The Designing World Of Eliza Silva -August 2011

by: Leslie Linsley

photography by: Mai Norton

In the 1920s it was just a beachside shack where one could get a snack without changing out of their bathing suit. Most old-time Nantucket summer residents include lunch at The Galley at Cliffside Beach Club among their fondest summer memories. Today, it continues its reputation but in a different way. It has become one of Nantucket’s premier dining establishments in the low-key, elegant tradition one associates with the “Great Gatsby” era.

Attention to detail and chic sophistication are hallmarks of Eliza Silva’s design sensibilities.

In 2008, David Silva and his brother Geoffrey, the third generation in their family to own and operate the business, decided to update, renovate and redesign the restaurant. This was no small task, as they knew what a sensitive project it would be. It was important to retain the comfortable atmosphere long associated with the place, but at the same time infuse it with the sort of sophistication that could embrace a new generation of Nantucket vacationers as well as local devotees.

Galley Beach has a winning combination. Not only does it have a reputation for serving exquisite French-inspired cuisine, it also has the best location for dining, right on the beach, beyond the Jetties with an unobstructed view of Nantucket Sound. If one can lay claim to the best show in town, Galley Beach practically owns the sunset. This show repeats itself night after night and never becomes tiresome. Even on a cloudy, stormy day, the environment is nothing short of romantic. Being here is like dining on a private island, on an island.

It was with complete confidence that David (with his family’s approval) chose his wife, Eliza Newman Silva, for the job of redesigning the restaurant and gave her carte blanche, totally believing in her abilities. While her father John Newman’s firm designed the interior architeciture, Eliza is entirely responsible for the interior design from fixtures to furnishings, the logo and even the silverware. This young and very talented woman has what it takes: taste, confidence, sophistication, knowledge, experience and a “down to her toes” feeling about Nantucket as one who has lived here all her life.

“I’ve always had a passion for design,” Silva told me as we sat at a corner table in the restaurant one afternoon. It was hard to ignore the comfort of the caramel-colored banquet cushions and basket-weave pillows that are part of the new design. Outside on the beach, sun-bathers were sipping drinks while lounging on the oversized, deep-cushioned sofas that positively beg one to surrender to the carefree world of vacation, if just for a little while.

Silva has definitely conjured up the perfect environment beyond anyone’s vision of time away from reality. All the details combine to reflect a distinct design sensibility, beginning with the covered porch with its summer-white painted ship-lap ceiling, sculptural lighting fixtures, French bistro tables and chairs, and rich tan colors throughout. The sand-colored floor flows seamlessly as a continuation of the beach beyond and for cool nights there is heating under the floorboards. How’s that for an added touch of luxury?

While earning a bachelor of fine arts degree in interior design from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Silva spent summers working on Nantucket with her father’s architectural and building firm, J. Newman.

“That experience sharpened my practical design skills because I got to work on various residential and commercial projects,” she said.

While at UMass, she was accepted into Penn State’s architectural program in Rome, Italy. “That opportunity had a profound effect on me,” she said, adding a classical flair and international influence to her already timeless and organic design approach. After graduation, Silva took a position with the illustrious firm of Bergmeyer Associates in Boston where she expanded her residential and commercial design experiences which ultimately led to the forming of her own company Eliza Alles Interiors in 2004.

As we walked around Galley Beach, Silva pointed out some of her favorite details that were influenced by Parisian bistros, such as the extruded zinc-pewter bar that she had custom-built in Paris and the unique lighting fixtures with a nautical flair over the bar that came from England. Some might notice a little nod to the famous French Laundry restaurant in California’s Napa Valley, and Silva is quite proud of the project being recognized with the 2011 Zagat award for top décor.

“My favorite projects,” she interjected, “are bathrooms and you have to check out the lights I used in the rest rooms here.” Indeed, these rooms are a testament to the attention to detail this designer brings to her projects.

This was not Silva’s first restaurant project on Nantucket. She created the image for the stylish LoLa 41 and branded it with its uniquely clubby atmosphere created with the wood floors, tin ceilings, wall placement, custom bar and furniture design, silverware, plates and even the candles. While the restaurant has changed hands, the original design has proved successful, as it is always packed with regulars either at the convivial bar, dining on sushi or a signature LoLa Burger at one of the intimate tables where everyone seems to know someone. The space is a masterpiece of style and function working hand in hand.

“One of my most recent projects was Pagéo Jewelers,” Silva said. When the store moved from Centre Street to Main Street, Silva’s firm was called in to design the new space.

“That was a project with a definite challenge,” she said. “The new space is smaller and required a creative solution for showcasing the fine jewelry. I designed and had glass cases custom-made to hang on the walls around the room with running cases and storage drawers below.”

Traditionally, the showcases would be away from the wall with room behind for sales associates. Veering away from the traditional layout is a good example of how this designer instinctively knows how to create style without sacrificing functionality. When you design commercial space, these two factors are always at play. In the hands of a good designer, limitations offer the opportunity for the unexpected. This is where Silva’s strong background in architecture and design serve her well.

When I asked her why she is now moving into residential design, she said, “Perhaps now that I’m a mom and have a family I’m acutely aware of the importance of personal space. Families live differently and their needs change as they grow. This is a different kind of challenge that excites me.”

With an infant and a toddler, Silva has a lot on her plate. How does this young mother do it all? “I’m not as super-organized as I hope to become,” she said, “but I’m working on it and I love it all. I love being home with my children and I love the creative process of working on an interior-design project so I’m confident that I can make room for both in my life. And the children are growing so fast that before I turn around they are in another phase so I’m constantly making adjustments.”

From the looks of her various design projects it seems that Eliza Alles Interiors is already a proven success with an exciting future. 

Latest issue...

To view the magazine full size, click the image above.