Home Grown With Local Talent

by: Leslie Linsley

When Patti and Prenny Claflin purchased almost three acres of uncultivated land in the Shawkemo Hills area of Polpis in 1982, there weren’t many houses within sight. The area, which was once devoted to raising sheep, was just becoming desirable to those who wanted to live in the country. The Claflins chose the property specifically for its views and varied terrain that was populated with diverse species of trees and native shrubs.

“The bones of our original landscape design were created and planted by Lucinda Young, beginning in the spring of 1983,” Patti said.

The garden’s focus begins in March with the collection of bulbs. For years, the Claflins have planted an average of 3,000 spring bulbs. There are 450 different types of bulbs that tolerate our zone including tulips, peonies and iris.

The plan was to enhance what was already growing on the property, and to this end, Young delivered. It was the beginning of what would become the Claflins’ lifetime project.

Thirty-five years later, tending the gardens and greenhouse is still a passion the couple share and their property is a shining example of a true work in progress. Their days are happily filled with creative challenges and endless opportunities as they continue to add many more shrubs and trees, perennials and bulbs to their property each year. Meanwhile, the house has provided them with a comfortable, energy-efficient environment with magnificent views from every room, and they find its design has served them well over the years.

Architect Charlie Sawyer designed the 2,600 square-foot house that Prenny says is an homage to boating, with many built-ins, woodwork and handcrafted details throughout.

“Charlie planned the house with an open feeling, but it still had designated rooms,” Patti said. The house was oriented to afford them magnificent views overlooking the outer harbor and Great Point to the north, Sankaty Light to the east, woods to the west, and the appropriate southern exposure needed for an efficient solar greenhouse.

“Charlie utilized the records from the old Nantucket weather station to ascertain the greenhouse’s effectiveness for heat gain on our property,” Patti said.

To this end, Sawyer’s design allowed that during the cooler months, the sunken passive-solar greenhouse along the southern side of the structure would help heat the main living zones of the kitchen, dining and family space, while the more formal living room on the north would become a cooler zone unless being used with back-up heat from the fireplace. The open stairway allows some of the greenhouse heat to rise to the second-floor bedrooms.

Builder Peter Haigh began the project in 1981 followed by Bruce Killen and his crew. Master island tradesmen and craftsmen of that era contributed to creating the Claflin home, including Rick Klein, Leon Lancaster, Nils Van Vorst, Neil Paterson, Mark Ward, Del Wynn, David Goodman, Paul Farrell, Chris Fraker, Brad Murray, Jimmy Barros, Dan Cassano and Lyle Lothian. It was a labor of love for everyone involved, and the Claflins say that the finished home feels as though all their friends are always with them, represented by the work that went into the design and building of the house and landscape. It’s also a reminder of those no longer here.

A tour of each room reveals a multitude of details, and deliberate decisions. For example, it was unconventional at the time to position the kitchen in the middle of a house.

“It was designed to reinforce our passion for cooking as a family,” Patti said.

Today, their son Ned is chef/owner of the popular restaurant Òran Mór on South Beach Street. The couple is very pleased that after college and much traveling, Ned enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America and then returned home to open his own restaurant.

“When Ned first opened the restaurant, we overheard a customer say he’d surely go out of business in no time if he kept spending so much money on floral arrangements,” Patti said.

He had no idea Ned’s parents were supplying flowers every three days, freshly picked from the vast gardens on their property.

And then there’s the interior design where Patti and Prenny have amassed collections from their travels all over the world and mementos from both their families.

Every room contains a story. They remember each purchase and the experiences of finding each item. The large collection of pottery made by Patti over the years is used to hold kitchen utensils or flowers around the house.

When they first designed the home, the Claflins made very sure that all the rooms would relate to the surrounding environment and showcase the exquisite craftsmanship of those who worked on the house.

Patti and Prenny have incorporated their passions into every room. For example, “the wheelroom,” a bump-out nook in the living room, harkens to Prenny’s nautical days. Rounded and just the right size for a game table and four chairs, it has large windows all around and a vaulted ceiling where during the holiday season the table and chairs are removed to make room for the Christmas tree that reaches to the skylight.

One wall of the living room is made up of beautifully-carved mahogany panels surrounding the fireplace. Opposite the fireplace wall is a long, deep window seat that overlooks the side gardens. Prenny’s office was planned for the second floor to take advantage of the spectacular views of Great Point and Sankaty Light. There is a collection of Belgian Art Deco pottery, a wall of Nantucket history books, local art and a table display that includes a skate skeleton found on Boston’s North Shore. Valuable antiques sit comfortably with things of sentimental value, all artfully arranged.

While the house was built almost 40 years ago, it has a modern feel, proving that good design is never dated. Details such as the repurposed light fixtures and wall sconces add character to the rooms and seem appropriate for the handcrafted style of the house.

Prenny comes from a publishing background, with a short stint at the Boston Globe before going to work for the Carpenter News Bureau in Washington, D.C. But his real passion has always been boating. As owner of the Nantucket Shipyard on Washington Street for many years, Prenny helped establish the first Opera House Cup sailboat race and was a founding member of the Opera House Cup parties at the Shipyard in the 1970s and 1980s.

“We had a loft in the Shipyard where all sorts of people hung out. Russell Baker was a regular along with Chris Vallett. Those were wonderful times and the house somehow has the same vibes,” Prenny said.

After many summers and many jobs on the island, Patti ultimately saved enough money to open Nantucket Bookworks in its original location in the basement of the former Mooney building at the corner of Broad and Federal streets, now the Nantucket Culinary Center. Eventually they moved across the street to Bookworks’ current location.

“We’re very pleased with the way the new owners, Wendy Hudson and ReMain Nantucket, are running it now,” Patti said, referring to the partnership entered into with Mitchell’s Book Corner on Main Street.

“The gardening and architectural sections of the bookstore eventually served as the source for our interest in building our future home with a passive-solar greenhouse, surrounded by year-round gardens that melded with the natural habitat.”

The couple’s devotion to education led to the beginning of the Nantucket New School in 1985 in the basement of the house they built on their Polpis property.

“I came to Nantucket in the womb,” Prenny said of when he arrived on the island. His grandparents’ summer cottage on Hulbert Avenue, originally purchased in 1897, is still owned by a cousin. As lifelong contributors to the fabric of Nantucket, the Claflins befriended and came of age with the early creative tradespeople who ultimately joined together and put their hearts and souls into the Claflin house. ///

Leslie Linsley is a nationally-known author of design and decorating books. She writes regularly for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821, and Nantucket Today.

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