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Martha's Vineyard Home with Natural Style

Liz Stiving-Nichols designs a vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard that speaks to the island’s vernacular.

Written by Charlotte Safavi

"My clients had wanted a house on Martha’s Vineyard for years,” says interior designer Liz Stiving-Nichols, who, along with Hutker Architects, became involved in the vacation home before ground was broken. “When they finally took the plunge, they wanted the house to seem like it had always been there—to be at one with the island’s perennial elements.”

The family calls the side entrance to the home the “Dairy Barn.” The photography and a rustic bench support that playful moniker.

And that’s what the home turned out to be. The expansive, five-bedroom shingled house overlooking the Atlantic Ocean fits the area like a glove, thanks to careful selection of exterior materials and finishes. Inside, reclaimed oak beams and floors, V-groove ceilings, paneled walls, and hand-wrought masonry create a similar feel. Woodwork stained soft gray with a matte finish takes on the appearance of weathered shingles.

A large coffee table was custom-made by Bausman; a pair of linen-upholstered Flexform sofas and two slipcovered Verellen swivel chairs offer generous seating. The fireplace built-ins combine open and closed storage.

“The stone selected for the fireplace is evocative of the Vineyard’s old stone walls,” says Stiving-Nichols, adding that the choice “formed our neutral, organic palette, with layers of warm grays and no stark whites.”

“Scale was a critical component here,” says designer Liz Stiving-Nichols. “We had to consider the ceiling height, the large stone fireplace, and the substantial wall of glass when selecting furniture.”

The fireplace anchors one end of the great room, a soaring space used for multiple activities. “The great room required furniture planning that created destinations within one space,” the designer says, so she carved out several “rooms” within the room by choosing furnishings that would create these individual areas and paying close attention to placement. 

French doors on the library draw the beautiful view and ocean breeze inside.

The homeowners entertain frequently, so a game table from the great room’s music area was custom-matched in width, height, and tabletop to be joined to the dining table as needed, seating up to 20 guests.

On the home’s main level, which houses all but one of the bedrooms, barn-style doors lead from the great room to the kitchen. 

The kitchen’s design has a contemporary rusticity, with Shaker-style cabinets, white bronze hardware from Rocky Mountain Hardware, and a contrasting wood tray ceiling.

The homeowners had requested open upper shelving for a casual look. Simple square-seated stools from McGuire in custom slipcovers from Holly Hunt perpetuate that relaxed feeling, pulling up to smooth concrete countertops.

A casual dining table, Lloyd Loom chairs, and a sleek built-in cabinet enhance the home’s vacation home aesthetic­—and allow the emphasis to fall on the view. 

The powder room has a more industrial look.

Upstairs, a master summer suite transforms into an indoor-outdoor room, with the two areas connected by glass doors.

The upstairs master suite is designed around a central Western red-cedar core that houses a walk-in closet, drawered storage, and vanity. 

Bathroom floors, walls, and vessel sinks are limestone. 

The bedroom opens to a sleeping porch by way of NanaWall doors.

The home’s bluffside location takes advantage of the scenery. “Of course, the spectacular views were formative in our design,” Stiving-Nichols says. “We wanted to maximize them without having anything that visually competed.” 

Like most rooms in the house, the downstairs master suite was designed to play to the home’s extraordinary views. Custom pillows atop the platform bed are made of a mix of fabrics from Donghia, Lee Jofa, and Chelsea Editions. 

A pair of mirrors flank a small window, to avoid losing the view. 

To establish a feeling of relaxed elegance, the designer employed clean lines, weathered finishes, and calming colors. Jute rugs and soft linens, and a mix of wood, limestone, and wrought-iron elements come together in serene, sophisticated, and highly textural decor. 

A bleached burlap wallcovering adds the impression of a headboard.

Guest bedrooms feature custom-made platform beds with built-in storage, nightstands, and dressers. O’Lampia Studio made the mounted swivel sconces. The textured Roman shade is from Conrad.

“We wanted a rustic yet refined design, an interior that spoke the language of the Vineyard and its lifestyle—casual and laid-back,” she says. “But we also needed luxurious fabrics and custom furnishings that reflected our clients’ tastes. Everything we selected was very purposeful.” 

The mudroom features ample storage for both family and guests.

Granite floors and a vaulted ceiling create soaring proportions in this sunny space. A dining table constructed of reclaimed cypress from an old 1800s water tower can be extended to accommodate additional diners. 

The result is a perfect reflection of the Vineyard’s natural beauty.

Keeping the exterior cohesive with the interior was important, so materials and the palette are repeated—even poolside. Stiving-Nichols strove to create several outdoor destinations, working with the architect and taking into consideration how her clients like to live. 

Portrait: D. Greco

Liz Stiving-Nichols' Tips of the Trade

“Vacation is almost a state of mind,” says Liz Stiving-Nichols. “One’s environment should reflect that mind-set and lifestyle.” Here’s how:

  • Keep it simple. “Keep materials and finishes simple and consistent throughout.”
  • Remember your surroundings. “Develop your color palette from architectural elements and the natural environment around you.”
  • Low-maintenance is key. “Use indoor-outdoor and easy-to-launder slipcovers for fabric.”
  • Connect indoors and out. “Use weathered woods and organic elements, and creatively connect interior and exterior spaces.”

Photography: Eric Roth