Modern Magic

January 18, 2012

Text by Megan Fulweiler    Photography by Michael Partenio


Before the ferry nudges the dock, visitors sense the magic. Moored some thirty miles south of Cape Cod, Nantucket is a different world. Day-trippers have been known to fall under the island’s spell in life-shaping ways. It’s not just the magnificent beaches that grow even more memorable under crisp fall skies when colors are magnified. The town is lovely, too, perhaps never more so than in winter when lighted trees line the cobbled streets and candles glow in hundred-year-old windows.

The owners of this home were among those swept away. They began like migrating birds to arrive on Nantucket’s shores every summer. Then, four kids came along and “life got complicated,” the wife says with a laugh. When they did come back years later with children in tow, they found their affection for the place undiminished. The desire for a permanent base where family and friends could convene took hold, and the hunt was on.

When their excited real estate agent called, begging them to fly up immediately, they heeded his advice. “And thank heavens,” says the wife. “We walked around, saw these incredible harbor views and bought the house on the spot. It just felt right.” The old home—all weathered shingles and white trim—was the quintessential Nantucket nest. “Beach-cottagey and charming,” the homeowner says.

For a couple of years, the family enjoyed the place as it was, not minding that it wasn’t winterized and featured a warren of sweet but small rooms that didn’t quite fit the lively family. Eventually, however, it was obvious: only a renovation could transform their languorous seasonal getaway into a comfortable year-round home (translation: more time on the island). For help, they turned to Lyman Perry of Lyman Perry Architects, with offices on the island and in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.

A well-known local figure, Perry, who studied with Louis Kahn at the University of Pennsylvania, has put his thoughtful touch on two hundred-some Nantucket houses. “Architecture is my passion,” he says. “This house was wonderful, but we needed to streamline and reorganize the interior so it could flow better.”

Perry brought Matthew Moger, a partner in the firm, on board. Nantucket-based builder Scott Bowman, frequently referred to as an artist in these parts, signed on, too. With such a talented trio on the job, a fabulous twenty-first-century rebirth was really only a matter of time.

Of course, no project is without challenges. Because the house sits in a historic district, stringent regulations had to be followed. There was also a slight discrepancy in visions: the wife leaned toward a classic fix initially, while the husband pictured a contemporary solution. Happily, the architects’ brilliant scheme to maintain the home’s look and basic configuration while still opening up the space won everybody over.

The plan called for raising the structure and tucking a basement in below. No ordinary basement, though, this generous space is equipped with a media room, bunk bedroom, bath and storage. An ingenious double-wide areaway—imagine an underground patio twelve feet wide and thirty feet long—provides access and floods the newfound space with light and air.

Next, an appropriately scaled two-story addition allowed for amenities like a mudroom and laundry room on the first floor and plenty of baths and bedrooms (with water views) above. So seamlessly do old and new mesh, passersby don’t discern the difference. The home’s exterior reads like it always has, only immeasurably improved.

The liberated interior, however, is another story. “Nantucket decor tends to be traditional and mostly blue, white and yellow. People step inside and are totally surprised,” says the wife, who is obviously delighted with today’s forward-thinking spin.

With the former traffic-blocking walls demolished, the kitchen and the living and dining spaces merge easily. Ceiling heights are cunningly varied—low over the kitchen table, soaring in the dining room—to define the areas. Walls wear a barely gray, mist-like tint that enhances the feeling of openness. And the beautiful floors that knit it all together are limed oak (a material found throughout the home) that conjures sand. Constant light washing in through windows and glass doors illumines every corner. “We took an old farmhouse and made it sexy,” Moger says.

The furnishings—many of them designed by Moger (who has since moved on to a new firm, Moger-Mehrhof Architects)—are contemporary, crafted of sophisticated materials. The legs on the pale limed-oak dining room table, for example, slide into stainless-steel sleeves. Steel coffee tables and end tables in the living room have a shape inspired by humpback whales and flaunt a bronze finish reminiscent of the color of red seaweed.

The wife’s affinity for the scheme and her well-defined design sense made commissioning an interior designer unnecessary. Yet design is not her only talent, according to Moger, who insists that cooking tells a lot about the person. “She’s a marvel in the kitchen,” he says. “She produces memorable meals with basic ingredients. Like everything she does, they’re simple but always elegant.”

Cooking clutter is nowhere to be seen. Instead, the mood is clean and crisp. Plenty of limed-oak cabinets, some with antiqued glass fronts, contrast with black-as-night honed granite counters. The space is dominated by a majestic Aga range, a no-nonsense fixture that promises good food for summer hordes and any fall revelers who appear on the doorstep in October for the island’s celebrated cranberry harvest.

For lounging, the enlarged second-level hall, now a library and study, couldn’t be better. A subtle change in the floor level cleverly separates the two areas. To the left and right, respectively, roost the spacious master suite and a daughter’s bedroom and bath.

To conserve space and breathing room, a number of built-ins serve as furniture. The library console (topped with sandblasted glass that might be mistaken for sea glass) stands out. And the homeowners’ bed, with its handsome built-in headboard, will never go unnoticed.

When all is said and done, the modernizing renovation that raised the rafters, opened the rooms and lightened the palette has also preserved the home’s character. This island getaway is lasting proof that it’s possible to respect the past and live gloriously in the present.

Project Team
Architecture: Lyman Perry Architects, Ltd.
Builder: Scott Brown

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