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Designing a weekend house in an historic area requires an architect to think creatively within a restrictive building environment

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Humility, thrift, modesty – these seem like personal values from a bygone era. Yet the morality held sacred by the puritans who arrived on Nantucket Island hundreds of years ago informed everything they created – from celebrations such as Thanksgiving to a distinctive architectural tradition.

And while we might regret the passing of their values, the homes these first European settlers left behind have not only been preserved, they are still being built.

Architect Marcus Gleysteen had to gain approval from the Nantucket Historic District Commission before building could commence on the weekend house featured here.

"Nantucket Island has very protective policies and a vigilant design review process that requires an in-depth knowledge of Nantucket Island history and an awareness of local issues and concerns, as well as design ability," he says.

This house was built with white cedar shingles for siding, red cedar shingles for roofing, and a plain white trim. Yet despite an almost mandatory adherence to traditional Island materials, the house was approved only after nine public hearings.

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One of the commission's concerns was the large number of living room windows. Although essential for capturing the commanding views of Nantucket Harbor, Nantucket Sound and Polpis, they were not considered strictly Puritan. However, Gleysteen was able to show that rather than being a radical departure from the past, the design of the living room windows resembled a traditional front porch that had been covered over and glazed.

"The Island's shingle style has also enjoyed a resurgence because it allows an architect to develop a contemporary interior, while creating an exterior that relates culturally, stylistically and historically to its immediate surroundings," says Gleysteen.

Shingles are also a flexible material. They are applied like skin and don't require articulation at the edges, which means they are able to flow around curves and corners.

While the house's shingle style is traditional, the interior incorporates modern ideas, such as a large, open-plan living and dining area. As this site is at the corner of two lanes, the floor plan had to be orientated in relation to views, sunlight and privacy.

Inside the front door is a vestibule leading to a hallway with high ceilings. This hallway runs between the main house and the garage.

High ceilings and multiple windows ensure the living area is flooded with natural light. Its color scheme is understated, with soft tones and natural materials. There are two seating areas, with the room's focal point being a stone fireplace. As this is a weekend house, the living room is used mainly for entertaining, reading and playing bridge. A television is enclosed in traditional style cabinetry, as a larger home entertainment system is located in a small sitting room next to the garage.

Beyond the living area, a large kitchen and dining room features a cooking fireplace.

Upstairs is a master and a guest bedroom. The master suite has two terraces and contains a large shared dressing room and two separate bedrooms. There is another guest room downstairs that can be transformed in a master suite, should the owners decide to live on one level.

Across from the main entrance, the doorway leading into the garden is on the same axis as a small fountain. Below the house, in line with views of Nantucket Sound, is a reflecting pool and two granite benches framed by crab apple trees.

"The formality of the garden, with its axial composition, provides a nice contrast to the wild Nantucket setting," says Gleysteen.

First published date: 08 October 2004

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Credit List

Architect Marcus Gleysteen AIA, Gleysteen Design (Cambridge, MA)
Builder Cobblestone Builders
Roofing Red cedar shingles
Siding White cedar siding
Window/doors Pella
Flooring Red birch
Carpets Williston Weavers
Wallcoverings Artisan paints and veneer plaster
Lighting Lightolier
Fireplace Designed by Gleysteen Design, installed by Cobblestone Builders; Living room fireplace faced with Pennsylvania river stone; Kitchen fireplace faced with Kashmiri granite
Kitchen cabinetry Maple in shaker style with stainless steel pulls
Countertops Corian; Shiva granite
Kitchen faucets KWC
Bar stools Lyra counter stools
Kitchen pendant lighting Artemide Mikado suspension from Chimera
Bathroom basin Caxton from Kohler
Faucets Dornbracht