Bold Comfort on Nantucket

Bold Comfort

from New England Home’s Cape & Islands Magazine New England Home’s Cape & Islands Magazine, Summer 2008 

by Louis Postel

The single mom of three young boys has run out of time for lingering at the Nantucket coffee shop. She’s scheduled to build beehives.

“I’ve decided to do something about all the disappearing bees we’re reading about in the papers. Guess how much ten thousand bees cost – seventy-nine dollars!” she says, dashing off.

If she instills in this project the same thoughtful, modern spirit that informed the 2,700-square-foot renovation and addition just completed for herself, her boys and a West Highland terrier, the bees are in luck. Her team – Joe Paul of BPC Architecture in Nantucket; Merilee Noorani, a New York –and London-based interior designer, and Steve Ninteau of Woodmeister Master Builders in Holden, Massachusetts – faced a design challenge  that was in many ways  the reverse of what’s so often the case. They hardly had to prod their client into the modern age of bold, clean lines; she was already there, a minimalist at heart. “No, no, no,” Noorani found herself exclaiming more than once in one of their teasing tugs-of-war, “you need comfort too. You need those antique Moroccan lanterns. You need a living room where the boy’s shin guards don’t look out of place.”

5-Bold Comfort NE Home-004The homeowner wanted to connect to Nantucket while steering clear of island clichés. No lightship baskets, rollicking blue anchors on white linens, or nautical tropes would infiltrate her island retreat. And yes, while she would have Nantucket beadboard, it would be horizontal instead of vertical –turning the cliché on its ear, so to speak. The real coastal connection would have to be much more subtle. On the living room wall, for example, hangs a cloud-heavy landscape of England’s North Coast by royal portraitist Tai-Shan Schierenberg. It seems to be an extra window on the world, and not just of the North Coast but of Nantucket as well. “There’s a reason they call New England, new England,” says the homeowner, who met designer Noorani in London’s Hampstead Heath area, where they were neighbors. “The Heath’s an unlandscaped park and pretty wild,” says Noorani. “It was like a preview of the Nantucket project.”

Inside the classic Shingle-Style home, architect Joe Paul’s work comes alive. One of his first moves was to have Ninteau and his master builders tear down a second floor knotty-pine balcony in the living room. “It had this rustic, barny look,” recalls Ninteau. “Now the space is truly opened up. The newly exposed chimney breast became a real feature.

The Chimney Breast’s sweeping horizontal V-groove is a modernist touch that Noorani emphasized and elaborated on throughout, from the slate-blue horizontal cladding of the kitchen island to the built-in living room display cases and the horizontal beadboard of the chimney breast itself.

The floors, a key feature of the house, involved considerable back  and forth, if not the aforementioned tugs-of-war. Paul and Ninteau  brought the homeowner to visit a number of island homes they’d collaborated on just to look at some floor options. Finally they found one in bleached ash. “Just what I’ve been looking for!” said the happy client.

1-Bold Comfort NE HomeAnother “back and forth” element was the staircase with its undulating brushed-metal spindles and ebonized oak banister. “The rest of the living room was so linear, with such strong lines in the beams, we needed those wavy spindles to loosen things up,” says Noorani.

Just as the sweeping V-groove of the chimney breast draws the eye to the living room, the X in a solid maple X-brace table beckons from the dining room. Designed by Noorani and Vermont Furniture Works, the table has a symmetry that’s doubly reinforced by its placement between two tall windows. The entire effect is softened by the curved chrome legs of the Mies van der Rohe chairs and the tendrils of the silver-plated antique Dutch chandelier. On the wall, glazed stoneware whelk shells by Betsey rice are another unsentimental nod to the sea.

To Builder Ninteau, Noorani’s British-inflected three-color scheme in the kitchen, with its slate-blue, maple-topped island and maple cabinets, seemed too far a stretch from Nantucket’s traditional white walls with black granite counters. But then, when it was done, confesses Ninteau, “I had that ‘aha!’ moment when it all made sense.”

Of her home’s unusual departures from the norm, the homeowner adds, “Too many contemporary homes are too uniform. Objects can work together without all looking the same.”

Triple dots on the English pillows in the upstairs bedroom offer more symmetries –at once playful and reassuring. A Noorani-designed four-poster sits squarely between two windows finished in the ebonized oak of the stair banister. And it’s not the sun that has caused the leafy Old World Weavers fabric on the Baker bench to look faded in the middle; that’s the way it was designed.

From her windows, the mom can watch her boys biking the distance from a sixteen-foot trampoline in the yard to the beach in five minutes flat.

As for the adults, they had their own kind of play, including the occasional design tug-of-war. But all the collegial back and forth accomplished its goal: to express the homeowner’s forward-looking spirit while keeping everyone comfortable. No doubt those ten thousand bees will be cared for equally well.

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