Summer Living at Surfside -August 2009

A "new old" summer cottage at Surfside Beach

by: Leslie Linsley

photography by: Terry Pommett

When I was a little girl and first came to Nantucket with my parents, we always rented little cottages.

Often the cottage was near or right on Jetties Beach and it was always rustic, much like a typical summer cabin. Over the years, these basic little cottages disappeared to make way for larger, more luxurious homes, but many of us are nostalgic for these simple structures that represented carefree summer living. At that time my mother would say, “My dream house is one in which you simply sweep the sand out the front door at the end of the day.” As life has gotten more complicated and large houses are becoming impractical on many levels, a simple cottage might be just the antidote.

It’s as much a state of mind as a destination: a place where a family can relax and enjoy a simple way of living, a beach cottage filled with familiar things. There is something so quintessential about a beach cottage surrounded by dune grass and bushes of wild roses. Open your front door and the path leads to the beach and your own piece of heaven. Simple living is a precious commodity, especially when surrounded by the natural beauty of the island.

Surfside, on the south shore, is one of the most popular beaches and an easy bike ride on the bike path that leads from town to the beach. Simple little cottages still remain along the bluff overlooking the beach, although erosion on this side of the island has resulted in the loss of many of them over the years. One couple, familiar with the island, sold their Nantucket home in order to downsize their lives. Toward this endeavor, they decided to refurbish an old cottage that they purchased from a local man who had lived in it many years.

“What we really wanted was a new old summer cottage,” said the new homeowners. So the couple met with the architectural firm of Botticelli and Pohl of Nantucket.

“The more we talked, the more the plans for the house evolved and the finished results perfectly respond to the homeowners’ idea of an island vacation home. It was important to them that the building materials and the design of the house reflect the characteristics of the early Nantucket beach cottages. What they achieved is a simple design, deliberately sparse with exposed beams, vaulted framing, and very much a feeling that suggests carefree summer living,” Lisa Botticelli says.

There is a straight-forward approach to the structure, with no fancy moldings or anything to suggest a grander home. What infuses this house with youthfulness and a fresh approach is, in part, due to the fact that the entire interior is painted white. Painted wooden furniture, rattan sofas, woven rugs, blue fabrics and a collection of old sea-worn bottles in cobalt blue and sea foam green, lend themselves to the cottage feeling.

Except, this cottage isn’t furnished with cast-offs the way rustic cottages from the past might have been. This modern-day cottage is skillfully decorated to invoke that same casual feeling, but with comfort and low-key elegance.

The original cottage was completely gutted, a new master bedroom with a fireplace was added as well as a summer porch that is accessed through double French doors from the living room, doubling the living space. While the rest of the house is completely winterized, this room is purely for summertime. The windows are hinged to open up, allowing ocean breezes to blow through.

“At first we thought this room should be screened in,” says the owner, “but we quickly realized that the fog, which is a fact of beachside living on Nantucket, would make the screens wet and the room damp. With the windows on the top portion of the room all around we can control the air-flow.”

When you create a new/old house you have the opportunity to keep the feeling of the old while incorporating a bit of luxury not found in old structures, such as up-to-date, well-designed plumbing fixtures, a new kitchen and bathroom, efficient windows and other practical considerations. The blue and white color scheme is appropriate for a beach house and many of the furnishings from the owners’ first Nantucket home were easily adaptable to the cottage.

“The luxury in this house is in its simplicity,” says Botticelli. She describes it as “a real jewel box.”

Basically, the floor plan consists of one large room with a brick fireplace, original to the house. The bricks, however, were covered with the same painted white board used throughout the house in order to create continuity. All the doors are extra wide and passageways ample, further enhancing the feeling of a luxurious cottage for 21st-century living with a nod to retro Nantucket cottage style. When you recreate space, you can design nooks and crannies and built-ins where needed. For example, a window seat in the bedroom eliminates the need for free-standing furniture and simplifies the room while adding the sort of charming detail often found in older homes. For all its modern conveniences and lovely furnishings, the house has all the nostalgic qualities of an old-fashioned cottage, only better.

An important consideration was the addition of a generous, wrap-around deck with an outdoor fireplace. The deck runs from the front of the house around to the back, where the surrounding lawn and beach grasses beyond add to the feeling of spaciousness and privacy even though neighboring houses are a stone’s throw away. Borders of rosa rugosa bushes bloom all summer long and are appropriate for a beachside property.

When asked how they begin a project with a new client, Botticelli says her firm usually starts by asking the potential homeowners to bring in images of rooms they like. They might find exteriors of houses as well. This is a good beginning since not everyone can articulate exactly what he or she wants, so the architects can appropriately interpret their needs. In this way the architects can work with the clients to formulate what will become the plans for their new home.

Botticelli says that they also show clients photographs of some of the houses they have designed on the island over the years. Many of their houses have been featured in magazines and it helps to show these as well. And, in fact, this is often the reason many of their clients come to them in the first place. Botticelli says this is the second home they have designed for these clients and she and they consider it a most successful collaboration.

Leslie Linsley is the author of many books on home style and American crafts. Her most recent is “Nantucket, Island Living,” with photographs by Terry Pommett. Her column “Home Style” appears regularly in The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.

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