Interior designer Liz Stiving-Nichols turns traditional into contemporary by bringing the outside in.
When a young family stumbled upon a Martha’s Vineyard home for sale surrounded by open fields and grazing horses, they knew they had found their dream summer spot. However, while the agrarian views were just what the couple desired, the style of the house was not: A two-story, cedar-shingled abode with neoclassical elements did not match their 21st-century sensibilities.
After contacting island interior designer Liz Stiving-Nichols, owner of Martha’s Vineyard Interiors, they asked her to transform the traditional home into a contemporary. “I first met the couple at their primary home outside Boston and was surprised they had chosen such a traditional house for their summer place,” notes Stiving-Nichols. “Their primary residence is ultra-modern and nothing like the property on the island.”
Stiving-Nichols listened to her clients’ wish list for the new interiors. Along with incorporating a more modern feel, the couple wanted a place to entertain friends and family in a relaxed atmosphere. The major challenge Stiving-Nichols faced was that the unfurnished house had to be completed within six months—just in time for the start of the summer season.
Floor-to-ceiling windows in common areas of the house offer unobstructed views of the pastoral landscape, and Stiving-Nichols chose to keep the interiors fairly simple to harmonize with the bucolic surroundings. “The design became more about materials and textures rather than color,” says Stiving-Nichols, who introduced a mix of materials into the space, while keeping to a pale-hued, monochromatic color scheme. To alter the home’s traditional aesthetic, Stiving-Nichols clad four classical support columns in the main living area with salvaged barn board. “We drew elements from the farm views and introduced an agrarian feel into the space,” she says.
The fireplace wall, which divides the kitchen and living area, was originally finished in classical white moldings and a green marble firebox surround. Stiving-Nichols covered the wall in the same rustic barn board to give a uniform look to the space. She also changed the centerline of the room by moving the firebox off center, creating an asymmetrical design. The firebox and hearth are finished in heat-resistant neolith porcelain, which resembles concrete and creates an edgy look.
To carry the stark rural living theme throughout the house, Stiving-Nichols also added a barn door to the entrance of the media room just off the foyer. “The salvaged wood used throughout the public spaces ties them together,” she notes.
“The creams and grays all have the same color values,” says Stiving-Nichols. The sofa and club chairs in the living room are slipcovered in stark white, indoor-outdoor fabric, while a cream Berber wool rug warms the space. The living room side tables are a mix of reclaimed wood and natural tree stumps with raw metal bases. The rustic wood echoes the salvaged barn board columns.
The dining area holds a large table that comfortably seats 10 and is surrounded by high-back chairs slipcovered in white cotton. Vintage wine decanters transformed into globe pendents hang above the table, giving a new contemporary use to the old glass.
To update the kitchen without entirely gutting the space, Stiving-Nichols painted the traditional dark cherry-stained cabinets a light gray and had the polished granite countertops removed and sanded for a honed finish. The kitchen tabletop is zinc and is supported by white-painted tree trunks. “Zinc is a ‘living’ finish, which means it will patina over time,” notes Stiving-Nichols. The 1940s reproduction metal chairs surrounding the table add a pleasingly utilitarian feel.
A small powder room on the first floor is finished in an existing tumbled travertine and outfitted with a vintage water pail basin and a custom salvaged barn board countertop, supported by standard plumbing pipes with a natural steel finish. The small bath takes on an eclectic feel. A reproduction wall-mounted faucet and a vintage-inspired barn sconce are paired with a reproduction mirror. “We really wanted to take some cost-saving measures where possible,” says Stiving-Nichols. “Changing out the vanity was a great way to update the space without pulling out the original tiles.”
Upstairs, the neutral color scheme is carried through in a guest bedroom and bath. The bedroom is finished in taupe and muted blues, and the distressed pine bed and linen duvet offer a relaxed feel. Sitting chairs—also in taupe—are outfitted with comfy pillows. A lime-washed vanity in the guest bath is topped in Carrara marble.
Stiving-Nichols’s clients could not be happier with the outcome. With a little creativity and great imagination, Stiving-Nichols was able to transform a ho-hum traditional abode into a stunning, contemporary island oasis.