Nautical and Nice

June 13, 2011

Text by Erin Marvin    Photography by Michael Partenio

Rife with history tied to the sea, the tiny island of Nantucket shimmers like a sandy beacon thirty miles off the Massachusetts coast. Besides its role as a port for sailors, it’s also a vacation paradise for those landlubbers who flock here during the warmer months to enjoy long, sunny days accented by salty sea breezes.

The owners of this quaint Nantucket house and cabin have their own history here: they’ve been summering at this spot for the past thirty years. Unfortunately, the buildings had begun to show their age: faulty plumbing, a marginal electrical system, springy floors. “The walls were paper thin,” says the owner. “If you coughed in one room, you could hear it in the next.”

Deciding it was time to modernize, they turned to someone familiar with the house for help with the renovation: their former caretaker, Robert Hay. Robert had started work as an architectural designer and seemed the perfect partner for this endeavor. He was not only an intimate of the house itself but husband to gifted interior designer Kathleen Hay—who also happened to be a close friend of the owners. “They loved the house,” says Kathleen. “It had an easygoing Nantucket cottage feel, but it didn’t serve the family well.”

Builder Josh Brown, who had previously worked with Kathleen on a number of projects, soon joined the crew. The gut renovation would maintain the integrity of the building’s shape but bring it up to code and make better use of the available square footage. Windows and doors were moved around, and three horizontal dormers were added to the exterior, breaking up the gambrel roofline and allowing more light into the upstairs common areas. Kathleen also suggested reconfiguring the house with an “upside down” layout. To take advantage of a large second-floor deck that sat off the master bedroom upstairs, she decided to turn the bedroom into a more public gathering spot for family and friends. “We thought the family would love going up there, so why not make it a space everyone could enjoy, rather than traipse through a bedroom with cocktails at sunset?” says the interior designer.

Now the deck adjoins a new kitchen, where a spacious island pulls double duty as a dining area when the family isn’t enjoying their meals al fresco. Kitchen countertops are a dark, jet mist–polished granite, and tiny, brick-shaped stainless-steel tiles cover an entire back wall, stretching up to a peak at the top.

Because the room’s sharply angled walls and white V-groove ceiling mimic the gambrel roofline, all of the kitchen cabinetry and appliances—including refrigerator and freezer—had to fit below counter level. The pristine white cabinetry, which Kathleen designed without stiles and rails, fits seamlessly into the space, with simple polished-nickel hardware to maintain the streamlined look. Along the angled walls, small floating shelves made of wood and glass hang suspended by thin metal cables, as if on a ship.

The nautical accents aren’t an accident. “Given the space constraints, we kept saying, ‘Gosh, it’s like designing something on a ship!’ ” says Kathleen.

Custom built-ins—tucked into walls, hidden under beds, doubling as furniture—provide plenty of storage and minimize clutter throughout the 1,700-square-foot house. Polished teak floors gleam like a freshly scrubbed deck, and Roman shades unfurl like sailcloth. Other nods to oceangoing vessels include a porthole mirror in the upstairs powder room, beadboard walls and a new teak staircase that evokes a ship ladder with its stainless-steel horizontal balustrades.

The waist-high white cabinetry stretches along the entire upstairs wall, becoming a beautiful built-in bar, whose shallow, glass-front cabinets hover above a lustrous teak countertop (the perfect spot for whipping up evening cocktails). As it extends to the living room, the cabinetry morphs into bookcases accented by warm teak details.

Here, across from the kitchen, four woven water-hyacinth chairs gather around a generous leather ottoman, which Kathleen designed to accommodate pairs of resting feet or a tray for drinks and snacks, with a shelf underneath for storage. The vaulted ceiling and strategically placed windows allow copious amounts of afternoon light to filter into the space, where plush black-and-white seat cushions invite lingering. Ship-inspired intaglios—Thar She Blows and The Flying Dutchman by Nantucket artist Janet Ball—hang on the wall, adding the blues and greens of sky and sea; a life-jacket-orange starfish printed on a crisp white pillow brings in another bright pop of color.

“Textures are a signature of mine,” explains Kathleen, pointing to the room’s thickly woven chairs, coarse sisal rug and beadboard cabinetry. “I tend to do less color and more texture because I like the artwork or the flowers someone might bring in—or even the clothes your guests are wearing—to be what shines.”

Two bedrooms, each with an en-suite bath and set of French doors that open onto the lawn, now occupy the first floor. The master bedroom features a king-size bed with a custom headboard that fits perfectly beneath a picture window. The second room maintains a simple gray-and-white scheme, but, according to Kathleen, all the important elements are accounted for: “A guest room should have a comfortable bed, enough pillows and good light to read by.”

Also on the first floor, a family room absorbs most of what was once garage space, with a handsome built-in desk and two large barn doors that open to the outside. Below, a newly finished basement holds a third bedroom suite and a sitting room.

Renovations continued in the property’s two-room cabin, where floors are a pickled white oak and formerly exposed walls now wear white horizontal V-groove paneling. White beams intersect a pale seaglass-blue ceiling, giving the entire space a cool feel on hot summer days. A new outdoor shower gets plenty of use from family and guests.

Now that the renovations are complete and the family is comfortably ensconced for the summer, they’ve decided it’s high time to christen the house. Its new name? “Ship Shape.”

Interior Design: Kathleen Hay, Kathleen Hay Designs
Architectural Design:
Robert Hay, Kathleen Hay Designs
Josh Brown, J. Brown Builders

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