Step inside this stylish Nantucket home and the first thing to catch your eye is an intriguing artwork by renowned American conceptual artist Mel Bochner, dominating a wall in the center of the living room.
Two large, bold words – Enough Said – are the framed print’s only graphic elements, written in blue and black paint that drips down the canvas toward the fireplace below.
It’s a far cry from the seashells and scrimshaw that adorn many Nantucket homes. But this is not your typical saltbox, and the woman who created its contemporary interior is not your run-of-the-mill coastal designer.
“The beach house cliché style is just not my thing,” says Kara Mann, owner and principal of her eponymous interior design firm with offices in New York City and Chicago.
This Nantucket commission, in fact, turned out to be more than an interior design project. The Boston-based client – a single man with three teenage children who had always dreamed of owning a family vacation home on the island – had recently purchased a brand new townhome.
But when he walked Mann through the three-story, four-bedroom building for her first viewing, she knew immediately the layout and construction – especially in the first-floor living spaces – would require some considerable adjustments.
“I remember walking through the house and I?said, ‘Clearly you have to gut the inside,’ and the client was like, ‘What?!’ But once he was on board with the concept and what I wanted to do, he pretty much gave me free rein.”
Mann and her design team set about opening up the first floor – creating a combined living room and kitchen with a separate master bedroom – adding doors, moving windows and establishing a better dialogue between the home’s indoor and outdoor spaces.
The second floor, featuring a TV lounge for the teens and two bedrooms and a bathroom, and the third-floor attic space remained largely in tact. “But we really tweaked the home a lot,” says the designer. “We pretty much stripped the whole thing down.”
Once the interior architecture revisions were complete, Mann’s design eye moved to transforming the shell of the new house into a home, aligning her background in fashion, art and design with the family’s needs and wishes and the island’s natural setting.
“I knew we had to make the home a little more current and forward-thinking,” she says. “But it had to fit within the Nantucket landscape, and the kids and their beach lifestyle were definitely front of mind during the whole process.”
Her next major design decision was to cover?the entire interior wall space with shiplap, a type of wooden board used more commonly for exterior siding but equally at home indoors.
“The shiplap really creates a density to the space and gives it soul,” says Mann. “It also adds a historical and nautical character and really makes the home feel authentic.”
The designer opted for Benjamin Moore’s China White (OC-141) throughout the home, creating a clean, consistent and seamless look while making the living spaces appear larger.
“It’s kind of ethereal, not too warm, not too cold, with a really pretty tone,” she notes. “It’s an excellent color for coastal light. It takes on the mood of the day and the weather, which I think is pretty cool.”
The neutral backdrop allowed Mann to layer on crisp design accents in black and navy, a deliberate but subtle nod to the ocean, and also complements the home’s beautiful bleached white oak floors.
Mann’s only exception to the all-white walls is an eye-catching powder room on the first floor painted a dark midnight green.
She also used some lighter blue and green touches in the client’s daughter’s second-floor bedroom, while retaining a more masculine vibe in her brothers’ twin bedroom in the third-floor attic space.
The designer’s choice of fittings and furnishings ranges from custom cabinetry in the kitchen to brand name pieces and her own personal discoveries: a living room maple coffee table by Trace, kitchen bar stools from Sawkill and a durable Restoration Hardware sofa in the second-floor TV lounge.
“I love the vibe,” says Mann. “You walk into the home and it feels good, really authentic, substantial and chilled. I just wanted it to be a totally relaxed space for the client and his family.”
The design project lasted a little more than a year, starting in late 2014 and completed in early 2016, leaving plenty of time for the family to move in and enjoy their first Nantucket summer at home.
While Mann says design is in her DNA – she and her mother would regularly rearrange rooms at their suburban Chicago home when she was growing up – the road to her successful firm was long and windy.
Graduating in art from Tulane University, Mann worked as a stylist for fashion and lifestyle companies before realizing she wanted to create entire spaces, not just style individual elements.
So she went back to school, graduating from Chicago’s Harrington Institute of Interior Design. After a four-year design partnership, she left to start her own company in 2005, opening her New York City office in 2011 and expanding to more than 20 employees.
Her art and fashion background certainly drive her cool, contemporary, even edgy interior design aesthetic, helping her to create exciting but very comfortable homes for her clients.
As for the intriguing Bochner artwork in the living room: “That was a little tongue-in-cheek,” she admits. Enough said.
For more information, visit karamann.com.
Image Credits: Photographs by Douglas Friedman.