Vineyard casual

Beach house decor ties the inside to the outside while keeping things comfy

beach hosue (Globe staff photo / Bill Greene)
By Jaci Conry
Globe Correspondent / August 18, 2011

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CHILMARK - Anticipation builds on the trek up the long winding driveway to the house. “You don’t realize what you’re going to see and a sense of discovery is fostered as you make the approach for the first time,’’ says Vineyard Haven designer Liz Stiving-Nichols, who drove up the hill countless times over the past year as she shaped the home’s décor. At the top of the hill awaits a delightful home - not too big, not too small - with dazzling views of Vineyard Sound and Menemsha Pond, wide-open living spaces, lofty ceilings, and exposed timber roof trusses and beams.

Shortly after the homeowners, who have a teenager and two children in their 20s, bought the place as a summer retreat, Stiving-Nichols came on board to design the interior.

“The overall aesthetic is focused on the views; we wanted to bring the colors of the outdoors - the soft blues and greens, and neutral tones - inside,’’ says Stiving-Nichols. It was also important that furnishings were oriented to capture views of the coastal setting wherever possible.

When they aren’t out and about taking advantage of the island’s summer glory, the family spends almost all their time on the home’s main floor where a large rec room and a spacious living room flank the kitchen and dining area. Creating an informal atmosphere was key.

“It’s a beach house, the vibe is meant to be casual and comfortable,’’ Stiving-Nichols says. In addition to creating the interior scheme, she also designed many of the furnishings through the manufacturer she co-owns: Martha’s Vineyard Furniture Company. Pieces in the line are inspired by life on the island and are made of environmentally friendly materials.

In the rec room, Stiving-Nichols designed a built-in cabinet for the television that was also retrofitted for the teenager-in-residence’s ever-important Xbox. Upholstered furniture - a swivel chair and a large ottoman - from the Martha’s Vineyard Furniture Company are sheathed in different yet complementary blue and white patterns.

Accent pieces also have a coastal appeal: A floor lamp is made of driftwood and teak side tables hold lamps crafted out of old bottles fitted with burlap shades. A mirror with an oyster-shell border hangs above a cart made of reclaimed wood. Stiving-Nichols also had a mantel for the fireplace fabricated out of an old timber. “It has a driftwood feel to it, and you can see notches from its previous life which adds a lot of character,’’ she says.

To maximize the somewhat challenging layout of the long, narrow living room, Stiving-Nichols broke the room up into three separate areas. In one part, two generous-size sofas flank a square cocktail table by Martha’s Vineyard Furniture Company. Two small ottomans slide into the table, providing handy places to perch when the family hosts a big crowd.

In the second area, a white armchair and a custom taupe settee face expansive windows with a sweeping panorama of the ocean. The third area, also oriented toward the view, contains a writing desk, for a more contemplative experience.

Since the home is intended for relaxed living, Stiving-Nichols selected materials that were durable and comfortable. She worked with rug manufacturer Steven King to create two jute rugs for the heart pine floors in the rec room. “The rugs are stain-treated which is very unusual for jute. They’re also softer than usual,’’ she says. The living room sofas, where the family’s two dogs are welcome to lounge, are upholstered in resilient indoor/outdoor fabric by DeLany & Long Ltd.

The focal point of the dining area is the massive oak table made of two-inch thick reclaimed barn boards.

“The homeowners wanted a farm table, but a rectangular table threw off the symmetry of the room so we created one that is 6-feet square.’’ The table seats eight regularly, and an extension accommodates 12 for dinner - not an uncommon occurrence. “The family likes to entertain,’’ says Stiving-Nichols with a smile. “They have a lot of fun here.’’

Jaci Conry can be reached at