The House

Discover the House Built by a 19th-Century Sea Captain

Discover the House Built by a 19th-Century Sea Captain

Two centuries after Captain Robert Calder built his coastal retreat at 10 Cliff Road, Life House Nantucket is still a celebration of the far-flung destinations he visited and the wild island landscape he loved.

It was the fall of 1833, and a fine mist blanketed Nantucket as if to keep it warm from another chilly New England day. The waves of weightless fog didn't bother Captain Robert Calder that morning as he walked through the gray haze to survey his property at 10 Cliff Road.

Captain Calder regularly braved waves of a different kind—rough, relentless, and all too real in the open waters of the Atlantic. Not to mention the giant whales he hunted beneath the surface. While the precipitation may have been a nuisance to others, it was a rare respite for him: a moment of calm that didn't come as often as he'd like. 

The captain was always on edge, vigilant to spot danger ahead. It hadn't been a decade since his unlucky friend, Captain George Pollard Jr., lost his whaler, The Essex, to a whale attack in the Pacific Ocean, leaving George and his crew stranded thousands of miles from land. He couldn’t help but wonder if a similar fate awaited him aboard his ship, The Alto.

But that morning, something changed. As the mist cleared, Nantucket’s native flora came into the captain's view. He liked the yellow bark and dark fruits of the Phellodendron amurense in the bright morning light. And the Robinia hispida shrubs, with their bristly pods swaying in the wind. So much in his life was uncertain, but as he arrived at 10 Cliff Road that day, Captain Calder knew a new story was beginning. 

Centuries have passed, but the captain’s story is still unfolding at 10 Cliff Road. We talked to Tacho Elizondo, the interior designer of Life House Nantucket, about the house’s inspiration, which is heavily rooted in 19th-century design and the sensibilities of coastal New England.

The Federal Architecture

Captain Calder constructed the house in Federal-style architecture, which was popular throughout New England following the United States' independence from Britain at the end of the 18th century. Typical features at Life House Nantucket include an entry in the center of the home and symmetrical windows on either side. 

According to Elizondo, "We didn't just want to respect the existing architecture, we wanted to celebrate it." By juxtaposing fresh colors and modern House of Hackney fabrics with vintage furniture that speaks to the house's history, Elizondo helped breathe new life into the historic property without sacrificing any of its original charms.

The Eclectic Treasures

As dangerous as the captain's whaling journeys were, they were also thrilling adventures. "We wanted guests to feel an immediate sense of wonder when walking into the house," said Elizondo. Remarkable treasures, such as a saber-toothed cat runner woven in beautiful shades of gold, jade, mauve, and plum, evoke the far-flung lands the captain visited in the North Atlantic. "When we saw the saber-toothed tiger runner, it was a no brainer."

The Island Botany

The captain turned his home into a bed and breakfast in 1870, making it the oldest continuously operating inn on Nantucket. While ownership has changed over the centuries, the house’s spirit has remained the same. To retain integrity, Elizondo drew inspiration from a vintage key cabinet. “Each room was named after a flower that grows on Nantucket, so we decided to use this as part of the story.” Using Nantucket’s flora as a muse, Elizondo filled the property with touches of island botany, from hand-painted shower tiles to custom pendant lighting.

The Gardens

Rumor has it that Captain Calder met the landscape artist Frederick Law Olmstead, who lived on Staten Island, on a whaling trip to New York. In the 1850s, Olmstead visited England, where the public gardens of Birkenhead Park inspired him to write a book on the subject and later design famous spaces, including Manhattan's Central Park. Olmstead is said to have written to his friends, recommending they add private gardens to their homes for enjoyment and recreation. 

Like Olmstead intended, guests have a peaceful place to rest when not out enjoying the active Nantucket social scene. According to Elizondo, “We designed these gardens with the intention of relaxation.”

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