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Designing with the Centuries
Interior Designer Marilyn Nerney

by Nina E. Ferry

Wondering how to incorporate family heirlooms and other pieces of sentiment into your remodeled home? Marilyn Nerney, an established Interior Decorator for over 23 years has relocated permanently to the Vineyard bringing her vast resources and experience from the Decorating Den of greater Boston. Having access to hundreds of companies, fabrics, furniture, rugs and accessories, she has transitioned her business from the mainland to the Vineyard. True to the tactile intuition of a decorator, she doesn’t let the Vineyard’s remote locale limit her to Internet and phone research. She says, “the computer can’t show the vibrancy of color. It’s important for clients to feel the texture of the fabric choices, and through having memos mailed directly and hand choosing fabrics from both my resource library in Walpole and the Design Center in Boston.”

“I can make sure they have all options at their disposal. Decorating is very personal, having a multitude of choices is important” says Marilyn.

Last year, Vineyard Style featured Marilyn’s guesthouse in the summer issue with hopes of whetting the reader’s appetite for a tour of her own piece of magic. After owning a summer and weekend home on East Chop since 1986, Marilyn and her husband Dexter moved here full-time in 2010. Their property, abutting Crystal Lake, has been in the family since the 1940s–and their, once, summer home has been converted into an open and well-lit space that now takes full advantage of the view. Mixing generations of important pieces with a few modern finds makes this tasteful beach home an inviting place for family and friends.

A ten-month renovation, built by Jackson Builders, Marilyn worked closely with Sherman Associates to design the physical attributes of the house. Opening up the ceiling to transform an interior kitchen into a sun washed space, Sam Sherman succeeded in filling Marilyn’s seaside home with the whimsical feel she was looking for. “He was wonderful to work with. Very accommodating and innovative, he provided the design solutions for my vision,” said Marilyn. “I love the outdoors and we wanted the house to maximize access to nature’s ambiance, while still being practical in chilled winters.”

Garnering her inspiration from a texture-rich vessel sink, rippled glass looks through to the marble countertop, like imperfect sea glass onto the sand below. Sourced locally from New England Supply, she said, “I knew it was the sink for the powder room, it just sang to me.” Establishing the coastal feeling for the rest of the décor, Marilyn continued filling the newly renovated home with tones of aqua and teal, taupe and neutral.

The favored spot, Marilyn’s “little respite,” is the pergola on the port side of the porch allowing protection from an Easterly breeze and intermittent shade from the summer sun. This space, nestled in the corner of the house, looks out over sweeping views of woodlands, Crystal Lake, and Vineyard Sound. The bowed deck railing, strung with cable, gives the illusion of being onboard a boat. Accented with 100% weatherproof Braxton Culler outdoor furniture, the entire length of this deck is perfect for entertaining guests on a spring, summer, or autumn evening.

The three-season porch, where the couple takes most of their meals, has removable windowpanes to let in the soft and salty summer breeze. Behind the vibrant Mackenzie Child’s everyday-dinnerware, an antique wicker set, belonging to Marilyn’s grandmother, ties generations of choice furniture together. Transforming the East Chop home into a permanent home meant blending two houses of furniture—a traditional colonial and a family summer home.

The master bedroom—an ode to the gradations of undulating oceans—has a completely different feel than the rest of the house. Hiring Joe Cleary, “an incredibly skilled and committed painter,” Marilyn chose a brushed Key Lime for the walls because she wanted it to be different than the rest of the house, but still soothing. To continue the flow of the house, the Duralee fabric window treatments incorporate aqua, teal, and taupe, to bounce off of the Matook Bedding. However, the most striking object in the room—a dark shade of brown and wrought iron—is the quilt rack. A family heirloom once used to secure horses in the stables, adds a dimension of timelessness to this master en-suite.

Commissioning just the right art for the walls, Marilyn says, “our first love is Martha’s Vineyard, our second love is the Caribbean Island of St. Martin.” Illuminating the master bedroom are inimitable paintings by Mair Pattersun, an accomplished artist who incorporates the colors of the Mediterranean and Caribbean into her work. A recorded composer and piano player, Mair’s unique art retains Marilyn’s sense of capturing a truly unique and custom designed home. Each piece in the home, whether old or new, is fashioned with a story.

Beside Mair’s paintings, Marilyn incorporates her talented relations by displaying her sister, Roberta Drewes, paintings. She says, “I just love her style. It’s fancy-free and fun—perfect for a beach home.” And tucked in a perfect spot, proudly displayed, is the beautiful and vibrantly colored childhood masterpiece of the Nerney’s eldest grandson, William Nerney. While in the kitchen, Rock Groups, Dexter’s craft of transforming beach rocks into colorful thematic sculptures, accents the theme of the home.

Marilyn’s decorating focuses heavily on client wants and needs. For her own home, an ode to the history of long summers, laughing children and a strong sense of family create a true Vineyard feel. She believes, “it’s very important when working with couples to get the man’s view. Dexter’s favorite room is the den, whereas mine is the living room, but all spaces were built for both of us with comfort in mind.”

To provide an individualized plan, Marilyn gets to know her clients’ personalities, needs and wants. She aspires “to decorate in a beautiful and tasteful manner; to follow the client’s wishes, while creating a warm, welcoming and inviting space.” Utilizing her workroom off-island and sourcing items locally enables her to design something unique and very special. One of her favorite spots in town is Juliska in Vineyard Haven. Elegant and simple, she was able to find the perfect hand-blown glass pendants to funnel zenithal light into her kitchen and dining room from the added skylights.

Another way to add an affordable, yet exclusive feel, is to utilize quality furniture that is already available. Marilyn says, “I’m a big believer in slip covers–for functionality and look. Linda Kravitz does all of my slipcovers. She does the best work I’ve ever seen.” Working with J.F. Fabrics as one of her suppliers, Marilyn was able to choose a myriad of texture-rich fabrics that match her palette, while incorporating a “statement fabric” into each room. Drawing the eye’s attention, a statement fabric uses bold patterns or textures, while playing subtly on the colors in the room. “Normally each room needs a statement piece to add interest and a focal point,” says Marilyn.

The apex of this house, and the only addition to the home, is the living room. Anchored by a fieldstone fireplace with a hidden TV set into the hearth above, this front room is the gem of the house. Sheer window treatments with a stripe to bring color, texture, and interest, soften the flower print sofa and frame the ocean. “I want to walk into the living room and look right through the windows to the ocean,” says Marilyn. Window seats line the length of the room—adding osprey-viewing-nooks for grandchildren, or a cozy place to read a book on a stormy day.

With the use of slipcovers and reupholstering, Marilyn successfully blended the furniture from her Garrison Colonial on the mainland, the East Chop furniture and a succession of family heirlooms. Even her elegant Cherry Chippendale dining room table retained its classic charm when the chairs were reupholstered with a blue and white polka dot animal print. When placed over a rug aptly named “school,” with small blue fish swimming under the table, the dining room set transforms this au courant room. Continuing the transitional style, Wedgewood china from Dexter’s grandmother, coupled with Chilewich placemats, creates a junction of old and new: a seamless aesthetic success.

To maintain functionality, this house has bunk beds for the grandkids, a guest room for the children, and plenty of outdoor space for lawn games, Mermaid gardens and dinners in the gazebo. Eager to continue expressing her passion for style, Marilyn is open to new clients and challenging projects. She wants her clients to be just as happy as she is. “Each day in this home is relaxing and wonderful. The energy flows, making it the perfect seaside escape.”