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A Cure for the Winter Blues

Photography courtesy of Janine Dowling

Janine Dowling’s design expertise and dedication to sustainability make her a force as fierce as the crashing swells of the ocean that hold Nantucket’s classic charm close to her shores. 

“Like most interior designers, I grew up playing with color, fabric and my mom’s furniture. My dollhouse even had wallpaper in it,” says Janine Dowling, owner of Janine Dowling Interior Design. “I don’t think I  knew that interior design was a profession at that age, but once I realized it was something I could do, I just yearned to be creative.”

That drive led Dowling, a Pennsylvania native, to Boston Architectural College where she studied interior design. “It was like my brain was on fire,” she says about finally giving into the unique pull interior design had throughout her life. “I’d dream about my classes all night.” For the first thirteen years of her career, Dowling worked at Wells and Fox Interiors—now Heather Wells, Inc.—in Boston, making her way from design assistant to senior designer. About seven years ago, she branched out on her own, opening Janine Dowling Interior Design. “I came to Boston for school. Like most, you come here and you never leave,” she says.

Dowling describes her personal style as “eclectic.” “I love color, of course. And, I love mixing texture and color with vintage pieces and comfortable, fashionable upholstery,” she says. Dowling is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certified, which means that she is both educated and passionate about sustainable design practices. “I find that people are incorporating sustainable elements into their everyday—from environmentally friendly mechanicals to low volatile organic compound (VOC) paints. So for me, it’s really great to be able to educate clients on the best products for both their lifestyle and their environment,” she says. 

That keen awareness for sustainability carries over into the pieces that Dowling sources for her projects. “Sometimes if you buy a retail sofa it will only last a few years before it makes its way to a landfill,” she explains. “But, if you spend a bit more on a couch with a solid wood frame, all it may take is some reupholstery for it to last much longer. I think a lot about not only sourcing older furniture, but finding things that are built to last, and I really enjoy being able to take a piece that has been well-loved and give it a new life.”

Photography courtesy of Janine Dowling

Dowling’s years of experience and palpable devotion to creating spaces that are both striking and functional led her to a unique project on Nantucket at the home of a couple with whom she had built a relationship through previous projects. “I was able to come into the home really knowing the clients and how special their personalities are,” says Dowling, who describes the project as a puzzle. She used existing pieces from the already-furnished home on Nantucket, as well as ones from storage and the clients’ other homes, and pieced everything back together. After that, it was about adding layers of detail to the design. “I had like two and a half houses of furniture to work from,” she laughs. “It was really fun to look at those individual pieces and find the best combinations.”

A life of boating and travel meant that deep, ocean blues and stark whites were the perfect color scheme to incorporate for this couple, and Dowling put her skills to the test, reupholstering pieces and breathing new life into not only the furniture but the home as a whole. “We added a lot of color to that blue and white palette,” says Dowling, noting the coral and green accents throughout the home. “The window treatments really transformed the space. In particular, the husband loves window treatments—all the way down to the beads on the trim,” she laughs, pointing out the spirited personalities of the homeowners.

“Their connection as a couple is really special and unique,” Dowling says fondly about the pair. “Whenever I design for them, I always like to imagine where they’re going to sit together and talk. There are always ‘his and hers’ chairs.” The design process for this home actually took place entirely over PowerPoint and via FedEx while the couple was at their home in California. “They just completely trust the process,” says Dowling. “Their appreciation and respect for interior design truly made this experience so special.”

In the family room, a light breeze blows through an open window, bringing with it a pleasant chill and the distinct smell of saltwater from the ocean beyond. As the draft makes its way farther into the home, over the cushy settees and striking cobalt pillows, it mingles with the comforting scent of a warm winter’s meal in the oven—the smell of sea breeze and sweet potatoes blending into a singular scent that can only be described as a Nantucket holiday. It’s this room where the couple chooses to spend most of their time, soaking in the sweeping sights of their island getaway outside the window. “The views are just stunning,” says Dowling. “I walked into the family room and said, ‘you spend all of your time here, don’t you?’ The light is incredible, and with that room in particular I feel like we were able to pull it all together in a way that is just perfect and intimate.”

“In fact, the whole home feels really cozy,” continues Dowling. “Sometimes with a big house, nothing feels warm and welcoming, but I love how comfortable and personal this space is.” In true reflection of the close nature of the couple’s relationship, their home is equally inviting thanks to Dowling’s attention to detail—from finding the perfect upholstery, to a coffee table that’s exactly the right height to rest your feet. 

Photography courtesy of Janine Dowling

“There’s such an incredible history that is important to honor on Nantucket,” says Dowling, explaining that the project spanned nine months, giving her time to explore, meet local vendors and pull inspiration from the island’s splendid scenery and storied past. “I’ve done a lot of work on both Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, and Nantucket just feels different. There’s no place like it.”

Dowling’s best advice for homeowner’s looking to create their own perfect design is to be honest with themselves about how they live in their space. “You want to walk in and feel that beautiful, calm sense of being home,” she says. “Choose the products that are really going to honor your lifestyle—whether you have dogs or children, be honest with yourself about your routine. There are always ways to make it beautiful, but if it doesn’t function for you or your family, the beauty doesn’t matter. You have to find balance.”

For Dowling, a large part of that balance is discovering a way to give pieces a new purpose, and recycling furniture from the homeowner’s own collection gave her the opportunity to do just that. She created a true sanctuary, clad in rich blues and eye-catching accents, largely out of recycled pieces, repurposing them to fit the needs of both the couple and their new space. “If I can repaint it and give it a new fabric, I can create a piece that looks and feels totally new without ever having to send things to a landfill. It’s really important,” she says. Perhaps the truest measure of her success is the lifelong relationship that she’s created with her clients, one built on pulling from their personalities and unique design tendencies simply by drawing from items they’ve already loved. 

Lord Byron once wrote, “Roll on, deep and dark blue ocean, roll. Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain. Man marks the earth with ruin, but his control stops with the shore.” Though clearly Lord Byron never met Janine Dowling, whose control extends far beyond the shoreline, evidenced by the ocean oasis she created inside the walls of this home. As her incredible love for creativity and affection for the homeowners is felt crashing from room to room on dark blue waves of diligently reupholstered furniture, her remarkable design sparkles like the far reaches of the Atlantic. And as those waves crest, sweeping mightily into visions of inviting sitting rooms clad with coral accents and nautical paintings as a nod to the true ocean beyond the shores of Nantucket, they demonstrate not only Dowling’s immense talent, but also her unmistakable dedication to her craft—her very own ocean of knowledge.

Photography courtesy of Janine Dowling

For more information, visit Janine online at janinedowling.com

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