A New Build On Nantucket Blurs the Line Between Inside & Out

Workshop/APD optimizes indoor-outdoor flow for this family compound.
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All the main house living areas open to the water, where sand and surf are just steps away. Chaises on the main house primary bedroom terrace are from Janus et Cie. Photographs by Read McKendree/JBSA.

When it comes to architecture, you could say the Quakers were the original modernists. As early settlers of Nantucket, they brought their spare religious practices and equally sparse building style to the island in the 1650s. While later residences constructed during the whaling boom would introduce everything from louvered shutters to elaborate pilasters and porticos, it was the Quaker approach that attracted architect and Workshop APD principal Andrew Kotchen when he designed a compound for a Connecticut family. “The Quakers distilled everything down to its simplest form, and it’s that idea of form stripped of all embellishment that we try to apply to everything we do,” says Kotchen. The two structures he conceived—both crafted with white cedar shingles and featuring flat-topped, unadorned pergolas—honor that tradition. 

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Workshop APD designed the blackened-steel fireplace fabricated by Blazing Design. Photographs by Read McKendree/JBSA.

It was the enviable harborside locale that first attracted the couple with three grown children to the two-parcel site featuring two independent residences—one with beachfront access and the other located at street level. Razing the existing structures brought the challenges of the property into focus—among them flood-plain restrictions that mandated elevating the lower-level structure, and a dune back between the properties that needed to be maintained. “For the main house, we didn’t want a large structure that would have negative impact from the harbor,” says Kotchen, who along with landscape designer Miroslava Ahern used strategic placement of decks, concrete planters and plant material to help the four-bedroom house meld with the environment.

“Grasses were a no brainer,” says Ahern, who mingled beach grasses with a profusion of hydrangeas to soften the arrival sequence. “We were right on the harbor, so it made sense to use something that would survive easily in that environment and was attractive and elegant.” A series of pathways and a winding driveway connect the lower house to the guest house, where the structure intentionally appears like two buildings split apart with a pool in between. 

Inside the main house, where the emphasis was on maximizing the limited square footage, a double-height entry framing the water views combined with a sculptural staircase draws the eye up and out. “Everything has bifold doors, and all the spaces are designed to make you feel like you are sitting on the harbor,” Kotchen explains. The outward focus is evident everywhere, from the living room chaises where someone cuddled up with a good book need only glance up to see the vista to the meticulously formatted kitchen where a floating sofa attached to the marble island mandates the outward gaze of anyone sipping a morning coffee. In the primary suite—with its prime prow-of-the-ship location—the cozy quarters open to a private terrace where the sea grasses lap the edges, and an outdoor shower provides the ultimate in-touch-with-nature experience. 

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A Fire Orb fireplace sets a casual tone in the guest house living room along with assorted pillows and throws from Roost and Minzuu. The poufs are through Jayson Home. Photographs by Read McKendree/JBSA.

When the cool ocean breezes blow, a freestanding fireplace in the living room warms the soft upholstered seating. Along with twin chandeliers that spray out an assembly of wooden sticks in a dramatic starburst pattern, the result is a relaxed boho chic vibe with a dose of sophistication. “The homeowners came to the table focused on casual elegance,” notes Kotchen. 

In the guest house—where the emphasis shifts to the casual end of the spectrum—layers of blue and brown in an array of patterns and textures, and a suspended fireplace all contribute to the more playful atmosphere. “Fun was the operative word,” says Kotchen, about the five-bedroom building that includes a gym and media room. “The idea was to have a completely different experience from the main house, but have spaces that encourage going back and forth.” 

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In the bunk room, a runner from The Southern Loom separates a full bed and bunk arrangement, both from Room&Board. The light fixture is from OneFortyThree. Photographs by Read McKendree/JBSA.

With the finished product beautifully showcasing the architecture, interior architecture and interior design arms of his company, Kotchen shares that the project is featured in their new book, Workshop/APD Homes: Architecture, Interiors, and the Spaces Between: “The book illustrates the holistic vision of connecting inside to outside that we’ve worked for 20 years to build on Nantucket, and this house embodies that ideal.”

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Blurred Lines.