Personal treasures make a house a home -Fall 2019

by: Leslie Linsley

photography by: Terry Pommett

The Cliff is one of the island’s most sought-after residential areas for its great location. It’s a short walk to town, there’s a bike path out of town, nearby conservation land at Tupancy Links and Sanford Farm, and it’s close to the calm-water beaches of the north shore. But, for one couple who bought on the Cliff nine years ago, the location was purely accidental.

Their first visit to Nantucket was in the 1970s, and like many first-time visitors, even before the ferry had docked, they fell in love with the fairytale town that lay before them. They continued to return, renting different houses each summer in Madaket, Dionis and so on until they finally bought their own house, turning it into a personal expression of their lifestyle over the past nine years.

The two-story, three-bedroom house they bought was built in the 1970s. Situated sideways on a little dirt lane off Cliff Road, the cottage-style home is tucked behind mature plantings and affords total privacy.

The couple liked the size and layout of the rooms that gave it a very desirable cottage feel, including the charmingly-quirky and intimate under-the-eaves bedrooms, but they felt it seemed to lack a sense of place. There were dizzying patterned-marble countertops in the kitchen, an attempt at exotic lighting that was totally inappropriate, and an enormous hot tub in the otherwise cozy back yard. But the new owners could see beyond all that to all the possibilities.

They felt they could reimagine the simple house to be charming, with the soul of an 18th century New England cottage. The owner was a graduate of the Parsons School of Design, and continued to pursue her interest in design and decorative art through the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City, so she had a strong sense of style and a keen eye for art and design.

But she felt she needed the help of a professional to implement her vision. For this she turned to interior designer Ned Marshall, who was spending the summer on Nantucket, away from his hometown of New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. He was managing Vanessa Noel’s art gallery where the two met, quite accidentally. They hit it off right away and Ned agreed to undertake the project with the help of island tradespeople.

The kitchen countertops were the first to go, then the hot tub. Once that was removed, they were able to carve out a wonderful patio space for a table and chairs. The couple is grateful to the previous owners for all the plantings around the house, with an eye to the future. They pointed to an olive tree with limbs that provide movement and a natural umbrella that creates another restful area for lounging, as the “star of the yard.”

The homeowners said that one of the designer’s most significant insights was to replace a contemporary fireplace with one that was more traditional and in keeping with the age of the home. The result was that a long, rather-dull dining area was turned into a combination dining area/library with a wall of built-in bookshelves at one end. French doors at the other end of the room open to the back garden.

They can sit at the dining table, spread out the newspaper and feel like they’re part of the outdoors, with a view of the garden. It has become their favorite place to relax in the home.

The couple praised the designer’s extraordinary sense of color as setting the stage for all decisions that followed. Lettuce-green for the kitchen walls was probably the easiest decision, but when he suggested dark-brown paint for the walls throughout the first floor and up the staircase, the couple had reservations, but followed his recommendation.

The addition of molding details and the fireplace surround painted glossy decorator bright white created a striking contrast. The color works to visually expand the space, adding character and a quiet elegance to the open flow of the downstairs rooms. By adapting an authentic 18th century model, the rooms now have a sense of cottage charm that had been lacking.

When furnishing the living room, they had upholstered

furniture custom-made to feel right for the proportions of the room. The sofa and two comfy chairs, and a Parsons coffee table piled with books, make a welcoming arrangement around the fireplace. The overall homey feeling is enhanced by artwork and carefully-curated collectibles.

The owner said that when she thought about her approach to collecting, it occurred to her that she rarely looked for a particular object for a specific spot. She explained how she generally drags things home and finds a happy place for them. When something doesn’t work, she stores it away until its spot reveals itself.

Like many salvage and repurposing devotees, this homeowner loves whimsy and quirkiness. She’s drawn to objects that have what the Japanese call wabi-sabi, a philosophy that promotes the appreciation of things that are imperfect, a result of their past lives that gives them the patina of age and a soulful quality.

When they moved into their home, the couple incorporated furnishings from a former Connecticut beach house, adding art and objects from island sources, including Rafael Osona’s auctions, Island Antique Warehouse, the Hospital Thrift Shop and various shops around town, as well as the Cambridge street market in Boston. When they brought a favorite John Austin painting to the house, they learned he had lived most of his life nearby on West Chester Street. They’ve since been lucky enough to acquire several more of his paintings.

While the house is small, it suits their needs perfectly. They did, however, take advantage of a lower level and turned it into an unexpected luxury space, providing more room for family and guests. Most creative people find their home a constant work in progress and one that provides endless enjoyment and an ongoing creative challenge. ///

Leslie Linsley is the author of “Nantucket Island Living” and “Salvage Style: Decorate with Vintage Finds.”

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