An Oasis in Surfside
by: Leslie Linsley
photography by: Terry Pommett
Carol Muehling and Pat Taaffe moved to Nantucket year-round in 1980, Pat from Long Island and Carol from New Jersey. Her parents had vacationed here off and on during the 1960s and 1970s, and over the years she developed a love for the natural beauty of the island. They were married in 1989 and for three years lived in a spec house that Pat had built in Surfside.
When they finally sold it, they realized how much they liked living in low-key Surfside due to the proximity to the south shore and the quiet pine woods. A friend soon told them of a twoacre lot and once they were able to purchase it they began to hunt for a house design that appealed to them both.
Pat and Carol both love barns, so they began thinking about building a home along those lines. Then they read an article in Soundings magazine about the history of life-saving stations along the East Coast, the precursors of today’s Coast Guard stations. The couple liked the style of these buildings and began to visualize designing one as their home.
Their needs were basic: a large enough workshop for Pat, and a living space similar to a small apartment for temporary living until they could build a house.
“We decided to customize the building by using the 1,200-square-foot ground-floor space for Patrick to set up his woodworking shop,” Carol said. “Then we added dormers to create 800 square feet of living space above.”
It was supposed to be a temporary living arrangement until they could build what they called “a proper house” in the rear part of the property. With over two acres of land there was plenty of room to have two buildings on the lot. The winding driveway leads through woods and trees on both sides, ending at the workshop.
The upstairs apartment space became what they called their “birdhouse loft,” with windows on all sides providing a bright and totally-wonderful aerie. They were both busy growing their island businesses, Carol running her shop Patina on Centre Street, and Patrick developing his construction business. They felt the loft concept suited their lifestyle for the time being.
By 2014 they were quite comfortable on the second floor and Pat’s business was taking off. He was so busy building for others there was no time to think about building the “real” house on the back lot they’d always imagined.
Eventually there was a break in the work, but by this time they decided to build a free-standing woodworking shop and redesign the original building to turn it into their home. To this end they converted the ground-floor open workshop into a guest bedroom, living room and kitchen/screened-in-porch addition.
Carol has always had a creative eye for design. Her first retail shop was located on Old South Wharf in one of the former fishing shacks, primarily occupied by local artists. She sold a line of designer clothing as well as jewelry created by her brother, New York designer Ted Muehling.
Eventually, with a desire for a yearround retail store, she relocated the business to Centre Street under the name Patina, joining the ranks of the few remaining locally-owned retail shops on the island.
Designing the addition to the house proved to be a challenge, even though Carol and Pat had always designed and decorated their own homes. They needed help with tying the two rooflines together gracefully. They enlisted the aid of Thornewill Design and had a marriage of two rooflines in no time, as well as a perfectly-proportioned living room to accommodate an old tanker half-hull they acquired from one of Pat’s clients years before.
Carol tells the story of how they lived in temporary and sometimes impossibly-small and inconvenient accommodations during the building phase. But they were young and in love and now think of those early days as quite romantic.
“We moved a 9-by-16-foot shed to the property, fixed it up and lived in it from July 4 weekend until Thanksgiving, with one cat, two dogs and three space heaters. There was no plumbing, just an outdoor spigot for showers in the summer, my parents’ house when it was too cold, and a toilet surrounded by a blue tarp for privacy in Pat’s workshop. And we stayed married!”
Today guests beg to stay for a weekend in the romantic “Love Shack,” as it was named. A covered front porch is filled with overflowing planters all summer long. This couple feels lucky they found their special place.
This is a couple who are devoted to living green and who get satisfaction from collecting things they like, and recycling nature’s bounty, of which there is plenty on the island.
“We don’t mind storing things we like, but may not immediately see a use for. Eventually we find a way to integrate these things into our space even if it takes a while,” Carol said.
When building the house, they used many local tradespeople, including Pat’s brothers, James and Tim. Now that the house has afforded them many years of enjoyment, they are able to continue tweaking what they love about it. They spend lots of time in their light-filled kitchen overlooking their vegetable garden. Everywhere you look, there are mature trees and sitting areas artfully created to take advantage of the views. It is a true oasis.
The four-season, screened-in porch and the dining room have back-to-back fireplaces where they enjoy serving casual meals to friends and family.
Pat and Carol feel extremely lucky to live on Nantucket and in a home they built to fill their needs. They continue to enjoy the natural beauty of the island, taking beach walks with their two dogs when they aren’t working. Both are mindful of being involved, whenever possible, and helping to preserve the island for the future. ///
Leslie Linsley is a nationally-known author of design and decorating books. She writes regularly for Nantucket Today and The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.