Singular Sensation

July 10, 2012

Text by Paula M. Bodah    Photography by Michael Partenio

Frank Anton’s first few days on Nantucket left him wondering why his wife-to-be, Georgine, so loved the island. “It was the summer before we married,” he relates. “It was 70 degrees, 100 percent humidity, fog at street level. All I could think was, ‘Can we leave now?’” A few days passed until, mercifully, the fog lifted and the sky cleared. And, says Frank, “I saw the magic of the place.” Like Georgine, Frank grew to love Nantucket. The couple flew up from their home in Washington, D.C., often enough that they decided to buy an island house. That turned out to be easier said than done, and they spent several years searching for the right place to call home. Just about the time they decided to give up the hunt and find property to build on instead, Georgine came home and told Frank she’d heard that a house designed in 1990 by the prominent architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen was for sale. “I doubted it,” Frank confesses. As an executive for a media company that specializes in magazines for the architecture and construction industries, he has more than a passing familiarity with the subject. He’d even met Jacobsen, whose firm is based in Washington, D.C., once or twice. “He’s a modernist, and Nantucket’s not a haven for modern architecture,” he says. “I thought Georgine had to be mistaken.”

His doubts vanished the moment the couple pulled up to the house. It adhered to a certain Nantucket look with its shingles weathered to soft silver, its plain white trim and the three sweet dormers jutting from the roof. But it was also classic Jacobsen: a spacious central living space flanked by smaller buildings connected by still-smaller structures, all with the simple shape of a childhood drawing. “When you’re a kid and draw a house—that square with a triangle roof—that’s the form Jacobsen works with,” Frank says. “As soon as I saw it I said to Georgine, ‘I was wrong; you were right.’”

It may have taken Frank a few days to fall in love with Nantucket, but he and Georgine had no hesitation about the house. “It won me over immediately,” Frank says. “It hadn’t had a lot of tender loving care over the previous ten years or so, but the architecture was stunning and we were determined to buy it.”

In their search for someone who could reawaken the home’s interiors while respecting and celebrating Jacobsen’s work, the Antons came across Trudy Dujardin. That Dujardin has offices on Nantucket and in Westport, Connecticut, and has worked all over the country appealed to them. “The last thing in the world we wanted was the ‘Nantucket interior’—the nautical theme, the compass rose in the floor, everything blue,” Frank says. “We’ve been in lovely houses decorated like that, but this house didn’t want that. We knew she’d be able to step away from that island sensibility.”

The front door of the central structure opens into a light-flooded, high-ceilinged great room with views straight across the expanse and out to the backyard. Dujardin and the Antons cleverly divided the massive room into two cozy seating areas, each focused on one of the twin fireplaces, separated by a large round dining table that anchors the room and softens the angular nature of the space.

A three-foot-wide circular wrought-iron chandelier hangs above the table, providing a focal point and, again, softening the angular space. The circle detail repeats in the pieces of contemporary art that flank one of the doors to the back terrace.

Dujardin stuck with a warm, neutral palette, refinishing the floors with a whitewashed translucent stain, adding a sea-grass rug the color of damp sand and covering sofas and chairs in shades of cream and taupe. “We wanted the furniture to be neutral so it wouldn’t compete with the architecture,” the designer explains.

Hanging white pendant lights, part of Jacobsen’s original design, almost disappear against the white paneling, and the only hints of color come from the art, which includes a Wolf Kahn painting above one of the fireplaces.

The space works beautifully for the Antons, who like having two seating areas for their frequent entertaining but can also often be found enjoying their alone time, each reading beside one of the fireplaces. The room’s functionality is matched only by its visual effect. “Not to be hyperbolic,” says Frank, “but it has a jaw-dropping impact on people when they enter the room.”

The Jacobsen-designed kitchen needed little work other than refinishing cabinets and the floor and replacing the old countertop with its current white marble. The dark-wood island with its sturdy turned legs was installed by Jacobsen himself.

Left of the front door, a long hall leads past a guest room (two others are in a separate building) through a connector space to the master suite. Like the public part of the house, the guest room is all white, cream and taupe. A subtly curved upholstered headboard creates a graceful complement to the room’s straight lines, and bedcoverings of romantic damask and bold stripes form a pleasing blend of traditional and contemporary.

In the master suite, the original Jacobsen-designed bed and egg-crate bookcases have been joined by a luxurious wool rug and a seating area composed of comfortable lounge chairs outfitted in pale seafoam-green sueded denim. Another painting by Wolf Kahn lends a further splash of soft color to the white walls.

Jacobsen designed the original landscaping as well, including the element Dujardin calls “the most stunning thing about the house”: a deck cleverly built around the base of a tree. In choosing furniture for the deck and the bluestone terrace at the back of the house, the designer again kept things simple, opting for pieces with contemporary, sophisticated lines.

The Antons have invited Jacobsen to drop by when he’s on Nantucket for work this summer, and Frank is eager to see what the architect thinks of their changes to the house he ­designed some twenty years ago. “I think,” says Frank, “he’d believe we’ve acted with appropriate restraint in terms of changing anything at the core of what he wanted.”

It would be nice to have his approval, but truth be told, Frank and Georgine aren’t really looking for it. As far as they’re concerned, they finally have a house they can love as much as they love their island.

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