At home with Lisa Katsounakis at the Tivoli Inn

Living the dream in Oak Bluffs.


It’s been on top of lists for dream jobs for eons now: Inn Owner. In a recent story, “Bed and Breakfast purveyor” was right up there with Actor (a photo of Robert De Niro helps us to read “movie star”), Chocolatier, and Doggy Daycare Runner.

Lisa Katsounakis may have harbored no conscious inkling of one day owning a charming inn on Martha’s Vineyard — or anywhere else, for that matter — but her backstory reveals pixie dust sprinkles by whatever fairy godmother controls her life to make inn ownership happen, ready or not.

Lisa grew up in Longmeadow. “A nice town outside Springfield,” she says when I meet with her on the porch of the Tivoli Inn. ‘Nice’ is easy to leave, and she balanced classes at UMass Amherst with goof-off time in Hawaii. When a guidance counselor told her to select a major, without much fuss or forethought she picked hotel/restaurant management.

“I thought I’d have a restaurant one day,” she explains. But life asked her to “hold that thought” while it made other plans.

In 1983 she arrived on Martha’s Vineyard for a summer job as cashier in Giordano’s clam bar. “I worked with Mrs. G.,” she says with a fond smile. Meanwhile, her sister Lori, two years older, had also been coming to the Island and forming a deep attachment to it.

At the end of the summer of 1984, Lori sat in the standby line to return to to her own real world, and she found herself thinking, “Why am I leaving?” Almost as if hypnotized, she wheeled the car around and settled into life on M.V. forever.

Lisa explains, “In 1988 my family [in addition to Lori, their brother, and mom and dad] got into the act of buying a place here.” It was none other than a wildly broken-down fixer-upper that would eventually be rebranded as the Tivoli Inn. “There were no interior walls, no heat, bad plumbing, the floors were painted red and orange, and the basement was a spider hole.”

Brother and dad went to work on the plumbing and heating, and the application of new cedar shingles. Once the inn was presentable, both sisters moved in and lived there together for 17 years. Early on in the endeavor, however, Lori, who’d hankered for years to get into retail, bought a quirky building at the top of Circuit and Kennebec, stuffed the windows with knick-knacks from around the globe, and opened the iconic hippy-romantic-peasant-chic boutique Third World Trading. The Katsounakis sisters have a positive energy for success; both the inn and the garment shop have thrived for several decades and counting.

Meanwhile, Lisa’s penchant for decorating has turned the inn with its six bedrooms, wraparound porch, front parlor, baths ensuite, and shared baths down the hallway into the kind of New England charmer that makes inn owner among the dreamisest of jobs. (A funny aside: A few years back I noticed an ad in Yankee Magazine for a weekend rental of a full B and B in New Hampshire. The gimmick was that anyone longing to own or run an inn could take charge of the property for a couple of nights to see if they really and truly wanted to commit to the stresses of cranky guests, toilet cleanings, the baking of almond croissants, and getting the cappuccino maker ready for the 7 am continental breakfast.)

Now, at the start of the 2018 season, Lisa shows me her star room on the second floor at the front of the inn, a light and bright chamber giving onto a balcony overlooking Hiawatha Park and, beyond that, the bustling bowling alley and bistro. New comforters from Macy’s grace the beds, a double and a single, perfect for a couple with a small child; a lovely American iteration of the fleur-de-lis print, this version in yellow, red, and seafoam green. Over the double bed, a mirror of silver and gold florets has presided for a few years, acquired from Pier 1. Lisa adds, “I always get polka dot sheets for every room!”

Lisa’s good nature is on display when asked for an anecdote about her worst guest in recent memory. “I have only great guests!” she declares, citing the recent stay of a treasured repeat guest, Meredith from Boston, who comes every early summer, reserving the front room, and bringing friends to stay in outlying chambers.

In the meantime, Lisa’s favorite summer activity is a daily soak off Inkwell Beach, a few blocks northwest of the inn. She swims laps for a good 45 minutes, then treats herself to a life-affirming — and heaven-affirming — float.

Is there a downside for this chatelaine of an Oak Bluffs inn?

She thinks about it. “I even like the winter!” she reveals with a laugh.

Happy summer, Lisa!