Island interior decorators go with the flow


Home design can be a good barometer of lifestyle changes. For instance, people are spending more time at home, foregoing costly vacations and cutting entertainment budgets. Homes are now, more than ever, gathering places for friends and families, and this change is reflected in current decorating trends.

“People want their homes to be comfortable in uncertain economic and political times,” says Julie Robinson of Julie Robinson Interiors, located in Vineyard Haven. “They want their homes to be a haven.”

Ms. Robinson, who’s been in business since 1987, notes that her clients often opt for redoing an interior rather than incurring the expense of structural changes. “A design change is not as costly as ripping up the entire house,” she says, and adds that she has observed upgrades in bathrooms becoming particularly popular. She says that her clients are trading out their fiberglass shower/tub units for tiled showers and frameless shower doors. In general, “Making the bathroom a nicer place.”

Lindsey Kupeski, Interior Designer for Hutker Architects of Martha’s Vineyard and Falmouth, has also noticed requests that favor the nesting mentality. “People’s homes are getting cozier,” she says, remarking on the trend towards smaller homes as well as focusing on comfort. She has observed that the kitchen, in particular, is becoming more of a living and entertaining space.

“We’ve been doing a lot of kitchens and dining rooms that open up into the outside. People now want their kitchens facing the view with sinks and islands looking out windows.” She has been working with clients who want a kitchen that allows the home cook access to the outside and allows folks to spill out onto an outdoor deck, effectively blurring the line between food preparation and entertaining.

Mary Rentschler of Rentschler and Company Interiors has observed that people are doing more outdoor living. “People are literally moving their homes outside, and the market place is accommodating that.” In response to a customer base that is seeking more of the comfort and look of indoor upholstered furniture for the outdoors, she has done a lot of research and has discovered new lines of weather-resistant fabrics that both look and feel good. “All the big designers are starting to make more outdoor fabrics,” she comments.

Ms. Kupeski observes that people are focusing more than ever on creating comfortable spaces for visitors to save summer guests the expense of stays at inns and bed and breakfasts. She emphasizes that her firm is mainly involved with summer homes and adds, “Since they only use them for a few months a year they want to make them more accessible for friends and family.” Not only are small guesthouses becoming more popular, her customers are effectively expanding their overnight options by adding bunk beds, convertible beds, and trundles.

Environmental awareness too has left its mark on the design industry, having passed the point of a short-lived trend and now becoming entrenched in the collective conscience of consumers.

“People are becoming more conscious of their interior surroundings,” Ms. Robinson says. “They’re becoming more organic. They want less toxicity in their lives.” She has observed that natural fabrics — cotton and linen, etc. — are quickly displacing plastic- and oil-based products.

Ms. Rentschler too has marked a change in attitude and fully supports the green initiative. “I’m always trying to sleuth out the green stuff now that it’s more available. …People are embracing it more so it’s getting easier all the time to find alternatives.”

Ms. Rentschler notes that organic goes beyond the choice of materials and should be observed in maintenance as well. “I don’t want to get beautiful fabrics like linens treated with chemicals.” She sends all of her dry cleaning to an off-Island green cleaner. She also encourages use of no-VOC paints and non-toxic cleaning products, and is optimistic that tradespeople will embrace the green movement. She conducts a lot of research on green alternatives and strongly encourages her clients to request them for their projects.

Ms. Robinson comments that now, more than ever, the focus is on investing in quality furnishings. She has noticed that her clients are taking their older pieces that are structurally sound and upholstering them — “Keeping something that is well made and resurrecting it,” as she puts it. “The older pieces are much better built than these newer, much cheaper pieces. We’re quite busy doing a lot of upholstery.”

She is also supporting another form of recycling by expanding a small consignment trade into a full-scale business. She has recently taken over a space in her studio formerly occupied by the Carol Craven Gallery and has turned it into an art and furniture consignment shop where people can pick up high quality cast-offs for a fraction of their original cost.

“It’s a way of somebody getting back a few dollars. In these times, it’s a way of recycling,” says Ms. Robinson. “I’m hoping it will help my clients out, and help others out.” Although she has noted a marked increase in business from what was a rather disheartening winter for all on the Island, she observes, “I think everybody, even the very wealthy, are thinking very hard about where they’re spending their money.”

Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.