Invisible Touch - An American interior designer restored her grandmother's house on Nantucket with a less-is-more approach to alterations.

Interior Design by Editorial Staff (June 17, 02:41 PM)

An American interior designer restored her grandmother’s house on Nantucket with a less-is-more approach to alterations.

Interior designer Abby Yozell has fond memories of the holidays she spent as a child on the island of Nantucket. ‘It was fun then and still is. Every summer my brothers, sister and I came to stay with my grandmother, who lived here for almost 75 years – she always said that the beautiful light and the slower pace of life reminded her Denmark, where she was born. Ten years ago, after her grandmother’s death at the age of 97, Abby revisited the house with her siblings, to clean it up ready for the summer ahead. ‘It was damp and wasn’t in great shape, but we scrubbed and painted it and then called in an electrician to fit a couple of new sockets. He took one horrified look at the antiquated system and said the whole place needed rewiring. So that got the ball rolling. A quick lick of paint wasn’t enough- after years of gentle neglect, the house required complete restoration.

Interior Design

Abby and her husband, John, engaged architects Chris Dallmus and Claudia Noury Ello of Design Associates to oversee the project. ‘We wanted the restoration to be as historically accurate as possible and the result to look as if nothing had changed for decades. However, as we planned to spend a large part of every summer on the island, it was important that the house should work well as a comfortable family home for John and me and our daughter Esme.’ Abby was well aware that the restoration of her grandmother’s old house in the centre of town would arouse intense local interest. ‘The Historic District Commission has strict architectural guidelines which stipulate what you can and can’t do, but it was extremely helpful and supportive in our case.’ A neighbor, interior designer Gary McBournie, was another invaluable source of advice on practical and decorative matters. ‘Gary had completed several historical restorations on the island, and has an instinctive feel for how such houses should look,’ says Abby. ‘He very generously opened his address book to me, giving me the numbers of the best local craftsmen – the mark of a true friend.’

The fact that the house looks untouched illustrates the less-is-more approach typical of Abby’s work as a designer. ‘The alteration that made the biggest difference was moving the narrow, winding staircase at the back of the house to the front hall. This freed up enough space on the first floor for a dressing area off the main bedroom, a luxury in a small house. “Abby and john had been puzzled about why the front staircase had been demolished in the first place. While building work was in progress, and elderly passerby told them she remembered that, when she was a little girl, the front of the house had been a shop. The other main structural alteration involved reconfiguring the back of the house to make an open-plan kitchen with adjoining sitting area. ‘I had a picture in my mind of a relaxed, informal space where I could cook dinner and chat to John while he read the paper. I didn’t want it to scream “kitchen”, so there are no hanging saucepans. Just puttycoloured painted cupboards with unobtrusive brass knobs and black impala granite work surfaces. It dresses up nicely for dinner parties.’

By restricting the color scheme to a monochrome white for walls and woodwork, and contrasting black for the stained floorboards, Abby established a sense of continuity throughout the house. She also maximized the effect of the luminous Nantucket light. Once this backdrop was in place, Abby’s challenge was to find furniture of the right scale and proportion’ the rooms are small, and Abby did not want furniture that would be overbearing, fortunately, she had some useful contacts in the antiques world. Before setting up on my own, I worked for Boston-based interior designer Charles Spada. I’d heard he was opening an antiques shop on Nantucket, so I called him and asked if I could work for him. After the restoration project, Abby spent summers on Nantucket and winters back in Boston and so began a job made in heaven.


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1 Reviews
melbo interiors ny
melbo interiors ny June 17, 02:48 PM

Wow great work by Abby, i really appreciated her approach.