This Nantucket Home Underwent a Charming, Classically-Inspired Revival
On their first visit to Nantucket nearly 20 years ago, the owners of this 1838 Greek Revival home walked off the ferry and straight into a love affair with the summer colony. "They fell for the light, the quaintness, the way the houses organically weave their way into the landscape," says Boston-based interior designer Gary McBournie. And he can articulate the island's centuries-old allure as well as anyone, having designed five of his own houses here and many others for clients over the years. "Love of history and the ocean are as intrinsic to Nantucket as the salt in the air. It just draws you back, season after season."
His clients felt the pull immediately, and began making plans to spend summers on the island. The house is on the upper part of Main Street, which is quiet and peaceful, "away from the tourists," notes McBournie. "It's removed from downtown, so there are more trees and some larger gardens." And yet, despite the bucolic setting, there's no confusing its place in maritime history. A mere half-mile from the wharf, it was built by David Chase (1798–1889), captain of whaleships the Leader and the James Munroe, and later of the lightship the Cross Rip. With its classic flat, wood-clad facade, iconic "friend-ship stairs," and abundant windows filling the rooms with the island's legendary sunlight, its architecture is as innately Nantucket as its nautical roots.
The family lived in the home for a few summers before doing a full refresh, which helped give them a feel for its inherent character. "They wanted to renew the energy of the house, but still keep it familiar and reflective of its history," says McBournie.
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It helped that he and his clients drew decorating inspiration from the same source: famed designer Billy Baldwin, who summered and then eventually retired on the island. His aesthetic, McBournie and the home's owner agree, is sophisticated, timeless, and uncontrived—a tribute to what Baldwin called Nantucket's "prevailing peace and privacy" and "that true, clear Atlantic light."
Two must-haves became McBournie's jumping-off points: a blue-and-white Twigs wallpaper that once covered the dining room walls, and a Cowtan & Tout floral. "I used these as guidelines and filled in around them," says the designer. The wallpaper went front and center, just inside the entryway, and the floral became upholstery and draperies in the master bedroom. "It's perfect for a bedroom—not too much intensity," he says. French doors lead out to a balcony with a view across the island rooftops, and a bedside desk tucked into a dormer overlooks Main Street.
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Throughout, McBournie balanced the clients' more traditional furnishings with newer (but still classic) design elements. For instance, an apple green stipple glaze on the dining room walls offers a lively counterpoint to the room's more "serious" antique pedestal table; in the living room, a white Parsons coffee table is a modern foil for a gilded, Federal-style mirror.
The floor plan got a refresh, as well. By removing a back stairwell that chopped up the flow of the rooms, McBournie created a larger, more functional kitchen, which now opens to a dazzling sunroom where the windows open by sliding down completely into their frames. McBournie covered the rattan furniture in a linen fabric that pulls together all the yellows, greens, and blues from the front parlor, TV room, and dining room, as well as the red-oranges and yellows from the kitchen.
One of the reasons the historic home works so well for 21st-century summers, adds McBournie, is that he and the client had "a similar idea of how to preserve the formality of a captain's house but make it casual and relaxed, like Nantucket itself," says the designer. "That shorthand makes it fun, which is always important, but especially when working on a second home. The whole point is to create something that's meant to be enjoyed."