Q and A with Interior Designer Nancy Serafini

By Paula M. Bodah

Boston and Nantucket-based interior designer Nancy Serafini sees herself as more than a designer. She’s also an interpreter, translating her clients’ dreams into reality (often surpassing those dreams in the process). Nancy, a 2011 inductee into the New England Design Hall of Fame, is known for her relaxed but elegant style and her unique way of combining contemporary pieces with fine antiques for a richly layered, personal result. We featured a lovely example of her work in our September-October 2013 issue, a historic in-town home on Nantucket that struck a perfect balance between honoring its past and being livable for a modern-day family. Here, Nancy shares her thoughts about the project, her own home, and the little piece of heaven that is Nantucket.

nancy serafini nantucket

Photography by Michael Partenio

nancy serafini nantucket garden

Was there a particular factor that convinced you that working with the client on this house would be a fun project?

My client and I had a wonderful rapport right from the beginning; our mutual love of gardens and flowers originally brought us together. Her appreciation of the history of her house and the island was a major factor in deciding the look and feel of the furnishings. Antiques were a welcome relief from all the contemporary furniture we have been deluged with as of late, and the strong love of color and texture and pattern were an added delight. The house became a home filled with love and laughter amid fine antiques, old rugs, warm wallpaper, and charm. To sit at the table under the garden gazebo is magical.

What drew you to—and keeps you on—Nantucket? 

We were drawn to Nantucket nearly thirty years ago. Our children were little and we immediately sensed that we had discovered an island marked by the beauty of the sea and the kindness of strangers. Nantucket quickly became home to all of us and started so many family traditions that continue today with our grandchildren. The happiness of watching the children run through the garden, taking a bike ride, strolling down the cobblestone streets will never lose its wonder for us.

You mention in the story that you and your client share similar tastes. What does your own Nantucket house look like?

My own home in Nantucket has just been completely rebuilt. The greatest challenge was the notion that I might lose the charm of the cottage when we doubled the size of the house. I was thrilled to find architect Tom Catalano, who shared our sense of tradition with a contemporary twist. Our spaces are large and open, and white paint abounds, which in itself is a marked deviation for me. Only one room, the powder room, has wallpaper. The major difference from our original cottage is not only size but the quality of the workmanship. We were so fortunate to have found our contractors, Les Fey and Will Gorman, who employed the most superbly talented craftsmen. I watched and marveled as every board went in, the arches were created, the antiqued reclaimed-chestnut floors were installed, and the painting was done flawlessly. I think I succeeded in creating a home marked by quality and warmth. The antiques and art that we have collected for more forty years have all been incorporated into the new spaces and some pretty whimsical folk art has been added. 

How do you approach a project when the client has tastes that differ from yours? Is it more challenging, or is it more fun to step outside your own box? 

Sometimes I have to step back and just take a long breath and try to figure out how to get into my client’s tastes. My responsibility is to interpret their taste and raise it to the highest level. It generally works out, but I would be untruthful if I did not admit that sometimes the best course is to simply part company when the simpatico does not exist!

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