Wabi Sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection. But at Wabi Sabi Cottage in Alna, all we found was perfection!


This column would be best presented entirely in photographs. You must see Wabi Sabi Cottage to believe it. Hosts Joan Thompson and her business partner Bill Wilbur  — with lots of help from Joan’s husband Bill, a retired architect who once worked at Colonial Williamsburg and who designed this unique cottage — have actually named it well. Although it was built only 21⁄2 years ago, you will think it is one of Maine’s oldest houses.

Wabi Sabi, as Joan explains,  “is about finding joy in tending to the details of daily living, eating natural food and slowing down to be mindful … It is an intuitive way of living that involves noticing the moments that make life rich.

Our weekend visit here was certainly filled with a richness that leaves me wordless to describe. The two rooms reserved for guests are upstairs. Our Sheepscot River Suite was huge, with the best view from a shower I’ve ever had, looking out over the Sheepscot River at Head of Tide.

But this is much more than a place to stay. It is a place to linger and luxuriate, to be comfortable and pampered, to be treated like a friend, not a customer. Joan offers breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner to the public and her guests, by reservation. She also has a popular “Supper Club” with more than 150 guests on the list who are alerted every week to the menu. These Wednesday night suppers are served from September through May.


Guests may sit at a round table in the dining room, sharing their meal with others, or sit at small tables in the  “Café” — the front room that was created out of pieces of an old Seal Harbor post office built in 1865. This room will serve as an ice cream parlor for the summer. The floor came out of an old garage.

The café includes a display of old teacups that a patron bartered for breakfasts until Joan had room for no more. The customer, of course, continues to have room for breakfasts. On Saturday morning, the café was full. One table was filled with a family of six, another with a young girl celebrating her birthday with her Mom and friend. Our table in the dining room was full of local characters, and I lingered a long while listening to their stories and banter. The two Bills joined us.

A former nurse and antiques dealer, Joan has filled her cottage with old stuff. Actually, she has hidden her house with old stuff. A beautiful painting hides the downstairs TV in the common sitting room. Her silverware emerges from an old cash register. I’ve never seen anything or any place like this. And I’ll bet you haven’t, either. In the first hour, I took over 100 photographs. Everything amazed me.

Joan has put a lot of herself into this cottage — its amenities, its food and its experience — from her oatmeal, milk and honey naturally handmade soap to her Amaretto tea with scones. She always has a surprise for you — our tiny root beer floats were terrific. My gorgeous teapot for afternoon tea came from the historic Bethel Inn. 

While the view up river is beautiful, you will spend a lot of time inside marveling at all you see there.



Wabi Sabi Cottage is housed with antiques galore. You could spend the day learning what they all were! This cottage was is not old, but it looks like its been here a long time.

In Joan’s creative displays, expect the unexpected  … artfully arranged rake heads, old doors and shutters for displays and Maine license plates decorated our bedroom. The bathroom of our suite was huge and came with two claw-foot tubs,  each complete with a stand for wine glass and book!

Wabi Sabi’s kitchen will make you crave an upgrade. It has wooden doors to hide the fridge, and more wooden fronts to hide appliances. There’s a warming drawer so you never serve a cold meal.

And over the slate sink is a window with a great view of the river. The tidal waters change the view, but it’s always beautiful. There is an especially inviting screened-in porch with the same view that must be very inviting in warm weather. It’s set up for dining or lounging.

Joan loves to share the history of the antiques and the stories that go with them and says she has groups that come not only for lunch, but also for an entertaining afternoon of touring the cottage. It is not unusual for them to stay a few hours.

Joan is a good cook and makes everything from scratch. She created the amazing raspberry amaretto tea I loved so much. I have to say I have never had “full tea” service where the antique pot is on a stand heated by a candle. Having tea this way, with a freshly baked (and feather light) scone, certainly makes you savor the moment.


She has sold over 16,000 of “Joan’s Scones” since starting that business in the professional bakery downstairs. Each morning, Bill Wilbur delivers Joan’s fresh scones to a few local venues. I loved the lemon poppy seed scone so much I chose it again for breakfast the next morning.

There is a menu with a good variety of breakfast choices. Mine included the best thick bacon I’ve ever had, and a delicious egg scramble (eggs from their own chickens, of course) including spinach and horseradish cheddar cheese. It was so good. If you want lunch out and about, she’ll pack you a mouth-watering picnic. Boothbay Harbor and Damariscotta are nearby, with lots of places to explore.

Dinner is served family-style and includes surprises in the way things are served. The night we visited, the hosts had invited friends who dine here often. Joan joined us, which is rare for her, and remarked how wonderful it was to sit down to dinner. (This is a very busy lady!) It was a two-pie meal — Shepard’s pie and berry pie — both delicious.

All the meals here at Wabi Sabi Cottage come with amazing hospitality and interesting conversation. Give it a try. You need to see this one to believe it.

Visit George’s website: www.georgesmithmaine.com for travel tips, book reviews, outdoor news and more.

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