Vintage meets Modern -July 2016
by: Leslie Linsley
The lights dim, the music swells, a hush falls over the audience as the screen fills with a couple seated at the bar of a chic resort restaurant. The movie could be “Casablanca,” but it’s not a movie. It’s real life and the scene unfolds at 21 Federal on Memorial Day Weekend.
The year is 2002 and the attractive young, blonde woman and the slim, debonair man have just met.
“He walked me to my car and asked if I’d like to have dinner with him the following week,” said Beth English, owner of Current Vintage, a wine and retro clothing store on Easy Street.
“I said, yes, and he did a Virginia Slims kick in the air as he walked away.”
English could not begin to know how her life would change from that first meeting and how Nantucket would become her forever home, no matter where in the world she would travel.
The man that night was Mark Donato, a Californian who arrived on Nantucket in the late 1970s with an overnight bag and promptly fell in love with the island. When he met English, he was already established in the food and wine business, running the Sconset Market.
Previously, he’d worked with partner Pam McKinstry in three island restaurants: The Morning Glory Café, the Dockside on the corner of Easy Street and Steamboat Wharf, and finally the Sconset Café. When he and McKinstry split, he kept the Sconset Market,
the only grocery store and a popular magnet for visitors to the east-end village.
“We credit Robert Sarkisian, general manager of 21 Federal, for that first meeting,” English recalled. “He used to lock the front door to Figawi revelers, keeping the bar a relatively quiet experience for their regular patrons.”
Fast forward to 2016 and we find the couple married and living in a stylish apartment in the Old Historic District just outside the downtown core. It might be in any sophisticated city in the country if it weren’t for the views of the Creeks from their back deck. The rooms are filled with an eclectic mix of vintage and modern pieces, with the only criteria they have for buying something good design, good value, love it, and can’t live without it.
“This is a work in progress,” English said. “It’s evolv-
ing, the way a good wine ages. We travel all winter, each time returning with something we couldn’t resist.”
The travel developed out of Donato’s involvement with the Nantucket Wine Festival as its “first lieutenant,” a title bestowed on him by founder Denis Toner at its inception in 1997.
Together Donato and English exude an aura of classic lifestyle in their work, their home, their travel destinations and their dedication to the island.
English is on the board of Theatre Workshop of Nantucket and is also involved with many Preservation Trust issues. Donato was the president of the Nantucket Civic Association for many years, and is now vice president of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce where, for over a decade, he’s been in charge of special events for April’s Daffodil Festival, where he’s a judge in the car parade; and Christmas Stroll weekend.
A native of North Carolina, English arrived on-island in 1986, picking up work in the food industry, where she had plenty of past experience. After many stints waiting on tables she ultimately became a partner in Provisions, an offshoot of Straight Wharf Restaurant, which she ran for many years. Ten years ago she switched gears.
“I aged out of the restaurant business and decided I wanted a business that would serve the island’s yearround population. I asked myself, ‘what do I know about and love?’ Vintage and vintage was the answer,” she said.
Current Vintage offers the latest wine vintages with regular tastings in half the store, and vintage clothing, currently in fashion, like Lilly Pulitzer and Emilio Pucci, filling the rest of the space.“I’ve always appreciated things that have stood the test of time and I love combining them with new and well-designed objects of substance,” English said.
This attitude of mixing the old and the new extends to the way the couple have furnished their home, and it works to create an organically integrated, imaginative and purposeful lifestyle. If their style can be pigeonholed, it would best be described as mid-century modern.
As consummate island style-makers, English and Donato believe in buying local, and aside from the collectibles from their travels, most of the furnishings in the apartment are from their fellow shop-owners, artists and craftspeople. They are simply passionate in the way they live, work and involve themselves in their community.
In a time when the island’s building business is booming and houses are tripling in size, where decorating is done instantly, English and Donato have slowly and deliberately put together a home that is personal and tasteful, reflecting the places they’ve been and the beauty found on the island. It all comes together beautifully.
“I love that everything in our home tells a story or reminds us of an experience,” English said with an engaging smile. “It’s how I buy for the store – with a pas-
sion. I have to love everything I sell, everything in my home, the clothes I wear, how we shop for food and entertain our friends and family.”
This is a home that has accumulated layers of beautiful furnishings, accessories and artwork that has evolved into personal expression. They are able to marry unlikely objects like antiques and flea-market finds with current trends, and understand scale and proportion to the max. And there is restraint. Together, they have artfully and with pride arranged their furnishings so that everything doesn’t just look right but feels right. Things are allowed breathing room.
“I didn’t decorate this apartment by myself. I’ve got lots of friends with excellent taste and I never hesitate to ask for help. A decorator friend gave me a lot of good advice, but I also relied on the influences of my mother and my grandmother, even a neighbor from my childhood who had these wonderful 1970s modern chairs that I coveted and are now in my shop,” English said. “Traveling is extremely stimulating. Mark and I have brought back lots of things.”
With both of them in the wine business, their travels often take them to wine-producing regions in France, Italy and Spain, and closer to home in Napa
Valley, California. Trips to more exotic places like Peru, Morocco, Greece and Turkey have yielded inspiration of a different sort. Even there they have found local wines of interest.
Their decorating style leans toward the unexpected: something whimsical, campy or obviously handcrafted, right at home with a Pottery Barn coffee table that, in this environment, is elevated in status and works perfectly.
“There’s a perception that things have to be expensive to be worthwhile, but, as with wine, you can identify potential. Quality often comes with aging,” English said. Current Vintage reflects this attitude, showing how timeless 1950s clothing can be updated with modern accessories like Ted Muehling jewelry, and in their home, how an antique African map adds genuine character to a luxuriously-modern bedroom.
“Bringing home that map is an experience we’ll never forget,” English said.
And that pretty much sums up the joy of it all.
/// Leslie Linsley is a nationally-known author of design and decorating books. She writes regularly for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s weekly newspaper, and Nantucket Today.