A Nantucket Home Designed for Family Gatherings
A designer and her husband renovate their Nantucket house, ensuring plenty of room for their family and the laughter, joy, and memories they bring.
Nancy and Joe Serafini’s Nantucket home is not always perfect. On sunny days when there’s not a New England Home photo shoot going on, the pillows on the sofas are smooshed into cozy submission by the couple’s grown children and their spouses. One of the antique ironstone pitchers decorating the large coffee table may be at the end of a grandchild’s foot as he clomps about, shrieking with delight at his own cleverness. Tony, the couple’s Wheaten Terrier, may be trolling the floor around the kitchen island for Cheerios flung by grandchildren too adorable to scold.
But even when it’s not at the peak of photo-shoot prettiness, the Serafinis’ home is about as picture-perfect a family place as one could wish for. Grandkids and Cheerios and dog included, this is a dwelling built to make and hold memories.
Back in 1985, when the couple found this property, the single level, three-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot house was great for their then-small family. A series of upgrades came with each decade. Joe’s father designed a small addition in the mid-1990s, and in 2005 the couple redid the kitchen and added a master bath. But the real commitment came in 2013 when they sold their Boston apartment and decided it was time to truly renovate and add on to their island abode, making it a more permanent home with room for their two married children and five grandchildren as well as guests.
“The only architect I wanted to work with was Tom Catalano,” says Nancy, who has worked as an interior designer for more than forty years. “He’s a quintessential Shingle-style architect, and Kerri Byrne, the project manager, was fantastic.”
“One of the first projects I ever did was with Nancy,” recalls Catalano. “This home was a challenge because Nancy and Joe have had the house forever. There were a lot of decisions to be made about what they would keep and what they would get rid of.”
Nancy didn’t want to lose the feeling that comes when the family descends on the house for their summer vacations. She was determined to renovate and expand, even when the chairwoman of the Nantucket Historic District Commission suggested they tear the whole thing down and start over. “I was very sentimental about the house,” she says, “even though all the contractors said there was nothing redeeming about it.”
“We took off about 75 percent of the house, kept most of the rest, and added on,” says Catalano of the nine-month process.
The results are rewarding. From the antique chestnut floors (replacing the original pine) to every ceiling, crown, and cabinet detail, the architect and designer, along with builders Les Fey and Will Gorman, created a classic.
From the street, the house doesn’t look much different. A new, prim, white-picket fence hems in the lush garden, brimming with hydrangea, pink roses, and astilbe. “When you go through the gate into the garden, that’s the start of the arrival sequence,” says Catalano. “It’s an outdoor room, but it’s also something you can see from many of the indoor spaces.”
The L-shaped house has two entrances: the first is the original front door, which was moved closer to the street to accommodate the stairs leading to the new second floor, while the second enters upon a hallway that connects the dining room with the kitchen and living room. Those rooms, plus the master suite, laundry, mudroom, offices, and a guest suite, occupy the first floor. The second floor holds the other bedrooms.
During the construction phase, Nancy planned and ordered the interior elements. “It’s such a difference being your own decorator—Joe was the only push-back,” she says. “I had the happiest time picking out fabrics because no one was saying no to me! Still, I wanted to be efficient and economical.”
She kept almost everything from the previous house, re-covering it or using it in a different way. Her biggest challenge was furnishing the living room. While not large, it has a seventeen-foot ceiling and is open to the airy, all-white kitchen. “Scale was a real issue,” she says. A pair of Verellen sofas and two swivel chairs face the blue-and-white-tiled fireplace. Built-in bookcases to either side hold art and design books as well as beloved pieces of Barge ware and blue-and-white Canton pottery. Between the windows overlooking the backyard are two photographs by John Duckworth that seem to give the room its own ocean view.
The design scheme began with color. “I love Farrow & Ball Dix Blue,” Nancy says. “Once I chose that, I chose all my fabrics. But I wanted navy, too, so the fabrics had to work with that as well.”
Favorite shades of blue pop up in the William Yeoward print on the wing chairs in the living room as well as in the J.D. Staron rug and the sofa’s Dransfield & Ross pillows.
A striped linen fabric from Raoul that covers a high-backed bench in the dining room helps broaden the palette, adding oatmeal and green to the blues.
The color scheme changes a bit in the master bedroom, where a pair of Toulouse-Lautrec posters that her father, a B-17 pilot, purchased right after World War II, inspired a red, white, and blue theme. “The posters were a driving force behind the design,” Nancy says. “They’re a remembrance of my mother and father.”
Blue and white Duralee fabric hangs from floor to ceiling in front of the windows and covers a chaise longue. A red lacquered accent table resides next to a wingback chair covered in a red, blue, and white William Yeoward fabric.
For the guestrooms, Nancy took a few more liberties with color, decorating one in shades of mango and lime and another with green walls and blue and white linens. Most important, everyone has a spot, whether it be for lounging or sleeping or gathering at the dining room table that seats fourteen.
“As the kids grew older and married, we wanted to build a true family home,” Nancy says. “Everyone gathers, and the laughter and cries keep us constantly jumping. Every pillow fight, every trip to the beach, they all have the best time. I look at the house as a gift to my kids and grandkids.”
And while the Serafinis have filled the house with precious things—some that even end up on the foot of a five-year-old—nothing is as special as the memories they house here. •
Architect: Thomas Catalano and Kerri Byrne, Catalano Architects
Interior design: Nancy Serafini
Builder: Les Fey and Will Gorman, Les Fey Millwork
Landscape design: Patricia Dunn, Sabrina Design
October 15, 2019
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