A Subtle Case of the Blues
Cape Cod Home / Spring 2021 / Home, Garden & Design
Writer: Larry Lindner / Photographer: Rebecca Love
In the wrong hands, a palette of blue and white by the coast can become a tedious cliché. In the hands of Karli Stahl, principal of Nantucket’s KMS Designs, it becomes a study in nuance, texture, and ingenuity for a family seeking a restful backdrop to their lives in a second-home getaway.
It all began with the painting of the blue and teal glass jars over the kitchen banquette, by Boston-area still life artist Greg Haynes. “It was one of the first pieces the clients bought before we had really done any of the interior work,” Stahl says. “They showed me this, and it gave me a starting point for the palette of the house. The theme was kind of sea glass colors.”
The wife of the client couple echoes the sentiment: “I had seen it and just kind of knew. And I loved that the turquoise-y and greens would be really soothing against the sand tones in the room’s woods. From that painting the color scheme unfolded. It was absolutely the inspiration,” for all the home’s hues, reflecting not just the colors of sea glass but also the subtle tones of the ocean itself.
Designer and client are not sitting in the same room when they make these remarks, but they might as well be. While Stahl is happy to give homeowners bright colors if that’s what they want, she and this client share an appreciation for a soft palette with a lot of neutral touches. “Because Karli knew my aesthetic and because I knew hers,” the client says, “it wasn’t that hard to agree on the direction the project would take.” The two came to the table perfectly in sync that this wasn’t going to be about cobalt blues and stark whites. Nothing out of a crayon box.
The client already had a history of trust with Stahl, and with Stahl’s husband. A few years earlier, the designing duo, high school sweethearts now in their 40s and raising two daughters, had bought their first spec house on the island, taking it down to the studs and completely reimagining it with the intention of flipping it. Before they had even finished the renovation, the client came through after having been shown a number of homes that didn’t appeal to her.
“We weren’t really looking for a home on Nantucket in a serious way,” she says, “but the minute I walked into the front hall I knew this was it. I came home and told my husband I found the house we were going to buy.” Along with Stahl’s interior design style, she loved all the trim, specifically the focus on the details of all the woodwork. No surprise. Stahl’s husband is a millwork artisan who builds homes with exquisite attention to moldings, archways, and architectural motifs that give each home its own unique profile.
“For me to be just a builder and chasing subs and looking at numbers all day, that’s not the romantic part of the job,” Stahl’s husband says. “The design is the romantic part—the brainstorming and ideas flowing between us and the client.”
Together, the two Stahls constitute a Mom-and-Pop design-build firm bringing to fruition some of the finest looking properties on Nantucket. To a degree they are the kind of presence on the island that a certain HGTV couple were for Waco, Texas. In fact, Stahl’s husband’s name is—wait for it—Chip.
The couple works almost exclusively by referral these days, and it is not surprising to see their names used as design selling points in descriptions of properties listed by real estate agents in the eight figures.
Sometimes they get repeat clients, like the ones with the painting of the glass jars. In fact, this home is next door to the one they originally bought from the Stahls. When it came up for sale, they considered their expanding progeny (currently at four grandchildren and counting), and bought it to create a family compound with a shared driveway and a gate connecting the two yards.
The Stahls’ first order of business was to demolish the newly purchased house—a cottage that had never been winterized—and build the 3,500-square-foot home that was to be made warm and cozy in soft blues, greens, and off whites.
While a short walk from the shoreline, it’s not a beach house per se. You don’t think of flip flops trailing sand through the back door. But it’s not formal, either. The rooms are on the large side but not forbiddingly voluminous, and the furnishings don’t have an off-limits feel.
Stahl designed the interior like that on purpose. “That’s the way the clients are,” she says. “They enjoy beautiful things, but they want to be able to feel comfortable using them, not afraid that they’re going to get a stain on the sofa. Nothing feels ostentatious.” For instance, she says, “All the fabrics are soft and comfortable and practical.”
Stahl also helped warm things up with texture and patterns and varying patinas, important elements of layering in a home with a demure color scheme. The floor in the powder room opposite the mudroom, for instance, is made of narrow glass tiles configured in a herringbone pattern, arresting but durable in alternating blues placed alongside greys. She found a jewelry box in the same herringbone pattern with similar colors for one of the guest bedrooms, continuing a theme that can also be found on the doors of a cabinet in the mudroom and even the kitchen ceiling, done in white oak that Stahl had custom stained, resulting in an approximation of the color of sand.
The bevy of blue and green pillows made from velvet in the cozy den/television room just off the front hallway offers another textural flourish. “You don’t necessarily think of velvet in a house on Nantucket,” Stahl says. “But it really set the tone for the space—comfortable, cozy, yet still having those sea glass tones. And I love the rug in that room because it’s got a little metallic in it up against a suede/leather combination. You could sweep this if you had to.”
Glass objects infused with blues and teals and pale greens add their own textural lilt. The client put together a particularly alluring combination of glass decanters, vases, sculptures, and bowls on a narrow console table at the back of the living room to catch light and reflect back to the home its overarching color scheme. She also chose lamps with glass bases in hallways and bedrooms that glint with the home’s colors.
Two pieces of art on landings leading to the second and third floors are composed of blue and green glass as well. One-of-a-kind three-dimensional still life assemblages of life boats with bottles, they are the handmade creations of renowned glass artist Marc Petrovic, whose work is featured in museums from Jackson Hole to Vero Beach and the Museum of Art and Design in New York. Both belong to his Navigator series; the boat in each represents an individual, while the bottles are a play on casting bottles into the sea with messages in them—snippets of conversation or, as Petrovic says, “chambers of the heart where you collect and store feelings or pieces of communication.”
Art steals the show in a number of spots in the home, almost always featuring soft blues and greens. “The clients have a great eye for art; it was really a blessing on this project,” Stahl says, pointing to the large painting over the dining table by noted Provincetown artist Anne Packard. “This work,” she comments, “just kind of goes along with the feeling of the house, which is all about subtlety and serenity and peacefulness. It says everything about what she and her husband wanted this restful home to feel like.
“We chose where it would go together,” Stahl says. “It was rare how well it worked out. It wasn’t like Chip distanced the two windows to fit the painting.” The same is true for the smaller, moodier Anne Packard painting in the TV room. It worked perfectly in the spot chosen for it.
Yet another show-stopping piece of art is a six-foot photo of Nantucket’s Brant Point Light in the home’s front hallway. It was captured by Nantucket photographer Nathan Coe, whose work has been featured in Vogue and has been exhibited in New York, Palm Beach, and other locations. The client originally thought to have a photo of Nantucket’s Sankaty Head Light there, but Stahl talked her out of it because the Sankaty lighthouse has a wide red stripe on it that doesn’t go with the home’s vibe. The Brant Point light also makes a more logical choice since it’s an easy stroll from the home.
Around all of this art Stahl chose soft blues and greens for furniture, bedding, rugs, and other decorating touches. Most of it she custom designed: the muted blue leather upholstery on the stools by the kitchen island, the sofas and lounge chairs, and the easy-on-the-eye patterns across all the home’s curtains and throw pillows. A few of the items were found at Serena & Lily, a favorite of the client’s, such as the soft blue linen duvet covers on the beds in the main bedroom and one of the guest rooms. It all comes together felicitously.
But if the first two floors are a study in subdued color comfort, the third floor, a rumpus room with a built-in bed under a gable window that the grandchildren will no doubt love to steal away to as they mature, takes blue to a fun, funkier place. Stahl used a saturated, deep sea blue from Benjamin Moore on the wide floorboards to enliven the space as well as rich blues on the pillows and other accent pieces.
The third floor bathroom in particular is decorated in playful touches, with wallpaper highlighting whales of different blues and a vanity painted the same color as some of them. “I wanted the color of the vanity to be a little different from the floor in order to offset it,” Stahl says, “to have it pop out a little more.”
Between the shiplap planks of the room and also in the shiplap on the walls of the staircase leading upstairs, she added texture by filling in the gaps with nautical twine. “I like using nautical touches without being cutesy,” Stahl says. “I’m not a fan of the signs that say ‘Beach this way’ or painted wooden buoys used as accent pieces.”
How do the clients feel about the overall effect? “Karli and Chip and I, we were speaking the same language,” the wife says. “The things they value—the detail, their attention to the smallest things—are also what matter to me. It just clicked. It was an instant connection, and it was for that reason that my husband and I gave them a lot of carte blanche, a lot of freedom. They’re just great people. They’re solid people. They care about what they do.
“We love to come down here now,” she continues. “This second house is not only for our kids and their kids. It’s for friends of the family, which is really lovely. We’ll come down with people we’re close to, and we’ll stay in one house while they stay in the other. We sit out on the porch and have dinner and play cards. What Karli and Chip created gives it all such a warm, cozy feeling.”
Stahl reflects the positive vibes in return. “They were really so great to give us this design freedom,” she says. “Despite the wife’s own impeccable taste that she brought to the project, there was no micromanaging at all. It was collaboration at its best. When you’re given that level of trust, the outcome of the project is so much greater. You’re able to follow through on the vision.”
Visit kmsinteriordesign.com to learn more!