Joan Peters of Osterville shares images of the Cape and islands with the world
There are many different ways to inject color and vitality into a home. Paint provides a foundation for the background. A specific color scheme, upon which a design plan is either deliberately or subconsciously built, is another. But perhaps one of the most personal and expressive ways is with the art that is chosen for a space. The residents who choose and are grateful to call the Cape and Islands home often elect to repeat, inside their home, the many iconic images and scenes that make this area special. The mere action of gazing at representational art, particularly of images from our coastal community, has the transformational power of transporting you to that place and season.
Joan Peters, who found herself on Cape Cod in 1975 as a single mother with four children to support, turned to the talents she possessed in order to carve out a living, and spread the beauty of her art in the process. “My father said to me after I divorced, ‘Joan, you love the Cape, and you are smart and talented. I think you should move there and figure out a way to raise your family.’ So that’s what I did,” she recalls. Peters, a graduate of the former Vesper George School of Art in Boston, is a commercially trained artist. At the time of her move from New Hampshire to the Cape, she was painting lamps to coordinate with fabric for the Neiman Marcus catalogue, a very desirable design trend of the era. In 1979 she opened a shop in a retail alleyway off of Main Street in Osterville, known as Designer’s Walk, a name bestowed by Joan and still in use today.
Peters is known for the unique fabrics and wallpaper she designs that represent the region, but perhaps few are also aware of her magnificent oil paintings that grace the walls of her showroom, now located at 885 Main Street in the village of Osterville. These richly sumptuous paintings depict local scenes, flora and fauna in soft hues of blue, green, yellow and pink—evocative of the impressionistic style of world-renown masters but with a fresher sensibility. Joan explains her technique by saying, “I took a class in oil painting, but honestly I do it in a different way, I use a palette knife,” noting that the images jump off the canvas with their three-dimensional structure.
Peters says that many of the interior design clients she works with often ask for commissioned pieces to complement the other work she accomplishes in their homes. But many customers who just stop in the showroom expecting to find fabric, wall covering and other small custom accessories are surprised to find the walls covered in the colorful imagery of Peters’ paintings. “’You paint too?’ is what people always say when they walk in here. I actually find it funny because of course I paint. That is how I create my fabrics and wallpaper,” Peters says with a smile.
The early years of her signature lines of fabrics included her now famous hydrangeas in a myriad of patterns that depict an explosion of blooms, similar to the profusion the shrubs display every July. Other patterns have the iconic blooms nestled in Nantucket baskets with billowing ribbons accenting the pattern’s repeat. All of Peters’ fabrics are available in sateen cotton or can be custom ordered in any other fabric, including upholstery weight cotton. Additionally, Peters has applied her artistic touch to sinks and tile that she hand paints and fires. Most anything that doesn’t run away has been embellished with Peters’ designs, including lampshades, furniture and even glass window panes.
Peters’ demeanor is as fresh and warm as a welcome spring breeze, and she is always reconsidering and reinventing her creative endeavors. She credits her beloved husband, Al Manning, who passed away in 2015, for one of her most successful and unique creations. In 2001 they were having dinner, and, as Peters tells it, “‘He said, ‘Joan, why don’t you do a Cape Cod Toile?’ I thought, why don’t I? So I turned over my placemat right then and there and started to sketch it out.” Derived from the French word for canvas, a toile often depicts pastoral scenes of local life. Peters applied her spin on her line of toile fabrics by including scenes of sailboats, lighthouses, windmills and, of course, hydrangeas. The Cape Cod Toile has spawned other styles with the introduction of the Mermaid Toile, the Sea Shell Toile, commemorative lines for Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Boston, and most recently, in 2018, the Nautical and Florida Toile. All of the lines come in both fabric and wall coverings and in a variety of color-ways to satisfy almost any décor.
“People love the toile,” she says. “It allows them not only to put a pattern they love in their home, but also get lost in the various scenes. The wallpaper is very popular in bathrooms, dining rooms but also laundry rooms. What better way to make a household chore more fun?” The application of the fun and interesting pattern is not left to the walls and windows of bespoke homes. In 2017, when Peters joined forces with Boston-based clothing designer Sara Campbell, the dynamic duo introduced the Cape Cod Toile Dress and soon followed with versions in the other destination designs. The popularity of the dress for summer cocktail parties and wedding party coordination can now be accented with silk ties, hand-painted by Peters, to match the dresses.
Peters’ flow of creativity continues as she finds new ways to interpret her whimsical patterns through custom broadloom carpet. Peters is proud to say that all of her collections are produced in the United States, and her rugs are no exception. Leveraging the long history of quality and attention to detail, Peters has turned to a northern New England mill to produce her individually customized designs on 100 percent wool broadloom. Not only do her clients receive individualized interpretation, but Peters will also accommodate the furniture placement by customizing the repeat of the pattern. This is truly the definition of custom design, an important component Peters applies to each and every project she takes on.
The wide range of designs coming out of her small showroom in Osterville represents the endless rainbow of inspiration Joan Peters has bestowed upon the Cape and Islands, and beyond. One recent February morning found Peters reading an email from a homeowner in Australia who had seen her work in a magazine and wanted her to work closely with her builder down under. “You just never know what comes next,” says Peters, “but you have to be ready.” It looks as though her father was right when he suggested Cape Cod would be a good place to raise the kids, and she could figure something out. She has done that, and then some.
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