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Renovated Summer Home

An old house in Nantucket has a historical feel but is still modern

Written by Amy Elbert
  • John Bessler

    The first clue to the homeowners' dual loyalties is the Texas state flag waving from the top of their Nantucket clapboard house--a bit of a disconnect in this iconic Yankee whaling town dominated by sailboat masts and church steeples. The flag unobtrusively announces the Massachusetts vacation home of Lone Star transplants Mary Helen and Michael Fabacher, who, once they experienced the magic of Nantucket, couldn't stay away.

    The Fabachers had vacationed for several years in Nantucket and were living in Houston when they heard that an 1802 ship captain's house was for sale there. "We loved its location in the center of town. The house is a wonderful 18th-century survivor set on a deep lot with a great backyard," Mary Helen says. "We were sold before we ever set foot in the house."

    Once inside, Mary Helen and Michael were delighted to find 200-year-old pine plank floors, 12-foot-high ceilings, wide classic moldings and wainscoting, mantels, and original doors and hardware. Mary Helen insisted on preserving all of it--even if (as the builder warned) the doors were crooked.

    Working from Texas, the Fabachers coordinated with Nantucket architect Lisa Botticelli to update the mechanical systems, renovate the kitchen and baths, and make exterior improvements. The footprint of the 3,200-square-foot house remained the same, however, and rooms stayed in the same basic configuration.

    Midway through the two-year renovation, the Fabachers moved from Texas to Connecticut, and tracked down Nancy Serafini, an interior designer whose work they had admired in Traditional Home. "We called her Boston office and found she had a home in Nantucket, too," Mary Helen recalls. Their work relationship quickly evolved into friendship as Mary Helen and Serafini traveled to thrift shops, design studios, and high-end antiques stores throughout the Northeast. Their goals were to find furnishings and fabrics that would complement the Fabachers' existing antiques and furniture, creating an inviting summer home for themselves, their two college-aged children, plus family and friends. One memorable outing to an antiques warehouse yielded a big metal cow--likely a dairy business sign--that now hangs in the dining room. "When we saw this cow, we both burst out laughing. We had to have it," says Serafini.

    The designer also tackled structural issues, suggesting that the wall between the dining room and family room be replaced with a half-wall to add light and breathing room. "The house has a historical feel but is still modern and convenient," Mary Helen says. "We've lived in a lot of houses; we're always looking for the perfect one. I think we found it here."

    Photography: John Bessler
    Produced by Estelle Bond Guralnick

    Interior design: Nancy Serafini, Homeworks, 251R Washington St., Wellesley Hills, MA 02481, 781/237-7666.
    Architect: Lisa Botticelli, Botticelli and Pohl, 82 Easton St., Nantucket, MA 02554; 508/228-5455.

  • John Bessler

    A seafaring theme in the front hall pays homage to the house's heritage.

    Wallpaper ("Oasis"/Red, Green #W4633/01, by Boussac): Pierre Frey, 866/707-1524,
    Carpet ("Williamstown," discontinued): Stark Carpet Corp., 212/752-9000,
    Hall table (antique, English Regency sideboard); hall mirror (antique, English beveled mirror in Rosewood); sconces (antique, English tole lanterns): Mariette Himes Gomez, Gomez Associates, 212/288-6856,
    Bench: owner's collection.

  • John Bessler

    Crewel curtains and a Wilton carpet inspired the living room palette.

    Sofa; pair of chairs; coffee table; secretary: owner's collection.
    Sofa fabric ("Charlotte Matelassé"/Paprika #9770092-924): Lee Jofa, 800/453-3563,
    Bullion fringe (discontinued): Clarence House Inc., 800/803-2850,
    Fabric on pair of chairs ("Oakleigh"/Tomato #F2801/04, by Colefax & Fowler): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900,
    Upholstering: Decore Upholstering Co., 617/542-1180.
    Bench (Barley Twist): Spivack's Antiques, 781/235-1700.
    Bench fabric ("The Last Straw"/Native Green #1047-03, by Great Plains): Holly Hunt, 312/661-1900,
    Rug ("Multiplicity"/Multi #10177): Patterson, Flynn & Martin, 212/688-7700,
    Drapery fabric ("Ankara Document" #FK0001J003, discontinued): Old World Weavers, 212/355-7186.
    Drapery workroom: Christopher Robert, 617/822-2543.
    Hardware (1.5-inch diameter poles, #1808 finials in mahogany, custom): Finials Unlimited, 212/629-5630.
    Brass fender (English); Aurora urn lamp (red crystal); silk shade; Aubusson tapestry cushion: Janis Aldridge Inc., 508/228-6673.
    Paint ("Biscuit" #38): Farrow & Ball, 888/511-1121,

  • John Bessler

    Rawley curls up in a living room chair.

    Chair: owner's collection.
    Upholstering: Decore Upholstering Co., 617/542-1180.
    Rug ("Multiplicity"/Multi): Rosecore Carpets, Patterson, Flynn & Martin, 212/688-7700,
    Brass fender (English): Janis Aldridge Inc., 508/228-6673.
    Mirrors; table lamp; side table; fireplace tools: owner's collection.
    Paint ("Biscuit" #38): Farrow & Ball, 888/511-1121,

  • John Bessler

    A cow cutout keeps the dining room mood light.

    Table (antique, French): Judith & James Milne, 212/472-0107,
    Dining chairs (antique, French): Antiques on Cambridge Street, 617/234-0001.
    Chair fabric ("Fairfield"/Red #F2315-08, by Colefax & Fowler): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900,
    Chandelier (antique): Harbor View Center for Antiques, 203/325-8070,
    Buffet (antique, 2-part cupboard, oak): Helen Higgins Interiors, 617/723-5654.
    Rug ("Double Weave Custom Wool"): Stark Carpet Corp., 212/752-9000,
    Wall paint ("Stone White" #11): Farrow & Ball, 888/511-1121,
    Cow and fence (antique): Judith & James Milne, 212/472-0107,

  • John Bessler

    Mary Helen Fabacher sits with Rawley near a half-wall between the family and dining rooms. Mousse, a chocolate Lab, keeps them company.

    Sofa: owner's collection.
    Sofa fabric ("Teddy Chenille"/Thyme #92401-04): Rogers & Goffigon, 203/532-8068.
    Upholstering: Decore Upholstering Co., 617/542-1180.
    Cupboard (#WR973578): FDO Group, 617/737-2800.
    Lounge chair: owner's collection.
    Chair fabric ("Marseille Check"/Espresso #990107-6): Lee Jofa, 800/453-3563,
    Pillow fabric ("Rambouillet"/Espresso, Multi #CF0022 1190): Old World Weavers, 212/355-7186.
    Pillow trim (Brush Fringe/Dark Multi #T17678, discontinued)" Coraggio Textiles, 800/624-2420,
    Pillow fabrication: Donna Elle Interiors, 508/228-4561.
    Rug (Tyler Collection): Stark Carpet Corp., 212/752-9000.
    Wall paint ("Stone White" #11): Farrow & Ball, 888/511-1121,

  • John Bessler

    The Fabachers celebrate Texas with a star-studded library carpet.

    Writing desk (antique, English, mahogany): Ann-Morris Antiques, 212/755-3170.
    Pillow fabric ("Palms" #F14246, discontinued): Roger Arlington,
    Pillow trim ("Cliveden Flanged Cord"/Brick, Moss #T2002502-324): Lee Jofa, 800/453-3563,
    Floor lamp ("Melrose Swan-Neck Floor Lamp" #SL17): Vaughan Designs, 212/319-7070,
    Accessories (antique bottles, tins): Antique and Artisan Center, 203/327-6022.
    Lampshades: M. Gabaree Lampshades Inc., 978/664-8060,
    Paint ("Olive" #13): Farrow & Ball, 888/511-1121.
    Rug ("Kent Small Star"/British Green): Stark Carpet Corp., 212/752-9000,
    Chairs and ottoman: owner's collection.
    Chair-and-ottoman fabric ("Glenbrooke Chenille" #402810, by Travers, discontinued): Zimmer + Rohde, 866/627-6899.
    Chair and ottoman workroom: Decore Upholstering Co., 617/542-1180.

  • John Bessler

    The renovated kitchen's painted cabinets and floor exude a vintage feel.

    Table (antique, baked enamel top): Judith & James Milne, 212/472-0107,
    Chairs (antique): Janis Aldridge Inc., 508/228-6673.
    Seat fabric ("Kerala Check"/Red, Beige #PQ1507, by Fonthill): Stark Fabrics, 212/355-7186.
    Slipcovers fabrication: Partners in Design, 617/965-1950.
    Stenciling, kitchen floor and cabinet refinishing: Audrey Sterk Design, 508/325-7050,

  • John Bessler

    Designer Nancy Serafini covered walls in the master bedroom with a paper-backed striped toile. The bedskirt, bed pillows, and shades were also fashioned from the toile.

    Bed ("Queen-Size Bamboo Bed" #7805, ): Louis J. Solomon, 631/232-5300.
    Rug (needlepoint #7624, discontinued): Steven King Inc., 617/426-3302.
    Fabric for bedskirt, pillows, and, backed with paper, for walls ("Floralie" #FRN02003): Zoffany, 800/395-8760,
    Paper-backing treatment: Custom Laminations Inc., 973/279-9174.
    Workroom: Donna Elle Interiors, 508/228-4561,
    Drapery and coverlet fabric ("Carreau Matelassé"/Cream #3303011, Classic Collection): F. Schumacher, 800/523-1200,
    Tufted chair and ottoman (#229): TCS Designs, 828/324-9944.
    Pillow shams, coverlet ("Rye Check"/Yellow #F1907-05, discontinued): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900,
    King sham-fabric ("Zoe Embroidered Plaid"/Topaz #2002117-14): Lee Jofa, 800/453-3563,
    Bolster trim ("Cap-Ferret Frayed Fringe" #33164-9890, by Houlès, discontinued): Brunschwig & Fils, 800/538-1880,
    Paisley shawl: Janis Aldridge Inc., 508/228-6673.
    Marble lamps (antique): Charles River Antiques, 617/367-3244.
    Lampshades: M. Gabaree Lampshades Inc., 978/664-8060,
    Wallpaper ("Toile Trellis" #BP643): Farrow & Ball, 888/511-1121,
    Mirrors ("Metropolitan" with shelf): Pottery Barn, 800/922-5507,

  • John Bessler

    In the guest bedroom, designer Nancy Serafini made clever use of limited space with a beadboard nook that creates storage space while nestling the head of the queen-sized bed. In a room that does not have enough space for bedside tables, niches on either side of the alcove provide a place for books and an alarm clock. The built-in fixtures contain lighting.

    Paint: custom.
    Rug ("Celestial"/Green); khaki rug binding (#T10.06); ecru rug binding (#C000): Stark Carpet, 212/752-9000,
    Bed: owner's collection.
    Drapery, bedskirt and headboard fabric ("Botanical Ferns"/Green on Clear Yellow #7600/001, by Twigs): Ailanthus Ltd., 617/482-5605.
    Drapery trim ("Wide Pecot Braid"/Brown #5026-03, by Colefax & Fowler): Cowtan & Tout, 212/647-6900,
    Brisbees fabric ("Moustiquaire Sheer"/Natural #3252.01/050, discontinued): Brunschwig & Fils, 800/532-1880,
    Drapery, brisbees and dust-ruffle fabrication: Donna Elle Interiors, 508/228-4561.
    Headboard fabrication: Decore Upholstering Co., 617/542-1180.