, a late lunch after 2. We are plant-based and have been since 2005 when we still had a bit of meat when we knew the farmer and felt like it. We gave up on meat completely a year or so ago and we seem to feel the best we have ever felt. We have a fresh veggie soup Paul makes for breakfast around 10 am with homemade “life changing” gluten-free seeds-and-nuts bread I bake.
Veggies fresh picked from the farmer, no chemicals, raw salads for lunch, with as much heat as we can find in greens like rocket, mustard greens, hot radishes, also adding broccoli, beets, cilantro, and kale. I have kombucha and I make our kimchi for soups and side dishes and ferment our lemon peels for salads. Little goes to waste here.
I have never enjoyed alcohol, sadly, even wine. Paul adores his French wines especially from this region, including the Rhône. I indulge my body and head with essential oils from this region of Provence and Tuscany that we get while here and travels to monasteries. It is my best health secret. My most favorite is Bergamot oils from the Sénanque Monastery near us and just beyond Gordes in the Luberon region. I started out and still use Vibrant Blue Oils blends by Jodi Cohen which I believe are the best you can buy in America.
The Gift of Parents in Love
What is more important to you today than when you were young?
My parents. I had no idea how important their gift of love of each other was to me until I discovered how many people are not nearly as fortunate to witness this gift.
Eating fresh, organic, and wild veggies; music, Pauls loves music; living in wonderment each day. Learning the gift and freedom of having little to no control over anything. Going to bed and waking up each morning with an open mind and open agenda. The laughter which I always took for granted.
It seems your life and your work and your relationship all overlap, and they all increase each other. So it is not a question of life/work balance where one takes from the other, but they all work towards the betterment of the other. Not exactly corporate. Did you design your life this way? Were your parents like that?
My dad had his own business, a gas station; my mom raised us two kids and took care of meals and cleaning, etc —pretty standard for that generation. Paul and I appreciated and loved collaborating on everything and without intention made it possible in our lives. I think it was something that we simply did naturally. We complement each other’s strengths and overlap well. He is my favorite person in the world.
Listening to the “Inner Guide”
Tell us about your intuition and how you follow it, and is it stronger now than when you were younger?
I realized if I checked in with my young self and if I listened I discovered an inner guide. I learned as I aged that inner guide is closer to my heart than my head. For instance, I worked for Joseph Magnin in fashion when I moved from Arizona in mid ’60s to CA. I was moved quickly into management of Sportswear and Accessories. One day, Joseph Magnin approached me telling me he wanted me to manage a new store he was opening. I was about to turn 21 years old and I intuitively knew this was not my journey.
I turned the offer down and left the company soon after. I loved fashion but I saw all these women young and old dedicated to fashion… I knew I wanted more.
“Beauty is in all things of the heart”
What does beauty, in all things, mean to you?
Beauty is in all things of the heart, truth, clarity, natural, purposeful, of nature, positive spirit. The spirit of all things, the magic of wonder, a happy child, the beauty of a tear, a smile, everything made with love.
Activating the heart, touch, listen, being there for someone, being there for everyone.
Ambition to Create a Better World
What are your current goals and ambitions?
To stay healthy and to keep our immune systems functioning at high levels with good, fresh foods from healthy earth sources, to continue to do our hearts’ best work and find beauty everywhere and share as much as possible. To save the US Post Office so we can vote by mail, bring big changes to our country, to rid it of Trump and END the electoral college, getting rid of elections won by most cash raised. Ending slavery (under any name) and prisons and walls and racism forevermore. I believe that we are all equal.
I believe we each must come back for another life a different color than we were in our last life. We must walk a mile in each other’s shoes. Money can be power only if we allow it to be and the root of evil. We must all go back to the garden, to be peasants and healthy again in order to save Mother Earth.
To reach out and help and not ignore all that are suffering. To feel for the world and find a way to help the suffering earth and its people and species.
What are you reading?
All photos by Greta Rybus