The Architect and the Collector

By Jenn Rose Smith

When Sharon met Paul Mrozinski in 1977, neither one of them knew that their lives would be changed forever. A small disaster involving a collapsed driveway initially brought them together, but it’s their uncanny ability to work creatively side-by-side that has made them inseparable ever since. Sharon (a designer and antique dealer) and Paul (an architect) now own several properties in Maine and France. Each one is imbued with this couple’s signature style — a gorgeous mix of Paul’s thoughtful renovations paired with Sharon’s impeccable eye for textiles and antiques. We spent an afternoon with Paul and Sharon in their Vinalhaven Island home to talk about fate, love, and how together, they designed the life of their dreams.

photographed by buff strickland

How did you two first meet? Give us your “meet cute”!

Sharon: It’s a long story, and a metaphor of our life to be…  I was happily married (or so I thought) to a man who I eventually realized was fighting hard to control me. We had suffered a terrible seven year drought in Carmel Valley when the rains came and our entire driveway washed downhill. A builder friend suggested we hire an architect to help rebuild, and recommended Paul. I thought we could build a garage on stilts where the old driveway had washed away…  but Paul quickly discovered there was no solid earth to be found to a depth of more than 30 feet.

So the old driveway became a total restructuring of my life…

Paul, what was your first impression of Sharon?

Paul: I knew I was meeting a potential client but she was special. From that first meeting to today, Sharon was/is honest and clear in her needs. I knew that we could work together on what appeared to be an uncomplicated project. There was no way of predicting how this little project would change our lives and bind us together forever.

And Sharon, what were your first thoughts about Paul?

Sharon: He was confident, fearless, a free thinker, and he took me immediately into a different building direction than I had imagined. He handed me the end of the tape measure and found me the perfect location for our new garage with apartment above. The idea was that it would be the “gatehouse”…  I later discovered he would become the gatekeeper.


So how long have the two of you been together? 

Sharon: We were both married and honored our relationships throughout our building project. We worked together with an ease that I had never before experienced…  he loved my creativity and ideas, and I loved his. We were both thrilled with the new building site and the direction it took. It was as though we’d always worked together…  he would tweak my ideas and I’d tweak his.

I don’t think it ever occurred to either of us that we were falling in love until the end of the project in the late fall of 1978. Giving him the last check and saying goodbye was extremely emotional and difficult for both of us…

The finished project was better than I could have ever imagined, and it was a wonderful collaboration…  it was as though he could read my mind. We began working together on our project in Sept 1977, and finally came together in 1982 after divorces. We married in 1987 just before moving to Maine.

Paul, tell us a little about your career as an architect. What types of projects do you love to work on?

Paul: I was an apprentice architect to a practice in Salinas California. After five years with this firm where I worked closely with the founder as his designer, I was terminated because of lack of work. There was no forewarning. One day I was out of employment. I welcomed this opportunity. I felt that now I was free to pursue my own career and I then would have no one but myself to depend on for my future. It was fantastic.

Soon after, in December of 1976, I passed my registration exams and Sharon was one of my first clients in 1977.

My projects were small. I never wanted to take a client that I was not able to devote time to and solve their problems. I needed to control the process. During my growth, I met great clients and had the opportunity to work on residential and commercial projects from L.A. to Berkeley. Two of my clients were men who I adored and respected and although they are both deceased, I think of them almost daily. Both offered advice that shaped my young life. One of them married us. 

I prefer working on the renovation of old buildings. I respect the old structures and am interested in their history. My work attempts to respect that history while introducing contemporary design to accent and show respect for the old. With the exception of structure, I do not try to replicate the old work. That was then, this is now.

So, the two of you have been a design team working together for many years now. Tell us a little about what you do in terms of design, and the different business ventures you have together:

Sharon: Since moving to Maine we’ve worked and been together 24 hours a day. We’ve had summer clients with Marston House and TREATS, as well as our own projects in Maine and Southern France. We now have five renovated apartments in France, as well as the new Marston House on Vinalhaven Island where we live above the shop. Normally Paul sees the living spaces clearly…  and I focus on what and where to organize and soften with textiles. Paul does all the hard heavy work and I play store and dress our spaces.

I’m extremely nosey, practical and opinionated and love knowing about his projects and being a part of them when I can…  he was extremely generous sharing each one with me. He sees spaces that honor the history of the home and the people who live in it…  I am always fascinated by his wisdom and vision. I have ideas that are often off the charts because I have no training or education and he has the ability to incorporate the good and explain to me why he can’t use others. His patience is never ending…  I give up and let go of ideas with great difficulty. He walks me through it without ever losing his patience. My Dad was very similar and patient with me…  I needed things explained before I could let go of the idea…  I was basically a difficult hard headed child and now the same as a woman! Paul calms me and shows me the way. He’s never threatened by or critical of my thoughts. He has told me that I was his favorite and most difficult client… and I continue to be.

That’s a huge compliment for me.

So you live half the year in Maine and half in Southern France. Not a bad set up! How has French culture influenced the way you live?

Sharon: Actually we live the same, eat the same, cook the same, dress the same (etc, etc) in France as we do here. We have great appreciation of the French culture, their love of family and feasting…  We were brought up in the 40’s and 50’s (me in Arizona and Paul in Chicago) and our families, cousins, aunts, and uncles and grand parents were our social network. People often say once they know we spend time in France, that they see its influence.

What’s your favorite thing about life in France?

Paul: The warmth of the people, the price of the food at the markets, and I love to drive on the roads of France. The French understand the rules of the road. There is no passing on the right!

And what do you love about Maine?

Sharon: We love the raw natural quality of Maine and its people…  The hard reality and the natural beauty of it all… now on Vinalhaven overlooking the water, it’s like living on a boat in a natural ocean preserve. We also love the native intelligence of the locals and their generosity. If you work hard they notice and accept you. They could care less about who you are or where you come from, where your Dad went to school or what he did for a living… generosity and acceptance is Maine.

Tell us a little about your egg collection. How many do you have? Where are they from?

Sharon: I love homes of any kind, and especially in nature. Nests were first because I would find them unoccupied while walking in the woods, etc. Then for a birthday, maybe 25 years ago in Maine, Paul found a wonderful collection of nests and their eggs with identification tags… I flipped. Then I found in an auction notice in Maine for an early collection of eggs, each numbered  with a small journal from the second half of 1800’s describing in detail what bird they were laid by and where they were found…  and a few years ago Paul gifted me a glass Victorian dome filled with eggs..

So in total, how many eggs? Hundreds…

As a design duo, the two of you have incredible style. Describe that style in five words or fewer:

Paul: Impossible to limit to five words. Our designs respond to the context of that project. I normally do the planning, then we consult and modify if necessary. I propose the design details and we consult. I prepare the technical drawings and work with the tradesmen. We visit the sites often, make changes and resolve design decisions that had been postponed for a variety of reasons.

We’ve bought and sold and lived with antiques throughout our adult lives. Furnishing our projects with old, loved and sometimes worn pieces is an important part for our style. We’re always on a tight budget so straight forward practical solutions are likely the result of that constraint. Most of the time it’s a blessing. Spending a lot of money does not always get you the best product.

Is there anything design-wise the two of you tend to disagree on?

Sharon: Paul has a much wider lens that he sees through…  mine is very edited. Paul will like things well designed especially contemporary design… and I sometimes do not like them or agree with him.

Paul, when did you know that Sharon was “the one”?

Paul: After we worked together on her project. I’d always visualized a partner that would be a partner, a business partner, a life partner, someone that you would share everything with, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I have that now and I am the luckiest guy in the world. After we worked together on that project, I knew that it was right for us and we were in for an unpredictable ride toward our future together.

And Sharon, what about you? When did you know?

Sharon: We started writing one another after our project was over…  In a way we were afraid to see one another again…  I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland and knew instinctively if I started to fall down the rabbit hole there would be no bottom… 

Do you two have “a song”?

Sharon: Well, it used to be  “Guilty” by Barbara Streisand and Barry Gibbs!!!!

Sharon, what do you admire bout Paul?

Sharon: His patience and his brilliance… He is a great cook (especially over the fire) and an incredible father.

And Paul, what do you admire about Sharon?

Paul: Everyday I love her and admire her more then the previous day. She is fascinating. 

Honesty and strength.

Yoga and stretching have always been difficult for me. I admire her flexibility. She bends and twists, it’s amazing.

I admire the way she dresses.

I love how she is able to engage people in conversation. (I find that a challenge for me.) Everyone loves her.

How do you keep the romance alive in your relationship?

Paul: Touch, touch all the time. Hold hands, walk next to each other, caress, kiss at any moment. Sharon and I were kissing in front of our Vinalhaven shop last week and after we stopped, I saw two twenty year olds walking towards us and laughing with approval. Lay together in the night on a small bed, full size, not a king, heaven forbid.

What’s the best relationship advice you’ve ever been given?

Sharon: I watched and try copy my parents who adored one another… if they were close enough to touch they were touching.  A wonderful experience to witness growing up.

My youngest son shared this book with us when he was maybe 18 years old… The Four Agreements. Always do your best, assume nothing, your word is impeccable, take nothing personally.

Do you have a go-to TV show you like to watch together?

Sharon: We’ve never had TV, ever. Not raising the kids or now.

What’s your favorite way to spend time together?

Paul: Any way for 24 hours a day.

Sharon: Taking long walks on the beaches of Maine, going to farmers markets, playing house and cooking together… close enough to touch.

Finish this sentence: “Real love is __________.”

Paul: Respect and selflessness.

Sharon: Work, and really worth the extra effort.

For single friends still looking for the one, what advice would give on dating?

Sharon: Enjoy one another… laugh a lot… have lots in common. Having a similar upbringing and aesthetic is very important. 

Paul: Set your rules, don’t compromise your principles, trust your intuition, have fun but don’t drink too much.