Eric Roseff Designs

Nantucket Today - 2005 An Architect's Taliesin


In Sconset, just past the Coast Guard LORAN Station and the spider-like reach of the Loran tower's support lines, the pavement of Low Beach Road becomes a dirt track. A little further down, opposite the point where grass-brushed dunes collide with sand and surf, is a driveway. At its end is celebrated architect Lyman Perry's masterpiece, a work of art that fills photo frame with asymmetric balance, tall trees in the foreground. Its theme, the sea.

The Low Beach home is Perry's Taliesin. It melts into its landscape, its porches sinking to the grass. Frank Lloyd Wright designed Taliesin, his signature homestead, joining a low-lying house with the rolling hills of Wisconsin.

From Wright's teachings, Perry learned the nature of materials. Light, texture, material, circulation and color - not fashion - are the real things in architecture. "Fashion only lasts a certain time," Perry said.

Perry, who owns a small home he designed on Polpis Road, had a vision for the Low Beach site the first time he saw it.

"A site like this presented a unique opportunity," he said of the near three-acre lot. But the property wasn't living up to its potential the way he found it, so he had the original house moved, making the canvas blank once again.

"It's like Christmas, the ability to choose everything in a project," Perry said. Often, the architect whose island projects include the Great Harbor Yacht Club and former IBM head Louis Gerstner's sprawling Monomoy compound, is constricted in his design choices by client requests. But because the Low beach Road house was a spec home, Perry had free reign. And he had fun.

"The test of any structure or building," he said, "is that it lingers in the mind," so that you remember it later, he said.

The driveway approaches as a curve, toward the side of the house. At first, it cannot be seen. Exiting the car, you enter from the side, into a small garden. a step up brings you to a level that unveils the house's uninterrupted ocean view.

Inside the house, the foyer opens to a dining room, and then a living room that bows out into a ceiling-high bay window overlooking the surf. Perry placed the house in a forward position, so that six of the seven bedrooms in the house could have ocean views.

In his design, Perry tried to capture the upscale sense of a beach house, but a cleaner, simpler, more evocative beach house, he said.

But such an undertaking required more than one man. The cast of characters was headed by Perry, the visionary architect, and two partners: Stephens Dunne, a whimsical museum-school graduate, and David Cooper, a former financier who crunched the numbers at night.

And for a project in which they hoped to emulate the mystique of nautical Nantucket, it made sense for Perry and his partners in Low Beach LLC to employ island contractors in the process.

L.J. Field is a third-generation Nantucketer. The self-taught painter was raised by his grandfather, who worked as a butcher at the A&P.

Field added finish to all the woodwork, using natural Danish oil on the house's cherry railings.

"It's the most beautiful home I've worked on on Nantucket," said Field. And he's been in a lot of houses. Nothing seems out of place in the Low beach House.

Lead carpenter Mark Flemming grew up on Nantucket, and graduated from Nantucket High School in 1991. Both of his grandfathers were commercial fishermen here, and he did a lot of fishing as a kid.

As he built the widow's walk on the roof of the three-story house in late August of last year, Flemming could see fishing boats trolling through the rip off Sconset Beach.

From the widow's walk, the view extends both to the ocean and the 300 acres of conservation land the property backs up to.

"Don't you feel like the island's your boat?" Dunne asked from atop the widow's walk last fall. He likened the platform to the bridge of a ship.

"Putting up a widow's walk on Low Beach Road in August certainly wasn't a low point of the job," said Flemming, whose crew also did all the finish work inside the guest house, from trim to baseboards to the two- and three-step crown molding. They shared in completing the same work with a few other crews in the main house, he said.

All of the mill work, from crown molding to the ornate three-step horizontal wainscoting on the walls, was done on-site, custom built to Perry's design.

Flemming also built all of the charcoal-colored Brazilian ironwood decks on the exterior of the house. According to Flemming, it's the highest-grade decking available, and it cannot be penetrated by a nail.

Flemming worked on four other projects with Perry before this one, he said, but the Low Beach house was different. Perry wasn't as involved in the other projects, Flemming said. very often, an architect's assistants oversee construction on a project.

"This one was him, start to finish," Flemming said. The project was also different in that Flemming was allowed some input into making construction choices.

"For me, as someone coming up in a field, having Lyman ask, 'what do you think?' gave me confidence," Flemming said.

Flemming enjoyed the cooperation, which he attributed to Perry's presence on the job. Perry laid down the parameters, and Flemming and everyone else went to work. "Everyone clicked," Flemming said.

Perry said he enjoyed being so present on the project, where he served as both the project manager and the architect.

"It's nice to give people a sense that they have a say," Perry said.

As the project manager, Perry was conscious of the need for a cohesive work environment. While he planned and collaborated with contractors, Dunne and Cooper organized the next steps.

After construction started around Christmas 2003, the next step was finding an interior designer who could blend soft colors with modern decor to further the nautical theme. A mutual friend brought together Dunne and Boston designer Eric Roseff in early January. Within a week, Roseff was sitting down with Perry, Dunne and Cooper to discuss design plans for the house.

He wanted a soothing environment for the interior, he said. He selected all of the furniture, collaborating with furniture designer Matthew Moger to design a bench that fit the ocean-side bay window. Moger, whose work is on display at the Dane Gallery on Centre Street and has gone into business with Perry, fashioned the bench in the style of his recent whalebone-inspired wood furniture line. With the bench underneath the window, Moger and Roseff created what, in effect, feels like the bow of a boat against the water. Perry sees Moger as a unique talent.

"There are very few people that have a unique design and graphic ability," Perry said of Moger.

For the house, Roseff chose soft, muted seaside green and sand colors. He wanted the eye to be drawn outside, he said, and feel soothed by the interior. He wanted people to appreciate the woodwork and the architecture as well.

For each room in the house, Roseff made storyboards complete with colors, floor layout, furniture and fabrics. He showed these to Perry and Dunne, who, more often than not, told him, "We trust you implicitly, just go wit it."

Roseff gave each of the seven bedrooms in the house its own personality. Every room and adjoining bathroom has a different mood. The "Green Room," as Dunne called it, sits on the ocean side of the second floor. A stunning horizon filters in from the balcony across the beachgrass-colored interior of the room. In the bathroom, penny-round, soft-colored tiles speck the floor, creating a busy texture underfoot.

Every one of the bathrooms has heated floor tiles and mirrors that won't fog.

In the dining room, Roseff and Perry agreed on a light fixture named the "Artichoke" from Paulsen Lighting. Its metallic leaves surround the multi-edged light at the heart of the piece.

Roseff also placed several glass art pieces from the Dane Gallery around the house. One such piece, world-renowned glass blower Dale Chihuly's "Blue-Green Seaform Set," sits on a coffee table in the ground-floor living room. It's made up of blue colored pieces of hollow glass piled on top of each other. The corners of the pieces curl in like wilting flower petals.

Several seascapes on loan from the Robert Wilson Gallery grace wall space between several pieces from artist Marc Petrovic's mounted glass boat series.

There are all these tiny miracles in the house - design triumphs that brought "oohs" and "ahs" at an October open house.

There's a bedroom in the basement with 11-foot ceilings and a stone floor. The windows in the room look onto a piled stone encasement, like a medieval fort. Somehow, Perry managed to reflect sunlight down into the encasement, making the stones glow.

The landscaping and tree placement on the site was also a triumph. Islander John Davey of Instant Shade Inc. pulled up all of the original scrub oak on the site and replanted them in what Perry called an, "undulating" pattern. A native species to the island, the skeletal scrub oaks help divide the landscape into three distinct sections: the front lawn, the area behind the guest house where there's room, Perry said, for the buyer to construct a tennis court, and a side pass between the two. And then there's the stairs.

Carter Mitchell, also a Nantucket carpenter, built the main staircase in the house.

"They hum, don't they," said Dunne, standing at the base of the stairs. The natural wood-finish bannister curves softly up the stairs, held up by three light-colored square balusters on each step. Perry sketched the woodwork, but left the shaping of the staircase to Mitchell. "Carter is a sculptor in his own right," Perry said.

Every corner of the house is lush with detail, even the kitchen drawers are special; they're "anger proof." They can't be slammed. Everything is the pinnacle of quality, filtered through the nautical concept Perry created, right down to the sand-dollar on the bannister of Carter Mitchell's stairs: a metaphor for the traditional Nantucket mortgage button, Perry said.

Though the sea-kissed upscale beach house now awaits a new owner, it will always be remembered as Lyman Perry's house.




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