By Casey Peacock | Photography by Chelsea Briggs
As you open the door to Stefanie Mahr Damien’s workshop, she calls from across the room, “Come on in, I am just finishing up a valance!” Follow her voice through an endless maze of fabric rolls and old furniture to find her sitting at a sewing machine.
A young designer
Damien’s love for design started young. She was learning how to sew at just 11 years old, and often found herself rearranging her parents’ living room. She landed her first sewing job while just a senior in high school.
It wasn’t until 1989 that she was able to take her talent and turn it into a career while living in Salem, Massachusetts. With the anticipation of being a stay at home mother, she wanted to do something that would allow her to be home. So she started taking appointments for alterations of prom dresses and wedding dresses. While living in a town like Salem, where costumes were popular and in high demand, she began designing them and sewing them, and it wasn’t long before Damien’s business took off.
“I’ve reinvented myself several times.” She says. She’s had several different storefronts and workshops throughout Massachus- setts but back in 2015, she moved to the Lewiston Auburn area. That’s when she decided to open up Refresh, and it has since blossomed into what it is today.
Setting the stage
Refresh is much more than just stitching dresses and sewing window valances, though. Damien also works
with houses that are getting ready to hit the real estate market. For a house on the market to appeal to the broadest audience, staging a home that is ready to sell helps the house sell faster and for the most amount of money.
“You want the house to have character, not personality,” she says. So when getting ready to stage a house, all personal items are removed, and Damien begins working on her to-do list. She cre- ates a color palette that flows from room to room, and through- out the home, she places items that would help the homebuyer see it as their own.
Senior Move Manager
With strong attention to detail and her organized and calm de- meanor, Damien is also a self-taught senior move manager. This means she works with senior citizens who are starting the process of downsizing their belongings or who are getting ready to move into something smaller, like assisted living or a retirement com- munity.
Damien got started in move management in 2018 while assisting a cou- ple in staging their home for the market. It turned out they needed a lot more help than just selling the house and soon realized she could help them through the entire moving process. It made Damien realize that there may be more people out there who are too busy or don’t have family around and who could also use her help. Now nearly 20% of Refresh’s business is comprised of senior move management.
When Damien starts a new project, she begins by putting togeth- er a to-do list. Her list consists of organizing yard sales and doing small touch up painting. She helps to decide what household items will move to the new home, and what things can sell or be donated. She comes up with a floor plan for the new house and is even present on the move-in day to direct movers on where to place the furniture. Even the smallest of details, like picking out new bedding, is all part of Damien’s list.
For a recent client, Damien had to get creative. Her client wanted a space of his own, and while moving into something much more modest than the previous home, her client wasn’t sure it would be feasible. It was important for Damien to make sure her client had his space, a spot that was just for him, and that’s how the idea came to be about transforming a walk-in closet into a “man cave!”
“It’s a gratifying feeling to help those who need it,” She says.
Making her clients feel as much at home as possible is a goal Damien aims to carry through with each client. She says it takes some getting creative and understands that no two clients’ needs are just the same, and some may be challenging, but she is confident of finding a solution that works for even the most unique situations.
Damien also finds the time to host several classes at her workshop throughout the week. These workshops freshen up the commodities they already have lying around the house.
Damien and her partner Karen Pelletier, offer workshops on crafts like sign making and painting furniture as well as uphol- stery classes with house- hold items like dining chair covers and footstools. She hosts a BYOP/BYOB, or “Bring your own project/ bring your own beverage,” and there’s the Color Your World Wednesday event hosted at Sherwin Wil- liams, where you can bring pictures of your current projects, and get insights to different color palettes specific to your project.
Putting the pieces together
Refresh is a lot of things—everything from window treat- ments to color analysis to upholstery, and painting projects, senior downsizing, and home staging. It’s genuinely unique in itself, but what sets Refresh apart is undoubtedly Damien herself.
She no longer stitches dresses or takes on alterations. Still, when she isn’t working with senior clients or staging a house, she is sewing pillow throws and furniture slipcovers or working on repair projects like boat seating and boat coverings.
“Design is like a puzzle, and you just have to find all the pieces,” Damien says.
A project favorite thus far was the opportunity to work on the reproduction of an authentic Chippendale fabric on an actual Chippendale Sofa. She’s says it was the most mathematically and physically challenging reupholstery project she’s ever had.
“It was a great puzzle!” She exclaims.
It’s real passion she puts into the projects she brings to life, and with her enormous desire to help others, Damien has one goal in mind: “to you help you bloom wherever you are planted.”