Inspiration for Decorating an Island Home

By September 23, 2010Newspaper column

I’ve been writing a weekly column about home style for over twenty years. So it isn’t unusual to encounter readers on the street or customers in my store who ask how I come up with a topic each week. My standard answer is that I’m working on it in my head at all times and my antennae is up, always aware of what style changes are in the wind. Most weeks I have no problem coming up with an idea, but there are those Friday mornings when I sit at my computer wondering what in the world to write about. This is one of those mornings. What to do? It doesn’t take long to find inspiration, especially when you’re surrounded by much beauty and creative activities on the island. For example, in June our local film festival was practically played out right under my nose, as my store is directly behind the Starlight Theatre where most of the films were presented. I had a lovely week talking to film buffs about their favorites, both past and currently being shown. It got me to thinking about the films I most enjoy and was surprised to find that period pieces like those produced by Merchant/Ivory are among my favorites. I love to see lavish sets and can watch films like Gosford Park or Remains of the Day, over and over, finding details of design I hadn’t seen before.

While decorating a Nantucket home isn’t exactly like decorating a movie set, we can always find inspiration in the details to be translated and reinterpreted. Another area of inspiration is in many of the tastefully decorated houses and public buildings here on island. For example, my favorite place to feel pampered is in the dining room of the Jared Coffin House. I don’t think breakfast can be more of an event than in that room. While the new owners will surely update it, my hope is that they will maintain that wonderful old-world feeling one gets the minute you step foot across the hallway threshold. Everything about it, including the fact that it was “done” many years ago and therefore showing signs of age and fading that I find particularly appealing. It makes you feel as though you have stepped back in time, a gentler more refined time, and it is possible to linger for two hours before reentering the onslaught of summer energy. This room has inspired many designs that I have incorporated into my creative projects.

And this is my point. Creative ideas come from everywhere and can be found in the minutest details. Last April while having Sunday brunch in the J.C. dining room I was inspired by the print on the tablecloth for a design that resulted in a room screen that I now feature in my shop. The entire time I was working on that project, I kept reliving the experience of that dining room, The finished project is far from the original inspiration, but it was the jump-start I needed. If you are having trouble with a decorating design or direction it’s easy to give yourself over to the project by consciously forgetting about it. Put it on a back burner and allow yourself to look around wherever you are, be it shopping in Marine Home Center for paint (a color might be the thing that sparks your imagination) or trying on clothing in Zero Main (a certain fabric might suggest a direction). Working in the garden is probably one of the best ways to find inspiration. Nantucket interior design works best when it relates to the outdoors and the most successful rooms are decorated to allow the beauty of the island, no matter where you live, to be highlighted rather than obliterated. The island is part of the decorating scheme although I’ve noticed that many houses ignore this fact and decorate in a way that might be found anywhere in America. But fortunately this is not the norm.

Over the years I’ve watched many lovely Quaker houses in my neighborhood become transformed on the inside to accommodate modern living. They are completely gutted while leaving the outside intact according to HDC rules. It seems a shame not to try in some way to reach a compromise so that the history of these houses remains intact. A good way for a new island homeowner to gain insight into how to decorate might be to take some time to visit as many homes as possible. Fortunately this is not as hard to do as might at first appear. We have several house and garden tours throughout the year and this summer the Nantucket Garden Club will be featuring one of their annual charity events. It has always been a wonderful way to see some of the most exquisite homes on the island and will surely serve as inspiration for your own home whether on island or away. Even if you come away with one small idea it will be worth the entry ticket. Even though I know in my heart of hearts I will never have a drawing room or parlor as opulent as a Merchant/Ivory production (I don’t even have a parlor), I can copy the pattern in the curtains for a decoupage project. If that doesn’t work there’s always that wonderful silk tassel treatment I might just use on my throw pillows.

tags: films,newspaper column,decorating,Quaker influence,house tours


  • carol a. minicozzi says:

    looking forward to your new book..but right now i don’t know what can top your beautiful A Nantucket Christmas. i take that book out at this time every year and i always see something new. we have enjoyed the christmas stroll, traveling from long island, but are unable to attend this year due to family issues. best of luck with your new book, and thanks for a beautiful book that brings back wonderful memories. merry christmas

    • leslie linsley says:

      Carol: What a nice note. thank you thank you. The Xmas Stroll was fabulous this year. Great weather, not overly crowded, nice people and wonderful activities on Main St. Check out Nantucket Flash Mob on YouTube. Happy New Year. Leslie

Leave a Reply