The Shifting Sands of Home -August 2013

by: Lisa Clair

photography by: Jeffrey Allen

Life on the ocean is a swiftlychanging business, as sailors and sea captains can tell you. Waves advance only to recede, boats lift and drop with the tide, and even its boundaries are ephemeral: A plain of crushed shells, blowing sand, tenuous dunes and wind-tossed beach roses fight for a foothold. And yet, for millennia, the ocean’s stunning beauty has drawn fishermen and gentlemen alike to make their homes on the coast. Salt water beckons like the Sirens, but hurricanes, nor’easters and a changing climate are no respecters of houses, however firmly built.

Nantucket residents know their island is a fragile thing, a bone-china teacup perched on the Atlantic’s powerful knee. Sconset Bluff residents have struggled for years with the ocean’s fierce appetite, hiring crews to shovel sand by hand and Bobcat to replace what is swallowed in every storm. The owners of this elegant 1908 home moved it not once, but twice, to save it from toppling off the bluff and into the Atlantic as successive winter storms ate away at the lawn until nothing was left between the house and the sea. First shifted farther inland in 2006, the second move for the house was across the island to Monomoy in 2010, where it now watches the gentler waves in the harbor from a safe distance.

Trudy Dujardin, longtime island resident and president of Dujardin Design Associates, was called by the homeowners to bring this beautiful home by the sea back to its original glory. She first designed the interiors in 1996. This year, she and senior designer Price Connors re-envisioned the home room by room, bringing new life and light to this rescued gem. The island’s influence is unmistakable. Dujardin looks to a home’s surroundings for inspiration. She’s known for respecting history and provenance, and grounding a house with a strong sense of place.

The feeling of salt-water breezes begins its whisper at the front door. Heavenly blue and white invoke a summer sky, and create an entry as inviting as a horizon. The island’s link with sea captains and the gifts of Chinese-export porcelain they brought back to shore are reflected in Blue Willow patterned fabrics. A scallop-shell pattern is lightly stenciled on soft blue walls, and a glimpse into the adjoining living room promises more places for the eye to rest, as well as friends and family.

The world of 1908 is still in evidence in the house, recalled by the back servants’ stairs and the original call box with bells for the library, the guest rooms and
the Edwardian-era lady and gentleman of the house, Mr. and Mrs. Dustin. An updated family room, breakfast room and kitchen replaced a maze of rooms that once occupied the servants’ wing. The dramatic front staircase remains intact, though, as is all the original woodwork.

With the sea no longer threatening, spectacular gardens have been planted outside, with massive hedges, and organic vegetable and fruit gardens instead of sandy paths.

“There’s a feeling of déjà vu,” Dujardin said with a laugh. “There are many things the same, but some rooms are reversed.”

As befits a home that has lasted for generations, there is a beguiling mix of the ages throughout. In the entry, a 19th-century gilt mirror brings a touch of grandeur, arching over 21st-century whale art in hand-blown glass by Raven Skyriver. A series of rooms open up one after the other, offering tantalizing glimpses of subtle blues and yellows, creams and whites, richly-finished wood floors and plush rugs underfoot. Antiques add a decorous note to airy spaces.

The homeowners’ unique stories are told here, too. The 1840s breakfront in the dining room is home to a collection of heirloom china teacups, given to the wife’s mother at her wedding shower. Each guest arrived with a different teacup, creating a charmingly-mismatched set that has been treasured for years.

Dujardin Design is expert in creating spaces in which to showcase collections, seen in the navy background of the living room’s built-in shelves. They’re a dramatic offset to a room that shimmers with paleyellow striped walls and windows trimmed with custom-designed sheers. An antiques expert and passionate collector himself, senior designer Connors used curtain tiebacks made from opalescent 1880s Sandwich glass, affording a glimpse of the gardens outside the window.

A ribbon of color runs through the house. Shades of bluebells and buttercups wrap the rooms in tranquil tones that lift spirits on even the foggiest days. In the master bedroom, it’s the colors of sea glass and sand that soothe both body and mind. A mix of ages is evident here, too. The elaborately carved 19th-century bed from the West Indies blends effortlessly with contemporary lamps and white lacquered night tables.

Many of the well-loved pieces throughout the home were reupholstered for a second chance at life, much as the house itself has had its own second, and third, chances. It’s a comfortable summer home, with its luxurious look belied by indoor/outdoor fabrics selected for their hardiness. The family room is a casual nod to memories of earlier summer homes on the island with its wicker furniture, while fine artwork by nautical artists graces rooms that are home to a welcoming family and two Jack Russell terriers.

There are many allegories about change, promising that only after a crisis does a new world emerge. In this house by the harbor, where life and its challenges have been met and mastered for over a hundred years, the past is always part of the present. The homeowners have done their duty by this home, lovingly preserving it for ages yet to come.

Lisa Clair is a freelance writer who often writes about home design and decor.

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