Sea Change

March 15, 2016

In both architecture and interior design, a Nantucket home casts a new light on classic island style.

Text by Megan Fulweiler    Photography by Michael Partenio    Produced by Stacy Kunstel


It’s been said that too many cooks spoil the broth. But you’ll never hear that sentiment expressed when it comes to building a new house. Decisions pile up—and up and up. And all those details! It can seem, well, overwhelming. The more talent brought to bear, the better. A well-oiled collaboration of experts, similar to the one that unfolded here, is worth a pirate’s treasure.

Logistics can make creating an island home a bit of a challenge, but it’s all worth it. Islands are magical, and Nantucket is among the most enchanting of them all. Once the whaling capital of the world, it’s now a dream destination for world travelers. Cobblestone streets, roses scrambling everywhere, and water as far as the eye can see—there’s hardly a sweeter spot on Earth. When it comes to forging a Nantucket nest of your own, who better to call upon than the people who know it well?

Interior designer Cynthia Hayes, head of an eponymous Rumford, Rhode Island, firm, has an intuitive grasp of the place. In addition to completing myriad island projects, she summered on Nantucket as a child and has family there. Still, this project was different: not only was her island-based brother Edward S. Toole of Altest Ventures the builder, her clients had a specific vision unique to the location. Rather than a traditional nautical theme, they were anticipating a slightly more sophisticated interior. And in lieu of blue and white, the go-to color marriage in these parts, the wife requested a generous dose of purple. With three active children in residence, anything fussy was verboten. A fine balance of chicness—reflective of the owner’s stylish aesthetic—and comfort to foster carefree summer living was clearly the answer.

Hayes, along with her colleague Pamela Manchester, an interior designer based in Westport, Massachusetts, arrived on the scene when the couple’s four-bedroom house, designed by Matthew R. MacEachern, principal of Nantucket design firm Emeritus, was still under construction. Having known each other for years, the two professionals often team up for large projects. In this case, they’re probably among the few people who remember the awkward cottage that previously claimed the site. Rather than raze the building, MacEachern skillfully reinterpreted it to serve as charming guest quarters. In tandem with a new pool house, the now-handsome cottage stands guard by an inviting swimming pool.

“This outdoor living space is a critical part of the program,” MacEachern explains. “To maximize the southern exposure, we laid out a linear format. The kitchen and dining and living spaces all have a direct relationship to the pool area. There’s a strong fluidity between the interior and exterior.” Indeed, every corner of the house is awash with light, and windows embrace pool views or billowing hydrangeas morphing slowly with the season from azure to purply russet.

As it turns out, the wife’s palette preferences also strengthen the in/out connection. Varying shades of gray, as alluring as an island fog, with just a spattering of heady lavender couldn’t be more Nantucket-like. It’s as if Mother Nature wafted through one misty morning, leaving behind a handful of the island’s famed Scotch heather.

Subtle elements of black play an important role, too. “They’re little jolts, contrasts to the serenity,” Hayes says. Case in point? Jet-black kitchen stools, a black-framed hall print, and black metal legs on the living room’s Charles Stewart Seli ottomans. The last are the only interjections of color in the pale room, where a limestone hearth—minus excess adornment—serves as the focal point. The upholstered furnishings are the hue of sun-washed seashells, and the area rug is reminiscent of the shore. “It’s a textured linen—a mix of grays, ivory, white, and chocolate. It won’t show sand,” says Hayes.

Although the home’s coffered ceilings and paneling are classic elements, MacEachern subtly nudges them toward modernity. The natural wooden beam he’s deftly integrated into the kitchen, for instance, is a counter to the high-polish finish of the room’s old-school millwork. “The rough beam lessens the formality and infuses the setting with a sense of casualness,” he says.

Such mastering of details meant hours of fine-tuning. To further guarantee perfection, Nantucket-based architectural and design consultant Elisa H. Allen was also brought on board to ensure each addition, from the appliances to the bath tile, remained in sync with the overall scheme. “I deal with the interior heartscape—hardware, countertops, fixtures, anything that’s permanent. It’s the stuff people don’t always notice,” Allen says modestly.

With such a talented group of individuals focused on getting it right, it’s no wonder all the parts mesh beautifully. The open-plan kitchen and the living and dining areas spill seamlessly into one another, and each—despite its singular feel—complements the others. The living room’s brass and bronze floor lamp from Dwell Studios speaks to the Ziggy pendant, with its brass-plated interior finish, that lights the dining table, and also to the Armand metal pendant above the kitchen sink. Pops of texture—the woven fixture illuminating the cozy banquette, the rattan garden stool flanking the sofa, the wood legs on the sleek dining chairs—bring an extra layer of interest.

Even the second-floor family room, with its eye-catching Worlds Away glass coffee table and versatile purple linen cubes, falls into step. What better place to hunker down with a book during a storm than amid the sofa’s fluffy pillows?

As might be expected, the master bedroom fuses effortlessly with the other spaces. Sticking to their formula—gray with splashes of purple—and interjecting a dash of glamour, the designers convey sumptuousness without going over the top. An antique mirror with a silver finish from Made Goods serves as the posh headboard. The nightstand lamps are concrete with silver leaf. No doubt these shiny materials conjure thoughts of the nearby moonlit waves that lull the owners to sleep. •

Architecture: Emeritus
Interior design: Cynthia Hayes, Cynthia Hayes Interior Design, with Pamela Manchester, Manchester Interiors
Architectural and design consultant: Elisa H. Allen
Builder: Edward S. Toole, Altest Ventures
Landscape design: Mark Lombardi and Nathan Damian, Nantucket Heritage Landscapes Construction

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