Tuck’t Inn -August 2012
by: Leslie Linsley
photography by: Terry Pommett
At the height of the whaling era, Siasconset, at the east end of the island, offered a restful haven for wealthy Nantucketers.
It was not considered fashionable, but as a change from the ordinary. Sconset, as it is known locally, offered picturesque charm and a refreshing place to rest mind and body. When the town of Nantucket became popular as a summer resort, Sconset was discovered and soon earned a reputation as an arts colony with many actors, artists, writers and musicians coming to stay and perform at the Sconset Casino.
Today the village of Sconset is pretty much the same as it was then. Many of the little whale cottages have remained in the same families for generations. They appreciate the quaintness of the place and the isolation from the bustling summer activities in the town of Nantucket. The village is quite self-sustaining, with a market, post office, package store, a little café and a take-out restaurant for lunches under a shade tree on the porch – all clustered around the village square. Both the Chanticleer restaurant with its lovely, low-key garden setting and The Summer House overlooking the beach provide elegant, sophisticated meals for discerning palates.
Lately, newer and grander houses have been built in Sconset, beyond the confines of the little village and stretching out to the area known as Low Beach. Many of these houses have commanding views of the ocean and impressive grounds, some with pools and pool houses.
When a Rhode Island couple were looking for a summer getaway they found a little cottage on King Street, in the heart of the village.
“We had looked at a lot of houses,” the couple says, “so we knew right away that the location, the lot and the house were right for us. Not that it was in perfect, move-right-in condition, but the owner, an engineer with an artistic bent, was a collector of maritime antiques. He made reproductions of harpoons and ship’s heads, and had done some good things with the cottage.”
Built in the 1950s, the structure wasn’t one of the early whale cottages, but it had similarities and the same charm. And the lot was large enough so the couple could expand a little with the addition of a new kitchen and a bath above it for the existing second-floor loft bedroom.
“We didn’t change much,” say the homeowners. “It still has the basic footprint. We wanted to keep the feeling of the original cottage.”
Many people would find it tempting to bump out, build up and gut the place, removing all traces of the earlier owner. To their credit, the couple retained the original paneling, floorboards, the cobblestone fireplace, large antique beams, the narrow stairway complete with a ship’s desk against the stair wall and the open loft area above the living room.
“We did nothing to the second floor except add shutters on the windows. Our grandchildren love sleeping in the cozy loft under the eaves,” the homeowners say. “It’s like being on a ship.”
The couple made minor changes that opened up the space to make it more user-friendly and created an up-to-date kitchen with a farmhouse feel. Hardware on closet doors was replaced, shutters on the windows contribute to the cottage feeling and much-needed storage was created in the upstairs bathroom. Every bit of space has been used efficiently for scaled-down living with plenty of storage in unexpected places. Relocating the front door, once on the side of the property, “made a big difference to the façade,” the homeowners say. Now there is an inviting front porch, a Dutch door (which the couple designed) that opens into a small hallway that leads into the living room and the kitchen nicely situated to one side of the house. The homeowners replaced windows with French doors along the back wall of the living room to brighten the interior. The room now opens onto a beautifully-manicured lawn and patio filled with containers of flowers appropriately scaled to the house.
In the front, roses grow up a trellis to the rooftop and window boxes overflow with pink, summertime impatiens. This is truly quintessential Nantucket style.
“While the house is still small it is perfect for us,” the homeowners say. The best features of the original house have been emphasized and integrate well with the improvements. The interior does not feel dark as the paneling might suggest, nor is it cramped, due to the openness and change of ceiling heights. For example, the living room is open to the rooftop and loft bedroom while an intimate dining alcove under the loft suggests a separate room without walls. This dining space can accommodate six to eight people with a bench on one side of the table and pull-up chairs on the other.
The cool blue and white color scheme offsets the warmth of the worn wood and is perfect for a cottage by the sea. The furnishings are comfortable and scaled appropriately for the space and the nautical artwork, most by island artists, some from Maine, maintains the flavor of a long-ago era associated with Sconset and its surrounding dwellings. There are carved whales by Michael Bacle purchased at Old Spouter Gallery, a painting of a ship over the fireplace, a fireboard by Maine artist Hope Angier, and many nautical artifacts associated with Nantucket’s whaling days. This is a delightful Sconset house that has been responsibly improved for the couple’s current lifestyle with a respectful nod to the past.
Leslie Linsley is the author of many books on home style and American crafts. Her column “Home Style” appears regularly in The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.