Old Made New Again
A resourceful and imaginative designer reworks a fully furnished Nantucket house, creating a retreat custom-made for the three generations who spend happy summers there together.
In keeping with the centuries-old Nantucket custom of house-naming, the new owners of this Shingle-style home on the island’s north shore made that decision before they’d even pocketed the key to the front door. Their house would be called Two Sisters, in honor of their two daughters, each of whom has two daughters of her own.
The close-knit clan from the Boston area had rented vacation homes on the island for years; now the grandparents wanted a place to call home. To accommodate their active family, which includes four pre-school–aged granddaughters, they needed a house with a spacious layout, at least five bedrooms and a large yard. Other criteria included a pool and close proximity to the beach, the tennis club and town. This house, designed by Ray Pohl of Botticelli and & Pohl Architects and built by O’Connor Custom Homes in 1996, had everything on the checklist—plus it was already fully furnished.
To freshen up and personalize the interior, the owners brought in Nantucket-based interior designer Kathleen Hay. Along the way, she ended up doing much more than a touch-up.
Hay is gifted at creating rooms that are inviting and entirely livable: rooms that are as suitable for a child clutching a box of Crayolas as for a host offering a platter of hors d’oeuvres. This was to be a gathering place where the family could kick back, have fun together and enjoy the immeasurable pleasures of summertime on Nantucket. Evidence of Hay’s skill is readily seen, in a basket filled with a jumble of tiny pink flip-flops in the foyer, in the Ultrasuede she chose for the dining room chairs—beautiful but not too precious, and easy to clean if juice gets tipped—and in a geometric floor stencil (by Nantucket artist Audrey Sterk) in lieu of a rug under the dining table to facilitate easy sweep-up of crushed Goldfish crackers.
The plan from the start was to repurpose as much as possible. Hay used most of the furniture that came with the house, re-covering sofas and armchairs, shortening tables for use in new capacities and partnering with island painter Robert Cirillo to customize paint colors to match existing upholstery.
All decisions about the new decor and any new acquisitions were made by a committee of the whole family, right down to the little ones, a process Hay says was easier than it might sound. “Truly, everyone in the family was in on every decision” she says. “One of the daughters was the quarterback—my main contact—but by and large, all the family members had a voice. I have to say, it was a really pleasant experience.”
Now and again, Hay played lobbyist for her design ideas, such as when she persuaded the family to vote in favor of re-staining the oak floors and pickling the vaulted ceiling beams, all of which were the same brown hue. The darker floor Hay envisioned adds elegance and accentuates the soft shades of the area rugs and upholstered furnishings. The pickled beams brighten the space and play up the peaked ceiling.
At other times, she played mediator, deftly offering solutions that satisfied seemingly disparate desires. For instance, one daughter preferred bright color and bold pattern while the other favored muted shades and subtle design. Hay answered to both by selecting fabrics and wall coverings in quiet hues, but introducing drama with plenty of texture. She also gave a nod to both preferences in the sisters’ bedrooms. A custom-designed runner crafted by Nantucket weaver Hillary Anapol picks up the bright colors of the bed linens and the tangerine of the goat-hair rug in one sister’s quarters, while an assemblage of white-washed and pale-blue dory boats by New York artist Maralyn Menghini serves as a focal point in her sibling’s room.
The rambling home’s living room is anchored on one end by a fieldstone fireplace with a hand-carved mantel depicting a bowhead whale and a sperm whale facing off. A bank of windows and French doors offer views and invite egress to the gardens and slate terrace. To accommodate the family and their frequent houseguests, Hay designed the large-scale room with comfort in mind. Generously stuffed oversize sofas covered in lush Ultrasuede, stout slipper chairs softened with plump throw pillows and a plethora of ottomans (she calls them “indispensable” and “utterly flexible”) offer seating for fifteen-plus. Hay’s trademark palette of sandy beige, seafoam green, soft sky blue and seashell gray is refreshing and clean, and the designer added warmth with textured upholstery, grasscloth wall covering and natural woven blinds in creamy white.
The house already featured such nautical details as shiplap walls, wainscoting, porthole windows and rope motif trim around the door casings, and Hay collaborated with the “committee” to build on the theme. They selected the work of a handful of Nantucket artists, including Eric Holch’s whimsical prints in bright, primary colors for the den and Michael Gaillard’s handsome color photograph of a weathered hull for the living room. A magnificent hand-blown glass bowl from Dane Gallery takes center stage on a square coffee table in the living room, graced by the shadow of a dreamy, frameless oil painting by island artist Megan Hinton.
Proportion partnered with practicality in Hay’s determination that the center island in the kitchen needed to be larger. “By stretching it out we achieved a more balanced look, visually, plus are able to accommodate four stools,” she says. Hay suspended three glass globe lights from the Nantucket Lightshop over the re-configured island.
New carpentry was kept to a minimum as the bones of the house were, for the most part, ideal for the family. One exception: the sisters’ bedrooms. Both had small closets and little space for bureaus. Hay enlisted local craftsman Josh Brown to build custom-designed beds (with drawers), chests and nightstands, finishing the pieces in a high-gloss, white lacquer in keeping with the nautical vibe. Brown also converted a mudroom into a butler’s pantry and transformed a second-floor back bedroom into a bunk room and children’s play room.
Speaking of playing, lucky for the owners, their outdoor playground was perfect when they bought the house. Nicely contained within a privet hedge, the pool, waterfall, terrace and gardens provide a lovely area for the gatherings the family loves to host.
Hay may have finished her work at this lovely vacation home in one of America’s most cherished places, but it is just the beginning of many years of memory-making summers for the happy family. •
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