The Designers

They share why they do what they do, their favorite rooms, and more

Heather Kelly and Susan Bielski of Vineyard Decorators. –Photos by Lynn Christoffers

Six interior designers discuss the challenges unique to working on Martha’s Vineyard — whether it’s designing an addition to an antique house for elder newlyweds, or creating a comfortable seating area for a new pool cabana. They tell us about their favorite projects and what trends are afoot, and offer their thoughts on design and how it can create functional spaces for their clients.

Catherine Finch, Living Space Arts, Edgartown

Catherine Finch is the founder of Living Space Arts, a residential design firm rooted in feng shui, an ancient study of energies that move throughout nature, the built environment, and people. She is committed to creating spaces that nurture and inspire the body, mind, heart, and spirit of those who dwell within them.

Design and architecture training, and feng shui
In 1985, I graduated from Parson’s School of Design in New York City and joined the design team of architect Niels Gabel-Jorgensen on the Vineyard. Following Niels’ death, I established Living Space Arts, and graduated from the first three-year feng shui master’s program taught in this country. My projects range anywhere from small renovations to new residences, as well as in-depth feng shui consultations that help people move forward in their daily lives, and clear unsupportive energies from their homes.

Favorite design project

That would be Howard and Cynthia Riggs Attebery and their Cleaveland House B&B in West Tisbury that eight generations of Cynthia’s family have called home. When Cynthia and Howard decided to get married two years ago, Cynthia requested my design assistance. They needed a private suite separate from the B&B, including a room for Howard to set up his lab with microscopes and other equipment. I was determined to create an addition that would meet their needs, with excellent feng shui to support their new relationship, without disturbing the original layout of rooms or the old doors, windows, and trim work of the 1750 house.
A rarely used library/parlor had a small closet that backed to a matching closet of a bedroom against an outside wall. We removed the wall separating the closets to create a passage between the two rooms — now Howard’s study and their bedroom — and opened the exterior wall to a new foyer and bathroom complete with a two-person shower. The foyer connects to a new deck that holds a swing on which the newlyweds can enjoy the outdoors together. The addition is located between two original windows and shields the deck from the Edgartown–West Tisbury Road. The original rooms look like nothing has changed. Tim Barnett, a local builder, and his crew did an excellent job matching the details of the new addition to the original house.

Local artisans
I suggested a custom bed by John Thayer Cabinetmakers, located in Vineyard Haven, would be excellent feng shui for supporting their new living arrangement. John’s son, Nate, built the beautiful mahogany bed complete with a secret code carved into the headboard. The series of letters translate into “Hugs. Kisses. Passion.” Cynthia and Howard invented the code when they first met over 60 years ago. When a bed is so thoughtfully personalized, it generates an equally lovely energy.

Feng shui energy
According to ancient feng shui principles, the addition is located in the area of new beginnings and family — perfect for the newlyweds, Cynthia in her 80s and Howard in his 90s, with an extensive family between them.
Current trends and color
I read a color study done in the U.K. recently. Turns out gray is an exceedingly popular color to use in the bedroom. That is one color I would steer everyone away from. It’s far too cold to support rejuvenation, let alone an intimate relationship.

Catherine Finch, Living Space Arts, Edgartown; 508-561-1179;; (under construction).

John Murphy Tracker Home Décor, Edgartown
John Murphy offers interior design services to help your home achieve a refined reflection of your personal style. Tracker retail shop offers a wide array of home furnishings and accessories to chose from.

My store
I always wanted my own shop, so I started Tracker six years ago at this location in Edgartown. Design has always been my strength — I’ve always loved good style. I’ve been on the Island close to 30 years, but Tracker is the first shop of my own.

Complete projects
A client can come into our shop, and we can do everything: help pick out tile and finishes for a new bath and kitchen, decide on floor finishes, paint finishes, plan furniture layout, and select window treatment — working from floor plans in the beginning.
We can also help freshen up an existing living room. We have an extensive fabric library.

The hunt
All the time, I search for specific furnishings and accessories for my clients. I’m a hunter and gatherer, looking for special objects — beautiful leather-bound books and items for shelves that can be mixed with one’s own personal memorabilia.
We love the Brimfield Fair — we bring the whole team, bring our truck, stay together, bounce ideas off each other. We never go with expectations. If we love it, we buy it.

Current trends and color
For a color of the year, I think of a lot of lilacs. It’s hard for me to pinpoint a trend because I love every period. Our look is so classic. We try to keep up with what’s going on, but that doesn’t drive our interiors. We are not driven by trends.

Favorite room, and why
The library or den, because I adore the winter, and it’s a wonderful place to be cozy and have a drink, surrounded by books and all the different textures.

Favorite accessory of the week
Calvin Klein Candles in marble holders — a home fragrance collection of modern candles offered in dune, storm, and midnight, a trio of distinct scents derived from high-quality, complex oils.

Other places
We definitely do jobs off-Island also. We can work long distance. Existing clients have invited us to help them with projects off-Island — Palm Beach or Wellington, in Florida, and New York City. These represent second homes, where the client would like to create the same interior feeling for their off-Island home.

On the tiny house
I love small spaces. I had a tiny apartment on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, which was probably my most favorite place I‘ve lived in. Not everyone lives in huge houses … InStyle magazine did a feature on small houses and included mine.

Our goal
I think everyone in our business is reaching for the same goal: to make our clients happy; it’s the love of being surrounded by beautiful things. It’s what the whole business is about — surrounding yourself with things and people you love.

Tracker Home Decor, 89 Pease’s Point Way South, Edgartown, MA 02539; 508-627-8725;

Julie Robinson, Julie Robinson Interiors, Ltd.
Julie Robinson Interiors is a full-service design firm dedicated to the goal of “creating beautiful spaces on Martha’s Vineyard.” The West Tisbury showroom boasts an extensive array of furniture fabrics, window treatment styles and finishes, and special antique lighting and fixtures, as well as one-of-a-kind accessories.

What we do
We design for all types of interior spaces. We specialize in window treatments and drapes, with an extensive selection of shades, blinds, and shutters. In-house we have the services of a master upholsterer for upholstery and custom furniture needs, and can create slipcovers, cushions, and pillows. We can do a simple room — the bedspreads — or an entire house.
We upholster old furniture, or we order custom furniture from our manufacturer, sometimes working with a client’s contractor or own designer. Or we are happy to work with the homeowner directly. There‘s a lot — so many decisions to be made. And for someone who lives most of the time off-Island, it’s nice to have someone here with the expertise to handle what they need.

A sailor first
I actually started my business when I was sailing around the world, and had a couple of sewing machines to repair other yachts’ sails, dodgers, and cushions. I did work for sailboats, making repairs or whatever people needed at sea.
My first job when I was 12 was working summers with seamstress Mary Joyce on Martha’s Vineyard, helping make drapes and slipcovers.
I went to college for photography and anthropology, and came back to the Vineyard and
started sewing for people in 1985. So I have 30 years in business, making slipcovers and drapes for people.
My first shop was in the back of my car; then the basement of my house; then we built a showroom next to the house. I was located on Holmes Hole Road for eight years after we purchased the building. Then I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and the recession happened, and your attitude changes. We sold the building, then discovered this log cabin building in West Tisbury early on, so we were able to customize the interiors. This is our last stop. I love it here; I love what I do.

Winter work
We do a lot in the winter in preparation for the summer, so when clients arrive in June and July, the work is done for them. In the summer you have so many people who want something today, you are so distracted.
I would say that our seasonal clients are about 85 percent of our business. A lot of the local people come for upholstery, but a lot of times it’s a price issue with local people. They will go to Home Depot to save money. I would say that for locals we do a lot of upholstery, slipcovers, and pillows. We have our own upholsterer, Richard Dumas, who has been with me for 20 years, working out of a shop in my barn. We take care of everything on the Island rather than sending things off.

Passion for antique lamps
I have a passion for antique lamps. When we are doing a house for someone, I’ll look for lamps as well. I try to get people not to get everything out of Pottery Barn. Then your house has no character. I like to suggest accessories that make the room look like you gave it some thought.

Upcoming trends and color
People on the Vineyard want their house to be a summer house, they don’t want the dark heavy colors, they want the blues, sea colors — soft colors; accessories and art that are relaxing. It’s stressful out there for everybody. As for trends, I think the young people want a more modern look. My kids don’t want my antiques. I like to combine the old with the new, because I think it makes it interesting.

The young are good with the Internet, and they will find a lot online without my help. For a certain client request, I’ll look around on the Island to give my competition here business rather than have them buy online.
We have new products that enable you to adjust your window treatments from anywhere in the country — a great option for people living off-Island. It gives them some versatility. It’s called “PowerView,” by Hunter Douglas.

On the tiny house
I think with energy the way it is, if you can make your space as beautiful as you can, you just need to be more selective about what you put in it.
We don’t need all that space [the larger houses]; we need to be more conservative about our building. We need housing for the kids on the Island. I’ve offered my services to the Housing Trust, and the same for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Julie Robinson Interiors, 510 State Road, West Tisbury, MA 02575; 508-693-5065;

Mary Rentschler, Rentschler and Co. Interiors
Mary Rentschler formed her interiors firm 12 years ago as an outgrowth of her 23-year-old business in advertising and design. She describes her service to her clients as artful direction and professional guidance for residential and commercial interiors. She believes every interior design project should discover and embody the unique intersection between three critical elements: the site, the physical structure, and the client’s lifestyle.

Home — the power of place
We all spring from somewhere. We all spring from our dwellings and go out into the world, and we need a feeling of being grounded. It’s nice if you feel like you have a good start — a place that inspires you, that makes you happy. Your home is that place.

On stuff and storage
We bring stuff forward as one keeps moving through time — you bring something, you lose something — a constant editing mode in life that needs to happen. My new husband moved in June first from a life off the Island; we have a big basement, so we can organize our stuff of many years and families. As your parents leave the planet and they leave you stuff, we keep just enough to be reminded.
We have way too much broken-down furniture in our lives.

I love to help clients with family photographs, and reframing with good frames — these make a space more personal. It’s important to honor the past, honoring different aspects of lives to bring forward what makes people happy. I ask, “What collections do you have? What makes you happiest? Do you like fabrics?”
The design challenge is balancing a potpourri of things … not having one theme, but letting the eclectic happen.
I don’t mind some stuff that’s not perfect; when a house is all the same, nothing jumps out of the pile. Some quirkiness is warranted to give things dimension.

Favorite project
I’m now focused on the finishing stages of a lovely house in Chilmark, a project that began for me three years ago. I was lucky to come on board early, as the client needed a local designer to work with the architect, Roberto Palmerini of O’Brien Architecture. It’s been a great camaraderie. The house is so much about its materials and its surfaces, having good bones from the beginning. Windows are all solid mahogany; it uses reclaimed chestnut floors and timbers on the main floor. The lower level is reclaimed weathered board paneling from fencing; the bedrooms boast painted shiplap boards with exposed framing simulating the cottage style. My challenge was to design the interiors to support this strong foundation rather than to distract from it.
To start, I worked closely with the client, designing a kitchen diagram, including placement of where things will go with details of drawer handles and cabinet door fronts. We enlisted the help of Vineyard artisan Whit Hanschka to design hardware for the sliding kitchen pantry door (forged metal hinges and bracket) and the large light fixture, and various handles; he also designed hardware for the glass-fronted fireplace in the living room and game room, and the sliding barn-door hinges for the wine room.
We chose unique vanities and faucets in the bathrooms, using different stones, to give personality. We worked holistically, with each room having a unique theme; however, the accessories are interchangeable to make varied combinations.

Lighting is a huge category. You want to live in a house before you figure out where the lights go. Artisan chandeliers are featured — all different — placed throughout the house. Bill Nash Woodworking made the two coffee tables out of Siberian elm harvested on the Vineyard by Tom Turner at his sawmill.
Contractor Joe Chapman of Doyle Construction was a tremendous help in all facets of the job. It’s been a fabulous team effort, a great culture, as everyone is respectful of each other’s strengths and contribution.

Favorite design challenge
Getting the artwork right. I like to start with rugs and paintings, and work from there.

Architecture and my new husband/partner
I’m sort of a frustrated architect … and now I’ve married an architect, John Fuller from Beverly. We got married on June 26th, and though he’s not local, he has family roots here, and has been coming to the Vineyard for many years to an incredible landscape at Pohogonot Farm on the south shore. First a carpenter, now a residential and commercial architect of many years, John has designed several Vineyard houses over the past few years. We both have our own professional identities, but we are already doing projects together. We have a real collaboration that works — we’re not ditto.
We interface together.
The big stew of life: Everything is a work in progress.

Rentschler and Co. Interiors, 39 Lake Street, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568;; 508-693-2058;

Susan Bielski, Heather Kelley, Vineyard Decorators
Susan Bielski and Heather Kelley, staff designers for Vineyard Decorators, provide a full-service interior design program to their clients, drawing on Vineyard Decorators’ wide range of quality home and outdoor furnishing, window treatments, rugs, and accessories available in the store.

Custom total design services
We offer design services here, often working from a client’s floor plans to help them furnish their homes; customers can just walk in off the street and work with us. We also work long-distance with clients, perhaps from another state: we send them samples, photos, and discuss furniture decisions. We do a lot of that in the off-season, not meeting the customer face to face until they come to the Island in season.

Instant gratification/quick turnaround
Vineyard Decorators is unique in that we sell everything right off the floor — customers can have instant gratification. They can stop by and say, We are entertaining this weekend, we need a new set on the patio; and out it goes a half-hour later — a real advantage. We have quite a warehouse of back stock, mainly outdoor furniture, tables and chairs, and a full warehouse of mattresses.

Current trends and color
Right now, a lot of neutrals, beiges, with little pops of color, is popular. People have so much color outside the windows with views, the interiors are secondary to the view.
We tend not to do heavy window treatments; clients prefer to take the minimal approach for windows to savor the lovely views.
We offer Hunter Douglas shades and blinds for filtering light, protecting furniture, instead of blocking views. It’s not about dressing the room up, as they already have great views, it’s more about protection.”

We’ve been using a lot of indoor/outdoor fabrics, both inside and out. Homes need to be convenient and multigenerational. Clients say, “I have kids in wet bathing suits; my parents come and spend a month with us.” We’ve been using a tremendous amount of Sunbrella fabrics because they are mildew-resistant, fade-resistant, and stain-resistant, creating longevity. These fabrics are also ideal for rental houses, as you can leave cushions outside; clients are using them now on indoor furniture as well. With the Island’s frequent high humidity, mildew can move in in a heartbeat!

Pool cabanas
We’ve had a surge this summer of people adding a pool cabana — a semi-enclosed structure, some with fireplaces, televisions — needing new sets of poolside and cabana furniture, even though they have already furnished the poolside with outdoor furniture. People create their own need for something more.

On the tiny house
It is and it isn’t a challenge. We already have tiny houses at the Campground, as well as small guest houses. It definitely presents design challenges, as you can’t put just any type of furniture in a small space. If they want to put a king-size mattress in there, our delivery team must be creative, as it may mean dismantling to make things fit.

Vineyard Decorators, at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport; 508-693-9197;