Years of collecting enrich a historic Nantucket cottage

Interior designer Susan Zises Green updates a historic home with the next generation in mind.

With 35-plus years in the decorating business, Susan Zises Green takes the adage of  “if you see something you love, buy it” very seriously. Which is exactly how she ended up with a house in Nantucket’s Historic District that wound up being not quite the right fit for her family. “I had made a tragic mistake,” says Zises Green of her impulsive buy almost 20 years ago. “I realized how small my house was as soon as I moved in, so I contacted the neighbors to see if they would sell their house to me. They said no. Two years later, I got a phone call asking if I was still interested. I purchased the house over the phone.” The designer kept the smaller house and held on to the contiguous property for years. When her children began having children, she knew it was time to create the perfect family home in what ended up being an opportunity for Zises Green to indulge herself, designing a house that would fit a growing family.

Teardowns are a no-no in the Historic District, but the back of the house was rotted out, and, in the rear, sat an old barn that was practically falling apart. Zises Green was able to remove the rotten part and tear down the barn in order to add more square footage. From the front, the house appears modest—it’s hard to believe the property runs four stories deep and is about 7,000 square feet. “I give kudos to my builder, Mark Godfrey,” Zises Green says. “He’s Nantucket born and has great imagination.”

The first thing Zises Green did, with the extra space the barn allowed, was build a “really fabulous kitchen.” And fabulous it is, with an immense antique chandelier that Zises Green bought in the South and put away for her “someday house.” A pair of Windsor-type chairs reproduced through the Nantucket Historical Association flank the breakfast table, which expands to seat 14 and sits on a woven-plastic (read: kid-friendly) rug. Zises Green’s collection of cookbooks is on display in built-in cabinets. Above the cabinets hang a pond boat and a “lucky” sign the designer bought years ago.

“I’ve collected a lot of things over the years, and I was able to bring out many that I loved and had always wanted to use,” she says. “All of those pieces wound up being a perfect fit here.” The rest of the home is filled with an assortment of treasured antiques, plus a few new contemporary pieces cleverly blended in, resulting in a house with a younger vibe. The living room, for instance, features new McGuire-upholstered pieces mingling with a pair of marble-topped consoles repurposed from her Manhattan apartment, a needlepoint chair, a pair of Chinese cloisonne vases wired as lamps. It’s warm and cozy with that signature Zises Green classicism, but also clean, youthful and modern. “I had the pleasure of decorating this home entirely for myself,” Zises Green says, “and I did it with young people in mind.

“I took great pains with every detail of this house,” she adds. “I knew exactly what I wanted and not one detail was overlooked.” Zises Green repurposed everything and anything she could to give it a patina and a sense of history. As a result, the house manages to honor its roots while being tailor-made for future generations.

click for a gallery view of images of this updated historic nantucket house