Designer Elizabeth Bauer has found her “happy place”—in a supercozy, undeniably cute cottage in Nantucket. The native New Yorker has long had a second home on the idyllic island. “As a child coming from the city, I had so much freedom here,” she says. “I could go get muffins in the morning, when I was about six, and bring them back home because our house was right in town.” And now that she owns the classic shingled cottage that adjoins her parents’ property, she’ll get to pass on that legacy—and those carefree memories—to her daughter, Mary Jane, now two years old. “We usually get up and out early,” Elizabeth says, “maybe go down to the water and get hermit crabs and stroll home.”
She took a similarly easy, breezy approach to designing the family’s cottage. “We don’t need a formal space here. Everything is really user-friendly and fit for a quick weekend,” says the decorator and force behind Elizabeth Bauer Designs, her Old World-meets-New World design firm. And her distinctive point of view is on full display in the space, which is packed with pieces that are a mix of the antique and the modern and represent both local and personal history. For instance, a framed bunny print that delights Mary Jane was chosen because the designer’s mother, who is also a decorator (and whom MJ has dubbed “Coco”) is especially fond of them. “Whenever there are bunnies in our garden, Mary Jane will say, ‘Can we go see Coco’s bunnies?’” Meanwhile a painting of sailboats by the late Nantucket artist Robert Stark rests under the staircase, and an anchor is hung just off the front entrance.
Elizabeth and the family’s Norwich terrier, Lily Bear, strike a welcoming pose at the cottage, which was once a turn-of-the-century butcher shop.
One thing is for sure: The cottage is a labor of love. “Really, it’s filled with things I’ve collected over the years,” Elizabeth says. “The coffee table, the rug, the vintage chair—which I had redone in a Josef Frank pattern—are all things I found over time for myself or for my clients and was able to use here.”
But the story of the home is deeper than the lovingly curated objects that fill it. Not only are Elizabeth’s roots in Nantucket, but so are those of her husband, Jon, who works in marketing. “Believe it or not, my husband also grew up coming here in the summers,” she says. “His house was around the corner. I could literally throw a tennis ball at it. But though we knew each other casually, we never dated until we were both in New York, and I didn’t know he lived there.” Some things are just meant to be.
The dark floors contrast perfectly with Elizabeth’s more upbeat choices (“I do love color, and I do love pattern,” she admits). Overall the decorator took her design cues from the seaside location, making sure to nail that “old Nantucket spirit” without being overly reverential. “These are the original floors,” she notes. “We were going to rip them out but instead decided to sand them down and paint them a historical gray.”
In New York I have a Stark antelope rug in my living room. It’s more beiges… everything is much more muted. It’s not as funky or eclectic as the cottage.
Elizabeth’s pro touch is evidenced in her ability to make a Josef Frank butterfly-print chair coexist peacefully with an equally lively kilim rug and a striped sofa. That this is a vacation home allowed her to really up the color and pattern ante plus let her more eclectic side play out. Cue the letters spelling out “Ack,” which is actually a nickname for Nantucket, not an expression of annoyance.
The handsome dining nook suits the family’s casual summer style—and doubles as a place for Elizabeth to pull out her laptop for work when need be. Vintage elements, in the form of a Knoll Petal table, Wegner chairs, and a classical settee—which the designer scored at one of the Paris flea markets and had reupholstered in an evergreen blue-and-orange stripe—up the charm factor.
“It’s a real mix of high-low,” says Elizabeth of the space, pointing out the bar cart from Paris, a Hunt Slonem framed bunny print, and the sinuous midcentury-style table. But the most meaningful piece here is undoubtedly a Nantucket “lightship basket” passed down from her grandmother. Baskets like this one were originally made by the crewmen of lightships as a way to pass time while away at sea.
My husband, Jon, is the bartender in the house. His signature drink that everyone loves is a Southside. He makes the mix in batches from scratch... it’s quite a production, but a batch usually gets us through a couple of weeks!
In keeping with the home’s loosely nautical theme, Elizabeth chose to use all brass fixtures: plumbing, lighting, hardware—everything. Not that she’s cooking up five-course dinners in the kitchen. “It’s small, so we do easy suppers and cocktails and breakfasts. We’re out a lot, honestly. We’re on our boat all the time.”
Surprise—these door handles are actually brass boat cleats, repurposed for everyday function. They’re just one more example of how the designer subtly nodded to Nantucket’s rich heritage.
The most minimalist space in the home is the master bedroom. Because of the angular ceiling lines (“The architecture is the architecture”), Elizabeth chose not to dress the window, and the room couldn’t accommodate a headboard. “Besides, we’re up and out here and off to the beach, so I just kept it simple,” she says. She fell head over heels for the muted Liberty of London peacock-feather bedding, however. “It’s actually an odd choice for me, because I don’t do a lot of dark colors. But with the gray floor and white walls, it works.”
Cheery D. Porthault linens give daughter Mary Jane’s room its fanciful flair. To make the most of the print, Elizabeth had balloon shades made to match. The ceiling lamp and the powder-blue walls keep the space from feeling excessively frilly. “The fixture is almost like something that could be in a ’50s diner,” notes the designer. “But when you take it out of that context, it becomes almost nautical.”
A small bathroom space provides the perfect opportunity to go a little wild—and Katie Ridder’s Betelecat wallpaper is as fun as its name. The nautical motif is in full force here, but as usual, Elizabeth put her own spin on it. “I didn’t want to just do the traditional blue and white—sometimes I feel like that’s all I see here. I needed something a little different!”
A lovely vintage garden bench provides the busy mom with a place to take a breather. “When I’m here, I’ll pick flowers and make arrangements and place them throughout both [ours and my parents’] houses,” Elizabeth says. “I enjoy flower arranging, but I can’t say that I’m a great gardener—my mom’s the one with the green thumb.”
The flower-filled garden connects Elizabeth’s abode to her parents’ main house. And it’s her parents, at least partially, she has to thank for her career. “I worked for an interior designer here in the summers when I was growing up,” she recalls. “My parents said, ‘You have to get a job!’ and my mom helped find it for me. At first I hated it, but when the next summer came around, I went back. I stayed with it, and I ended up really loving it.”
Elizabeth uses the yard for intimate family gatherings and casual get-togethers with friends. “We entertain a lot outside. We barbecue, we have lobsters—there’s a great lobster place where you can call them in, pick them up, and get them already steamed. The backyard is the perfect spot, because you don’t have to worry about it getting dirty.”
We don’t need a formal space here. Everything is really user-friendly and fit for a quick weekend.