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Publication Date: 2013-01-13

House Tours

Gary Mcbournie’s New Spin On Red, White & Blue in Nantucket

Gary McBournie speaks to Christine Pittel about his redesign of an 1828 Nantucket beach cottage.

Christine Pittel: What a sweet cottage! Where did the colors come from?

Gary McBournie: Usually a rug or a scrap of fabric will inspire me. In the living room, it all started with that ticking stripe. There’s something universal about ticking. It can look very French and very American. I also have an emotional connection to it because it reminds me of my grandmother’s house. To me, it just feels like home.

Pittel: Describe the colors in the stripe.
McBournie: There’s a pale blue-green with a misty look, like beach glass, that I pulled out and used on the walls. Cranberry red, which you see again in the rugs, the pillows, a throw. Red adds a bit of fire and seems to work anywhere. It’s a secret weapon of mine. I covered the back of the wing chair in red for a little surprise. Then there’s white— picked up on the curtains, a chair. And brown—echoed in the wood furniture and the floors. You’ll see the same colors in the TV room, the dining room, the kitchen. And then in the butler’s pantry they all come together again in that kaleidoscopic pattern on the walls.

Pittel: And they reappear in the bedroom. Why use the same palette everywhere?
McBournie: I like lots of color, but it has to be controlled. This is a small Nantucket house, built in 1828, and somehow it feels bigger if it’s unified.

Pittel: Same colors, and same patterns.
McBournie: A showroom manager once asked me why I used so few fabrics in a room. I guess I like to control pattern, too, because otherwise it can be too confusing. But I’ll often use the same fabric in different ways, cutting it up to make a patchwork or a trim so it doesn’t get boring. Here you see the same ticking and the same white linen in the living room and the TV room, because those rooms connect and kind of mirror each other, on either side of the fireplace.

Pittel: I like the height of the mantel. It makes the room seem taller.
McBournie: And the curtains are hung as high as possible, for the same reason. That fireplace, by the way, and the whole layout, is new. In the 1980s someone renovated the house and took down all of the walls. When my partner and I first saw it, the ground floor was one big room. It had no detail and no charm, and no one wanted it—which made it perfect for us. I’m a sucker for a historic house, and we tried to put it back to what it must have been.

Pittel: Why didn’t the open plan work for you?
McBournie: I’m not a fan of gigantic rooms. There’s something nice about curling up on the sofa in a small, cozy space, especially in the wintertime.

Pittel: The TV room may be small, but the sofa is huge.
McBournie: I thought, ‘Why not just fill it with sofa?’ A small room usually feels better with big furniture—that’s Decorating 101. I had the mirror made, and it’s also overscaled. There’s only one window in that room, and that mirror becomes a virtual window, reflecting more light.

Pittel: Who taught you how to hang art?
McBournie: Roger Lussier, a great framer in Boston, showed me how to stack pictures and organize them. The walls in this room are so wavy that there was no way to put in any trim or crown moldings. The graphic, symmetrical arrangement of pictures gives it some structure and creates the impression of architecture where there is none.

Pittel: You’ve gone huge again with the light fixture in the dining room.
McBournie: Isn’t it cool? It’s like the biggest ship’s gimbal I’ve ever seen, which seems appropriate for Nantucket. I was at a flea market in Paris when I spotted it. The size is great because it eats up the middle of the room, where there’s not a lot going on. It’s very heavy—made of iron—and it fell off the ceiling one day. The cleaning woman kept turning it as she cleaned it, and eventually it came unscrewed. I can’t believe it didn’t even bend, or dent the table.

Pittel: What’s that table made of?
McBournie: Wood. I found the base in my warehouse— I have no idea where it came from—and thought there was something kind of ropelike and nautical about it. Then I had the top made and painted the whole thing white.

Pittel: What’s on the walls?
McBournie: Raffia, to give them some texture. It reminds me of the old lightship baskets that Nantucket is famous for. I had a major anxiety attack after those curtains were installed. Usually I don’t do floral fabrics for myself, and at first it felt like I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. But after a while I got used to it.

Pittel: Wait a minute. No floral fabrics? They’re all over your bedroom!
McBournie: Well, that’s more like an Indian block print, and it just blurs into a mass of color, so it doesn’t bother me.

Pittel: What made you cover the closet in it?
McBournie: I have this thing about wallpapering closets. I saw it years ago in an old house, and it fascinated me. Here, I went a step further and upholstered the walls. The closet becomes a room of its own. It’s really cozy in there.

Pittel: Very smart, to tuck the bed into the dormer. But isn’t it a little bright in the morning?
McBournie: We’ve got blackout shades behind the curtains. The only real problem is the birds, who start chirping at 4 a.m. in the springtime. Enough already!

This article originally appeared in House Beautiful. Interview by Christine Pittel. Photography by Julian Wass. Produced by Doretta Sperduto.


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