On his longtime escape of Nantucket, Boston designer Gary McBournie turns a wreck of a ranch house into a home reflective of his effervescent spirit.
TIM McKEOUGH: You've owned many houses on Nantucket over the years. Why did you choose this one for your new home?
GARY McBOURNIE: I had been looking for an early-1940s H-shaped ranch house for about 10 years, and I couldn't find it. Then, in 2012, we drove down this bumpy, sandy road toward the beach, and as soon as we turned into the driveway, we knew this was it. It was a total wreck, but we like wrecks because we can fix them up, and it had a great feel about it. It's in a windswept neighborhood called Shimmo that's just about a mile outside of town. We can walk into town if we choose to, but we're remote enough that it feels removed from the crazy summer crush.
Why an H-shaped ranch?
You get great light from every angle. I also wanted to be able to simply walk out of rooms onto a terrace, porch, or garden. It's an easy lifestyle.
Tell me about the arrival. All you see when you drive up is that blue door.
I wanted it to be like a secret garden, with a sense of mystery when you pull in. Every time I open that door, I feel good. Originally, the man who lived here collected guns and cars, and what is now our courtyard was a gigantic parking lot. Within the first month, we scraped away the asphalt, laid out the garden, and planted the privet that surrounds the property. As a result, the garden is really mature compared to the renovation of the house.
Your living room is incredibly happy and bright. What was the inspiration?
I was in Copenhagen for about a year-and-a-half before I found this house, and I loved the Danish-modern white-box interiors there, where people's floors and walls are all white, clean, and crisp. Later, I went to Marrakech, which is a whole other situation. You have all this fabulous saturated color coming at you — oranges, blues, and yellows. I think I got the two of them mixed up in my head, and out came this hybrid.
Yet it's not overwhelming. How do you keep all that color in check?
I come up with a basic color scheme for the whole house, and then I take that from room to room. The color scheme here is actually really simple — a royal blue, a paler blue, a soft orange, a grass green, and that's pretty much it. But it plays itself out in different ways in different rooms.
Like the orange-and-white kitchen floor? That's a classic pattern, but you've used a surprising color.
I love painted floors. In most of my houses, I've had a painted checkerboard floor somewhere, and they always make me happy. Maybe that's also why I always wear check shirts. This orange is more of the Marrakech. When the blue door to the mudroom is open, you see across the orange floor to that door, and it's a powerful statement.
But the real blue statement is your master bedroom.
I had to have one room in the house that felt like you were in the water. I found this groovy fabric — which I used for the curtains — while we were in Copenhagen, and I fell for it. I carried this little snippet of fabric around for months, even before we found the house.
Why did you run the fabric across the whole wall behind your bed?
The windows come right up to the edge of the bed, so it was awkward to have a curtain stop abruptly there. I thought, Why not cover the whole wall? It feels a little 1950s, which fits the house.
And when you want to get outside, even your bathroom connects to an outdoor shower and sink.
There's a big apple tree that hangs over that space. I'll go out for a shower, look at it, and think, This is pretty incredible. We also have young nieces who love to shower out there when they visit.
How do you use that expansive porch?
We use it from morning to night. We bought old bamboo furniture from the '40s and '50s, put a marine varnish on it, and had new cushions made. It's not all the same maker or style, but it works together. The carpet is an old grass one, which adds softness underfoot and makes the area feel like a real room. Everything stays out there all summer and gets rained on, and we don't worry about it.
This story originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of CQ.