Gary McBournie Designs a Stylish Nantucket Home
May 25, 2023
A Nantucket house gets a stylish refresh.
Text by Clinton Smith Photography by Annie Schlechter Produced by David Murphy
Creating a house of one’s own in a coastal community can be a thrilling experience, but it can also lead to a punch list that seems to never end. A sense of place, comfort, and personality are paramount, but it’s sometimes easy to fall into certain tropes or clichés of island decorating. However, when you’re an esteemed designer working with a longtime client, conversations can lead to new and unexpected ways to imagine something that feels familiar, beguiling, and welcoming, yet also new, fresh, and unexpected.
That was the case with Boston-based interior designer Gary McBournie, who collaborated on a project with an existing client after she purchased a Botticelli & Pohl-designed Nantucket home. The house, originally built in the early 2000s, had great bones and exquisite detailing but needed to be lightened up to suit the sensibilities of its new owner. White paint was brought in to update dark wood finishes throughout. Additional layers of fabrics and furnishings enhance the home’s best architectural features—of which there are many—but also give it a softer touch.
“A lot of Nantucket homes are done in blue and white, but we wanted to make it special,” says McBournie. “So some of the navy and white fabrics we used incorporate other colors, such as a hint of green.” Not only that, but the palette is executed in unexpected ways, such as on an envious pair of recolored shell consoles that grace the dining room. Shades of blue give them a sense of whimsy, but their shapes retain a stately, almost architectural, presence in the space.
Working with a repeat client allowed McBournie to put his insight into her likes and dislikes to good use. It was almost like design shorthand.“She doesn’t like things that are too precious,” says McBournie, “which is great because there’s a sense of mixing that we like to do, and she appreciates the combination of high and low. She likes things with a certain amount of formality, yet she also likes to be casual.”
And because it’s Nantucket, the interplay between indoors and out is always a dance in terms of how to capture the breezes, enhance and maximize the water views, prevent the interiors from distracting from the outside (all while holding their own)—and make sure everything is conceived and created as a whole. “There’s a sense of harmony here,” says McBournie of the property. “She is an environmentalist, and all of those things are top of mind.”
For McBournie, creating a true sense of place was one of his guiding lights. He and his partner in business and in life, Bill Richards, have a house on the island and are keenly aware of how best to source and unearth new design discoveries there. Although McBournie and the client shopped in New York, London, and elsewhere, they were never tempted to import everything to Nantucket.
“The client feels strongly about patronizing island resources whenever we can,” says McBournie. The result is a fabulous mix of finds from antiques shows and street sales, and even exquisite carpets made on the island, paired with other objets d’art from Europe, New York, and New England.
“We often buy at auctions and are thrilled when we can incorporate a great antique piece,” says Richards. And for an island known for its rich history of international travel and trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, combining local pieces and those brought home from the world over seems relevant and apropos even today.