This Converted Boathouse Is a Love Letter to Nantucket Design

gary mcbournie nantucket exterior
Gary McBournie's Cozy Costal Cottage on NantucketAnnie Schlechter

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Boston-based designer Gary McBournie has owned property on Nantucket for more than 20 years, and his latest project is a love letter to the island, not to mention his personal home that he shares with partner Bill Richards. This is McBournie’s fifth summer residence on Nantucket, and after hunkering down through the pandemic here in a mid-century modern home, the couple decided it was time to lay down new roots and preserve the island’s unique take on coastal design.

“We do a lot of work with the Nantucket Historical Association and Nantucket By Design, and I think as more and more people come here, the character of the island is getting lost,” says Richards. “As much fun as we had doing a mid-century house the last time, we really committed to doing something that more celebrated Nantucket and its artisans.”

To practically anyone else, the property that McBournie and Richards chose to call their new home was less than ideal. The pair explains that it was originally a boathouse that had been poorly converted into a guest cottage and featured ski lodge-inspired architecture and interiors (think: tree trunk columns in the kitchen and a retro sunken tub with a fireplace in the primary bathroom).

However, it was on a more remote stretch of the island that was practically untouched and offered views of the harbor, so there was plenty of potential to make this the ultimate beach house. After working closely with architecture firm Botticelli & Pohl for many years, including several projects for clients on Nantucket, McBournie knew they would be just the team to transform this dark, mountain house gone wrong into a breezy summer home fit for entertaining—not to mention all of the couple’s collections.

gary mcbournie nantucket living room
This living room is full of the couple’s collections ranging from design books to local artwork. Coffee table, Maison Jansen. The English lantern is also an antique. Annie Schlechter

“We’ve done quite a few projects together [with Lisa Botticelli] and have a very good relationship,” says McBournie. “She just gets it, and the whole thing was a really easy process with her. The firm oscillates between contemporary and traditional work, and you can see that the design style in this home is more traditional, but when you look at what we did inside architecturally, it does have that clean, contemporary element, too.”

The interesting thing about this project, besides it being the couple’s own home, was that McBournie and Richards were staying just 100 feet away in another cottage during the renovation process. The couple were part of the process every step of the way as Botticelli brought in more views and natural light, adding extra windows in the primary bedroom, which offers the best elevation for enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of the island, as well as the stunning landscape created by Hollander Design.

They also had much of the wood removed between beams on the ceilings to make the rooms feel lighter, brighter, and larger. All of the outdoor spaces are brand new, from the generous screened-in porch to the breezeway off the kitchen. And yes, the retro sunken tub and fireplace in the primary bathroom, which Richards says used to look straight out of a hotel in the Poconos, were replaced.

gary mcbournie nantucket kitchen
The Danish mid-century sofa (1stDibs) is one of the most popular seats in the house. Pot rack, Ann Morris. Antique Chinese stool, Mohr & McPherson.Annie Schlechter

“The kitchen is a fun space because we created all of it,” says McBournie. “It used to be split up across the room so you had to run from one side to another to cook. People love to sit in the kitchen while we entertain, and we found this mid-century modern sofa that we covered with a beautiful antique linen to go in the bay window, and we’ve found that it’s always full. In fact, our first friend that came over for a drink when we moved in immediately sat there, and we knew this was the spot.”

While the designer explains that most houses on the island are sold fully furnished, as people are willing to pay a premium to avoid dealing with shipping and long lead times, he’s always kept the arts and crafts he’s collected on Nantucket from house to house, and the home is peppered with oil paintings, sailor’s valentines, model sailboats, and the island’s famed baskets. And Richards spent many pandemic days perusing online auctions that would help this house feel like home as soon as they completed the finishing touches.

gary mcbournie nantucket dining room
The pair worked with Keith Fritz Fine Furniture to create this custom table for loved ones to gather around. Vintage wooden anchor, Sylvia Antiques. Dining chair fabric, Carolina Irving.Annie Schlechter

“Once the design process got going, we moved very quickly and had a real vision for it,” says Richards. “One of the things that is distinctive about us is how we put different things together. When we do a home, it’s a collection of things, and it never looks like we just went to a design center and picked out as many objects as we could. It should look like someone has actually lived in the home and that’s what people were so surprised by when they came in for the first time—it feels as if we’ve lived here forever—and that’s always the goal with our projects.”

While McBournie is known for his brilliant and bold color pairings, most of the common areas in this house are swathed in a light and airy white to evoke a clean, sophisticated take on coastal design while the furnishings and objects bring in vibrant pops of color. The bedrooms, however, are where his penchant for color shines, as the bedrooms are full of unexpected yet gorgeous color stories and contemporary artwork to juxtapose the more traditional furnishings.

gary mcbournie nantucket primary bedroom
The bedrooms are where McBournie’s penchant for color really shines. Bed fabric, Peter Fasano. The bedding is from Leontine Linens and the bedside lamps are by Christopher Spitzmiller. Annie Schlechter

The couple agrees that the space they most gravitate towards most in the home is their red and blue bedroom suite. They've made it easy to stay put all day, thanks to an in-room coffee bar by the seating area and a desk that doubles as Bill’s nightstand. Plus, the pair can wave to friends from the balcony in their bathrobes as they soak in the salty air, views of the Atlantic, and sounds of the ferries making their way to and from the island. Sounds idyllic, no?

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