Summer of Love
June 10, 2010
Text by Erin Marvin Photography by Eric Roth
Building a house is a lot like building a relationship: you start out by making tentative plans, figuring out what you like and what you’d change. You make compromises, sometimes even cosmetic adjustments. Eventually you start to picture what your life together might look like. Then, if all goes well and enough time has passed, you move in together.
Of course, not everyone wants a long-term relationship.
It’s not a fear of commitment that keeps Elisa Allen from settling down in one of the many houses she’s built on Nantucket—she just prefers the interest and passion involved in forging the perfect match to any “happily ever after.” It’s a pattern she and her husband, Mike, have gladly lived through again and again.
After buying this particular property, two acres west of town, Allen tore down the existing house and then teamed up with architectural designer Matt MacEachern, with whomshe’s worked on several past projects. “He basically designs the exterior and I design the interior and then we compare notes,” says Allen. “This house couldn’t have been improved on—it was a good combination of his vision and mine.”
The result is a 5,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, Shingle-style residence, along with a two-bedroom guest/pool house and a detached garage. The shape of the house was in part dictated by the desire to capture views of untouched conservation land that sits across the road. For the home’s own landscaping, Allen turned to her sister, Karolee H. Brown, a landscape designer, to shape the grounds and pool area.
A pea stone driveway leads up to the house and loops around, where the front yard is planted with deer-proof foliage. The property, which sits at the end of a rural road, is home to a stand of mature trees that Allen fought to preserve. One in particular, an imposing, beautiful English white oak, sat in the middle of the compound. “It took everything I could do to protect it from people driving into it, taking big machines and ripping off branches by mistake or running over the root system,” says Allen. “But the tree was so beautiful and probably seventy-five years old—which is rare on Nantucket—that I did everything I could to save it.”
The overall landscape design is angular and clean, with a long rectangular pool that’s nearly flush with the ground taking center stage in the backyard. Nearby, a patio dining table sits on a grid of two-foot-square pieces of bluestone interwoven with strips of green grass. Along one side of the pool, honey locust trees add height.
Inside, Allen carefully selected everything—from the artwork on the walls to the polished nickel Waterworks fixtures in the kitchen and bathrooms to the Sferra bed linens. Her goals were twofold: to create a comfortable home for herself, her husband and their two dogs, and to outfit the home completely so that when the itch to move on came again, any future owners would have little or nothing to buy to move in. “Being on an island thirty miles out to sea, it appeals to people that they don’t have to figure the logistics of how to get furniture out here,” says Allen. “They just want to show up and have a Nantucket vacation right out of the gate and not worry about rugs and curtains and lighting.”
Allen not only built the house from the ground up, that’s the way she decorated it as well. “I started with a rug for each room, which dictated the color scheme and style,” she says. A custom Jonathan Adler chocolate-and-ivory basket-weave rug sets a neutral tone in the open living/dining space. Below a coffered ceiling, twin cream-colored sofas face each other in front of the fireplace, over which a ship shadow box is recessed into the wall. Matching bobbin chairs round out the comfortable, relaxed seating area. There is no formal dining room; rather, a trestle table perches in front of a wrap-around window seat banquette.
Two steps up and overlooking the living/dining area, the kitchen sits awash in Carrara marble countertops and white cabinetry that was custom made by Nantucket-based Hoff Woodworking. The kitchen island’s mahogany top boasts a high-gloss boat finish, courtesy of Allen’s husband. “Mike’s a boat builder on Nantucket,” says Allen. “He builds boats one at a time, just like I do with the houses, and he winds up selling them when he’s done, too.”
Furnishing a home that will eventually go to someone else means Allen has to subscribe to a “love ’em and leave ’em” attitude—love the furnishings enough to buy them for the house but be able to leave them behind when she moves on.
Take, for instance, the vintage Louis Vuitton trunk in the downstairs library. She found the trunk at a yard sale and it’s probably worth about $10,000. But as much as she loved it, she couldn’t not leave it. “When I furnish a house, the furniture is just as important as the architecture or the landscape,” she says. “If I had taken the trunk it would have taken away from the whole vision. I’ve learned to let go.”
Two sage-green Madeline Weinrib rugs with complementing patterns anchor the first-floor master bedroom, with its antique French fainting chaise (“for all those drama queens,” quips Allen) and its mahogany Leonards bed bedecked in crisp white. The same cream-colored walls are carried into the master bath, where a large white tub sits on a platform under two shuttered windows overlooking the side yard. There’s also a walk-in shower with two showerheads and a private toilet. A chandelier descends from the cathedral ceiling, hanging above heated alabaster marble floors.
Upstairs is a large cathedral-ceilinged living room for more seating and three additional bedrooms (each with their own bath)—including a second master bedroom—which also boast Madeline Weinrib rugs and Leonards beds.
Averaging a new project about once a year or two, Allen and her husband live in each house—“gently,” she says—for a short time before selling. In the case of this house, they lived here for only a summer. Now the new owners have moved in and Allen has happily moved on to her next project. If only all breakups were this easy.
Developer/Builder/Interior Designer: Elisa Allen
Architectural Designer: Matt MacEachern, Emeritus Development