Michael Molinar -Spring 2016
Simply with Style
by: Leslie Linsley
photography by: Terry Pommett
Did you ever wonder how Nantucket stylemakers decorate and live in their own homes? Now and then we get a peek inside for an intimate look and some insightful tips from these experts. Meet Michael Molinar.
It’s springtime and the beginning of a new season on Nantucket. At FLOWERS ON CHESTNUT, the shop, formerly an unassuming, early Nantucket house, is bursting with color and optimism. Owner Michael Molinar and his staff are busy making flower arrangements for the many upcoming weddings, parties, house-openings and special events that start with Daffodil Weekend and continue, at this frenzied pace, right through the end of the year. If you want a bouquet of freshly-cut flowers for any occasion at any time of year, Flowers On Chestnut is your destination.
Molinar has been in business for more than 30 years, starting upstairs in The Boarding House on Federal Street, then moving to Chestnut Street when he had the opportunity to buy his current building. When asked what he attributes his success to all these years, Molinar said, “by sticking through all the ups and downs and just doing my job consistently. I stay open year-round and keep the level of quality the same in season and when things are quieter.”
“I’m often asked where I got my sense of style,” Molinar said. “I had one of the greatest mentors: the late, great Gary Knight.”
Knight was a well-respected decorator on Nantucket who owned a design and flower shop, Gary Knight & Co., where The Pearl restaurant is now.
“Gary was very kind to me and taught me a lot. There is no one like him and I miss him tremendously,” Molinar said.
Anyone who remembers Knight knows that his style was understated but elegant, and he was the master of “tablescapes,” Molinar said.
“If you paid attention you got the best education by just being around him.”
There have been others who stand out.
“George Davis, who used to own Weeds on Centre Street, taught me about the color white, and fine English pine furniture. He was the first to create this look and it’s still a classic, he said.”
Another decorator Molinar admires is Sandra Holland.
“Sandi has excellent taste and a great eye for the Nantucket look,” he said. “If you pay attention to what talented people are doing, you eventually gain the confidence to trust your instincts. I think that by going with what I like and using the different ideas from Gary, George and Sandi, I’ve developed my own sense of what is tasteful. Over years of working with them, and several others, I feel I acquired my own sense of style.”
Molinar’s advice to others is this: whether it’s about entertaining, planning a wedding or decorating your home, go with what you like. Go with your gut feelings. What works in one room may not work in another. There are no rules.
As for his philosophy on design, he’s quite definite when he states, “less is more and bigger and lots of it is even better.” As for weddings, Molinar always chooses all white, with tons of lily of the valley. “Buck-
ets of it everywhere!” he said.
For all of his success, Molinar is quite humble.
When complimented on how good the shop always looks, his answer was one of boyish surprise.
“You think?” he asked, almost incredulously. “I fell into this business.”
“I was working for Gary at The Boarding House location, basically as a delivery boy, when one day he decided to close shop. We had orders and I was the only one left to fill them, so I did. The owner of the building, Judy Miller, was wonderful and helped me get through that first year by suspending payment of the rent. That was in 1986. Can you imagine that happening today?”
Nantucket then was a small community where business owners pretty much agreed, without verbalization, that to be successful you stayed small, honored history, gave good value, and were a good neighbor. Molinar has grown, but remains true to this premise.
At home, Molinar lives simply, in an early Quaker-style house in the Old Historic District where he can walk to and from work each day.
“If this house were anywhere else,” he said, “it would have been a tear-down. I think if you live on Nantucket, it’s important to me, to live in an antique house. I did a lot of work on this house, but only the kitchen and bathrooms were modernized. The rest was restored exactly as it was, as a cozy antique house.”
“I don’t have time to decorate or fuss too much because of my schedule,” he said.
But each room seems effortlessly put together for comfort and visual interest. For example, he sticks to a neutral palette, adding texture and a little pattern to the all-white basic color scheme. He said, “ I live with color all day and a neutral palette at home is a relief. It’s restful.” Accents of green from living plants add just enough refreshing color to suit him.
Furniture consists of classic pieces, like the overstuffed sofas in the living room and den. Some of his furniture was acquired years ago, like the leopard-upholstered dining chairs that turn an all-white dining area into a captivatingly glamorous space.
The use of oversized, ornately-framed mirrors suggests opulence in contrast to the small, intimate rooms found in these early houses.
“I love the feeling of this house,” Molinar said. “In the winter I gravitate to my cozy, little den. It’s small and tucked in. I can spy what’s cooking on the stove. Love it!”
Molinar’s choice of art is eclectic.
“I like groupings of artwork with the same simple frames to tie them together,” he said. He looks at each area and creates vignettes with different objects on tables and sideboards to reflect his current interest, much the way Knight did.
“Once you have the basic furniture you can rearrange and change out the accessories from time to time to freshen things up. Rooms shouldn’t become stagnant,” he said.
When not in his shop, Molinar is on the road buying, or flying to Palm Springs, Calif., where he also owns a furniture shop.
“Having another life across the country,” he said, “has shown me the joys of color. Palm Springs midcentury modern design is unique to that area of the country and strong, bright colors are everywhere.
“Orange is very important out there and I’ve taken a few tips from California living back east to Nantucket. For example, I’ve discovered that orange accent pieces can mix well with our blue and white traditional homes. Outdoor living, succulent gardens, avocados, all impact on design there.”
But even trips to California don’t interrupt his routine of personally selecting all the fresh flowers that fill the Nantucket shop each week. Every Monday, Molinar drives his van onto the noon ferry headed for the mainland. From there he drives to Boston where, at four o’clock the next morning, he arrives at the flower market.
“I do this 40 weeks a year,” he said. “I stay overnight, do the flower market then drive down to the Cape and take the last boat home. Last winter was brutal. I got stuck in Hyannis with a truckload of fresh flowers. The boat was canceled and I had to unload and send the entire shipment on the freight plane. This has happened to me more than once.”
As one of Nantucket’s premier style-makers, Molinar is straightforward with his advice.
“I suggest entertaining with what you have. It should be fun to set a table. Use whatever is growing in your garden for a centerpiece. You should always make your home feel alive with cut flowers or a living plant. A few stalks of fragrant lilies are especially welcoming in the entryway and living room. A small bouquet of roses on a bedside table is a nice touch and when you have houseguests there should be an arrangement in the guest room.”
Molinar admits to being a perfectionist when it comes to merchandising the shop, always on the prowl for the unusual.
“When you get caught up in your work, it’s hard to have a personal life. I’m trying to make the time to entertain friends at home once a month, especially in the winter. I see this as an achievable goal,” he said.
What is his latest passion? Molinar recently designed and refurbished the public areas of Nantucket Cottage Hospital and this past winter began refurbishing the patients’ rooms as well as doctors’ housing.
“Super cute and done on a dime!” he said. Now he and his team are about to work on upgrading some hospital employee housing.
Whether he’s styling a wedding or advising a homeowner on how to arrange a room, he said the key to success is the right mix.
“A room will have character if you infuse it with something old and something new as well as something one-of-a-kind. Style doesn’t have to cost a bundle,” he said.
And don’t forget the fresh flowers. ///
Leslie Linsley is a nationally-known author on design. Her latest book is “Nantucket Cottages & Gardens,” with photographer Terry Pommett.