Bringing the Past into the present -Winter 2018
by: Leslie Linsley
photography by: Terry Pommett
Since coming to Nantucket in 1974, Bill and Susie Boardman have lived in two different historic houses in town.
“I’m drawn to village life where people know each other. There is a warmth to that,” said Susie, who likes the pace and the intimacy of town and being close enough to walk everywhere.
Boardman has an affinity for the past and tries not to get caught up in the hurry of modern life. It is easy to do once you step inside the Boardmans’ current home, built in 1820, on upper Main Street, not far from Caton Circle. Once the front door closes behind you and you’re inside the foyer, the outside world seems to disappear. Suddenly the house seems to wrap its arms around you and you’re aware that the house is a special part of the historic fabric of the island.
The Boardmans’ first house on the island on Ash Street was even older, built in 1765, so the process of restoring an early Nantucket home is nothing new to them. The results are a spectacular blending of early features with modernization where appropriate.
For example, rooms in older homes were proportionately smaller than in new homes and doorways narrow to conserve heat. The front rooms of the Boardmans’ home are intimate and cozy, as they might have been, but a new kitchen was added at the back of the house along with a master suite.
All the early house characteristics have been restored and reclaimed and incorporated with the new, and the end result is proof of the Boardmans’ dedication and talent for responsible renovation. They have managed to bring their early home up to the 21st century for modern living without destroying the best of its historic character.
The Boardmans bought the Main Street house in 2015. It was originally built by Davis Gorham II for his young wife Deborah Pease Gorham.
“We love living in old houses for their history,” Boardman said, and the couple appreciates knowing the background of who first occupied their home and imagining how they lived there.
“I think about how they went about their daily lives and it comforts me,” she said, pointing to a cupboard near the fireplace in her studio that was beautifully crafted on the inside, the part that no one could see except the user.
“I like to think that Davis Gorham made it carefully and beautifully for his wife,” she said.
As an artist and storyteller who creates embroidered narratives, Boardman appreciates this detail and the craftsmanship. When she came to live full-time on Nantucket in 1994, she began volunteering at the Nantucket Historical Association research library, indexing the journal of Susan Veeder, wife of the captain of the whaleship Nautican.
“I was fascinated that a woman would go
out on a whaleship for five years, and with two of her children,” she said.
During a discussion about the journal, she learned that there were many other journals and letters written by women. She knew of the men’s history on Nantucket, but not the women’s. She began her embroidered narratives because she wanted women’s history on the island to get the attention she felt it deserved.
“It was a way of stirring up the interest in the contributions of women from the past and in the present,” Boardman said.
“They are as much a part of making Nantucket what it is today as their partners.”
Boardman approached the project in a creative way by using the technique she had been taught as a child. Through the craft of embroidery, traditionally women’s work, she began to illustrate their stories. She calls them embroidered narratives.
“I love the way the layers of embroidery fit with the layers of women’s lives,” she said.
In the fall she will present her narrative needlework at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, a prestigious invitation.
In the late 1960s she studied, via correspondence from Boston, at the Nantucket School of Needlery, begun by Mary Ann Beinecke, one of the founders of Nantucket Looms. She also attended the American Institute of Textile Arts at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, where she later taught.
In the summer of 1974, Boardman attended a one-week embroidery seminar on Nantucket hosted by Erica Wilson, a Britishborn, nationally-known needlework artist who had studied at the Royal School of Needlework before moving to the United States. This began the Boardmans’ love affair with Nantucket.
After several summers of renting, they bought and restored their first home on the island, where they lived for many years. They ultimately sold that house and, in an attempt
at downsizing, found just the right home in the perfect location to suit their current lifestyle.
“We love having a bedroom and bath on the first floor and were able to design and add on a wonderful open kitchen,” Boardman said.
It took the couple about a year to restore and renovate the house. Island contractor Louis Kelsey, master restorer Pen Austin and interior designer Michelle Holland of Nantucket House Antiques and Interior Design were invaluable in helping Boardman create her vision of a serene, comfortable, inviting home.
The house has a lovely entryway, a front living room as well as a sitting room and Boardman’s small studio. A large dining room with fireplace opens to the new kitchen that is filled with abundant light. A master bedroom suite is tucked privately into the back of the house.
The biggest challenge during the restoration was in designing Boardman’s studio. They were trying to add a foot or so to the room, but discovered that a major support beam was in the way.
Hiring the right people who understand old houses is important when restoring and renovating early Nantucket homes. It helps when the homeowner has good taste, a sense of design and respect for what was. Boardman credited Kelsey for figuring out how to create a handsome bookcase that includes the important support beam.
“The bookcase is full of character,” she said of the custom-built piece that fills one wall of her studio.
When approaching a project like this, all good restorers let the house “speak” to them.
“The house influenced the design for the way we live our lives,” Boardman said.
The Boardmans’ home is a simple 1820s Capestyle house, one of the most common built on Nantucket during the Golden Age of Whaling. They were built for middle-class families like artisans and mariners who flocked to the island in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Boardmans wanted to keep the house simple to respect its history, but also wanted a home that was light and bright, and since most of the rooms have windows on two or three sides, they chose to leave them bare or just have shades for privacy. The rooms are simply but comfortably furnished and include lovely collections of Nantucket memorabilia, lightship baskets made by Boardman, antiques and local art.
The large kitchen is a new addition at the back of the house.
“Bill and I like to cook together, so we created a kitchen with enough room to enjoy the whole process of creating a meal,” Boardman said.
The couple love their new kitchen for many reasons: the light coming in from three sides, the counter space that offers plenty of room to organize, chop, knead, etc. When not eating out, the couple enjoys meals by candlelight either in the kitchen or dining room open to the kitchen.
“We listen to beautiful music and discuss our day,” Boardman said. “It’s a ritual we’ve always had, and delicious, healthy, homemade food is part of that ritual. We love that we created a little alcove for a kitchen table where we can look out over the garden.”
Since the Boardmans moved from one early home to another, they were happy to find that much of their furniture worked well in the new house. The extra pieces that no longer fit in their smaller home were given to their sons.
“We did have to replace some pieces, such as the couches and rugs, and Michelle was a great help and fun to work with,” Boardman said.
When asked about the biggest surprise they encountered with the entire project, she said it was how much room and natural light they were able to create for the new kitchen, and having a large laundry room as well as a first-floor bedroom.
“When our kids and grandkids stay with us, the house works beautifully because there are two bedroom suites upstairs,” Boardman said.
These bedrooms are in the front of the house and their downstairs bedroom is in the back, giving them complete privacy.
“Bill and I can get up early and be in the kitchen without disturbing guests who want to sleep late,” she said.
Boardman loves her new studio, even without the extra foot of space she thought she needed. Sometimes in the winter she works in the sitting room where a fire might be warming the room. It’s a wonderful house for all seasons.
“What drew me to the island in the first place was its history, the town and the fact that it is indeed an island,” she said.
“Sometimes people ask how islanders can stand the isolation of the winter. But the isolation is what attracted most local residents to come here in the first place. The island has a border, and I love that there is a border around it.”
Like island women from the past, Boardman is living a quietly creative life, contributing to the lineage of her home and becoming part of Nantucket’s history. A hundred years from now, the journals about Nantucket women will certainly include her name and examples of her work will be part of the Nantucket Historical Association’s permanent collection.
For now, we can enjoy it in her book, “Sometimes Think of Me: Notable Nantucket Women Through the Centuries,” with biographies by Betsy Tyler. ///
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.