A Dream House in Madaket -Fall 2013
by: Leslie Linsley
photography by: Terry Pommett
The house is surrounded by Rosa Rugosa bushes and nestles into the property with spectacular views of Madaket Harbor from every room. The sun porch provides the way into the house.
“I would walk down Blue Heron Way along the beach and then walk over to Little Neck,” she said. “This property along the beach had only a little boathouse in the center of it. It had been there for at least 50 years.”
Brown spent many summers walking those beaches with her niece, but it wasn’t until 2000 that she decided to set down permanent roots here. During her last weekend of one vacation she saw a real-estate ad in the paper for the property she had grown to love. She bought it on the spot. But buying the land turned out to be the easy part. This area is very fragile and building a home here that would so perfectly fit – visually and ecologically – into the site and become part of the surrounding landscape would take patience, talent and dedication.
Madaket, located at the western tip of the island, has always been known as a fishing village. While much of the rest of the island has been gentrified, this particular spot has managed to remain relatively unspoiled. Madaket Road begins at the top of Main Street and curves gracefully as it leaves town. In the 1600s, there were nine “First Purchasers,” or proprietors of the island of Nantucket. In the fall of 1659, Thomas Macy and his wife were the first to arrive. They chose to settle in Madaket. The settlers built fishing shacks and then houses near the shore. Over the years, summer residents have bought houses here to vacation and take advantage of the fishing and boating from Madaket Harbor and Hither Creek. In the winter, the harbor is filled with boats owned by island residents who supplement their income by scalloping.
There are few year-round residents in Madaket, but that suits Brown and her husband Scott White just fine. Brown is the chief executive officer of Nantucket Community Sailing and White is a veterinarian with his own business, Home Veterinary Care. When Brown bought the land she was a single businesswoman who at that time had no idea that just one year later she would be leaving the corporate world, selling her home in New York, and moving permanently to Nantucket. While the house is extremely personal, as she designed and built it for herself, she and White find their tastes perfectly matched for the lifestyle the house provides.
“I lived in a 100-year-old Victorian house with lots of wood and funky details that I loved,” she said. “I was able to incorporate some of that feeling into this house and I got to improve on all the details.”
It all started with a search for the right architect. Brown was looking for someone who would be able to translate her vision of her dream house as it was evolving in her mind.
“Luke Thornewill of Thornewill Design Nantucket turned out to be the perfect one,” Brown said. In Thornewill’s blog on his website, thornewilldesign.com, he describes the process of this project: “We worked well together,” he writes. “She was very organized and provided me an album of interior images. We spent a lot of time on-site together.”
Thornewill remembers Brown saying she wanted the house to “look like a Sconset cottage, but be way more spacious.”
This would not be the last time in the design process that Brown would challenge Thornewill. During the year, she filled the pages of a three-ring binder with clippings, notes, measurements, swatches, paint colors and everything that appealed to her. She cut out pages from magazines showing rooms and architectural details as well as interiors of ships. Brown and Thornewill walked through Sconset and around Madaket while she pointed out the funky rooflines and low profiles of the cottages she liked and the funky architecture with those appealing little warts. During the creative process of turning her vision into reality, Brown and Thornewill were also dealing with real problems that began with meetings with the Conservation Commission. The regulatory body needed to determine that a house could in fact be built on this fragile land. The soil had to be tested and ultimately it required the installation of a water-filtration system. It was also necessary to plan for a raised septic system. All bathrooms were designed a few steps up so they sit above sea level. And they still had to present their design to the Historic District Commission.
Thornewill explained that he began with a sketch of how he imagined his client sitting at the water’s edge with her back against a dune looking out to sea. The house would be sited in a similar fashion with the back of the building tucked into the higher dune landscape where the courtyard and garden are now situated. Two guest bedrooms and bathrooms are at this higher level with the lower, or main rooms, looking out to the water. This allows for all the high and low rooflines and windows influenced by the Sconset fishermen’s cottages that so intrigued Brown. The new home pays homage to this architectural history, blending in as if it had been here forever. And the septic tank, installed above the flood plain, is totally obscured by a sea of grasses.
One enters the house through a screened-in porch where it’s polite to leave your shoes and be mindful of the dogs that own the place. But it is the view that you notice as soon as you pull into the driveway. A thick low hedge of Rosa Rugosa is all that is between the house and Madaket Harbor.
“Our only neighbor year-round is Madaket Marine,” Brown pointed out. The interior is laid out so that most of the rooms have three walls of natural light with no jarring angles. Most walls are curved. The entryway on the lower level is a small room from which feeds a stairway to the upper level, to the left a tiny office, to the right of the stairs, a long hallway with cutouts in the ceiling to create indoor windows. This hallway was built with pine walls on one side and painted board on the other to keep it from being too dark. The natural light changes with the time of day and season. All the wood is barn siding that has been sanded and waxed to a smooth finish.
To the right is the expansive living/dining room with breathtaking views of the harbor. On a clear day you can see all the way across the water to Tuckernuck. It’s the same view one sees from the kitchen to the left of this room.
“In the summer we have dinner here and watch the sunset over Tuckernuck,” Brown said, “and in the winter it sets over Smith’s Point.” Their boat, visible from here, bobs in the water right at the end of their dock.
“Scott is an avid fisherman,” Brown said. “I’ve gotten into it as well and all our vacations revolve around boat-fishing in the Bahamas.”
The interior of the house reflects a respect for boatbuilding. Details like the curved walls and the use of lots of interior wood as well as the curved beams in the living room are intended to reflect an upside-down hull of a boat. A sweet touch are thresholds embedded with beach pebbles. Bringing natural light into the house was an important consideration. For example, in the kitchen, light streams in from over the center island. The overhead cabinets seem to float above the sink with glass on both sides, allowing light from the windows in the hallway to come into this room.
When planning the kitchen, Brown knew she wanted two sinks and two dishwashers.
“I was single then and needed a small dishwasher for myself and a larger one for entertaining,” she said.
There’s a small refrigerator for drinks and a stovetop built into the island.
“Scott is the real cook in this family,” Brown said. “The kitchen is the gathering place where we can talk and cook and relate to whatever is happening in the living room.”
There’s a half wall between these rooms where a little desk is neatly positioned on the kitchen side of the wall. Brown was quick to point out all sorts of cleverly concealed built-in storage for which she credited Thornewill, who also took on the job of contractor. There are personal touches throughout the house like the built-in window seat with cushions Brown made. She off-handedly mentioned that she loves to sew and also made the bedroom curtains.
“This was a fun house to design and build,” Thornewill said.
And that little boathouse that was in the middle of the property? It is still there, moved to one side and housing all the water-filtration equipment plus two generators.
“This is a special place to live like nowhere else on Nantucket,” Brown said, “and building this house was a great experience.”
Indeed it is shipshape.
Leslie Linsley is the author of “That’s a Great Idea!” and writes the “Home Style” column for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.