“Nantucket” most likely derives from a Wampanoag word meaning “faraway land.” But despite its poetic name, the island lies just 30 miles from the south shore of Cape Cod. Its glory days as a whaling port lasted until the mid-1800s, when a double punch of the harbor’s natural limitations and a major fire brought an end to its prosperity. In search of livelihoods, many inhabitants left the island, which went into a Brigadoon-like period of suspended animation. However, this exodus resulted in much of its architecture being preserved. In 1966, the Town of Nantucket was designated a National Historic Landmark District for being the “finest surviving architectural and environmental example of a late 18th- and early 19th-century seaport town in New England.”
Today its population jumps from 11,000 year-round to more than 50,000 during the summer months. In contrast to neighboring Martha’s Vineyard, which gathers a crowd of artists, writers and journalists, as well as showbiz folk and politicians, Nantucket tends to attract hedge fund moguls and Wall Street executives. As a result, property values have become stratospheric. On my recent trip, a real estate broker told me that a two-bedroom starter home now begins at around $1.2 million.
Over the years that I have been going to Nantucket, I have seen the number of mansions increase exponentially. However, the steep price of land and stringent local regulations help to ensure that the island is not overrun. The Nantucket Islands Land Bank levies a 2 percent fee on most real estate transactions, money that goes to preserving acreage for “open space, agriculture and recreational uses.” As a result, almost half the island is protected. A body called the Historic District Commission limits the colors for painting houses to a palette of only about a dozen shades. I once saw a T-shirt that said, “Turn left at the gray house with white trim,” which describes so many houses as to render the directions laughably meaningless.
Greydon House opened in the fall of 2016 to enthusiastic reviews. Located at a choice corner location in the Town of Nantucket, just a brief walk from the ferry terminal, the 16-room inn brings together the old and the new in a way that you do not often see here. The old is a stately white 1850 Greek Revival structure that was once the office of the island’s physician; the new is an adjoining three-story building that was recently constructed in a Second Empire style with a mansard roof.
On entering the reception area, I was struck by the color scheme of deep blue walls with dark wood accents — quite antithetical to the brightness I expect in an island property. This same décor, handled by the Roman and Williams design team, prevailed in the hallways and on the staircase. Our room, however, provided a welcome contrast, with multiple windows letting in a flood of light. Walls done in two-directional shiplap wainscoting — both horizontal and vertical — provided visual liveliness. And being painted white, it contrasted strongly with the rich, warm hue of the reclaimed chestnut floorboards. Aside from the bed, our room had a couple of small side tables and a rather uncomfortable sofa. The lighting was meager, with two disc-shaped fixtures flanking the head of the bed, plus a small table lamp. The size of the room called for more illumination at night. The bath came with a single vanity, a large counter, a walk-in shower with a hand-painted mural and Aesop products.
Unusual for a property of this size, Greydon House has its own restaurant. The main dining room is bright and pleasant. Chef Marcus Gleadow-Ware, who hails from New York’s Aureole, oversees the fine kitchen, and the restaurant deservedly enjoys a loyal following on the island. We opted for a simple meal of oysters, followed by succulent black bass. We also ate in the cozy bar, adjacent to the lounge.
To have opened a new inn despite Nantucket’s watchdog regulations is a considerable achievement. Alas, I found the dark public areas at Greydon House to be unappealing. And deficiencies in our room, especially the inadequate lighting, detracted from my enthusiasm for the property.
Excellent restaurant; rooms come with a lovely beach bag containing sunblock.
The dark color scheme; smaller rooms are very small.
There is an elevator, which is rare for a small inn on Nantucket.
A short distance away, 76 Main is situated on the town’s cobbled principal thoroughfare, just steps from shops, galleries and restaurants. Its 20 rooms occupy a restored former sea captain’s house, with a white exterior and a picket fence. Inside, accents and artwork support a nautical theme and are complemented by grass-cloth wallcovering and exquisite woodwork.
Attentive staff greeted us at the small reception, beyond which we found a library-lounge. Our room in the main house came with high ceilings, tall windows and cream-hued walls. It was furnished with two reading chairs, a sea grass rug atop polished hardwood floors, an ample chest of drawers and a large desk. The relatively small bath had a single vanity and a comfortably sized walk-in shower.
Although 76 Main does not have a restaurant, it does offer a delightful café. This leads to a tree-shaded courtyard, where there are chairs and tables, plus couches for enjoying the fire pit in the evening. The inn provides a bar service of glasses, ice and mixers, so you are welcome to bring your favorite wines and spirits.
At 76 Main, we often felt as if we were staying as guests of a friend who knew our needs and strived to meet them.
The prevailing atmosphere of good cheer; the hospitable staff.
They forgot to give me the recipe for their chocolate chip cookies!
The rooms around the courtyard tend to be larger than those in the main house but have relatively low ceilings. Seasonally closed early December to end of April.
I have long recommended the White Elephant hotel, a traditional property on the harbor just outside of town. The summer of 2012 saw the debut of the White Elephant Village, an inn and residences, a six-minute walk away.
The Inn at White Elephant Village is set within a renovated building and comprises 20 rooms and suites. The lobby and reception area embody the property’s stylish, contemporary décor. On arrival, the front-desk staff could not have been warmer or more professional.
Our suite (one of 14) had the soothing color scheme of cream and putty found throughout the property. It came with a coffered ceiling, wall-to-wall carpeting and large windows with plantation shutters. The bedroom offered crisp linens, plenty of closet space and a big chest of drawers. The separate living room provided an ample desk and was ideal for an afternoon read. The bath was equipped with a soaking tub and a walk-in shower.
The inn does not have a restaurant, but a Continental-style breakfast is served, as well as wine and cheese in the late afternoon. Room service is available from the Brant Point Grill at the White Elephant hotel. And of course, inn guests are welcome to dine there. Unlike the original White Elephant, the inn has a swimming pool with reservable cabanas.
The adjacent residences are ideal for families. The one-, two- or three-bedroom cottages come with kitchens and washers and dryers. They are done in an identical style to the inn and are served by the same congenial staff. Games (electronic and traditional) are provided for children, and bicycles can be rented.
Despite its island location, the Inn at White Elephant Village has many of the advantages of an upscale city hotel.
Guests have full access to the facilities, including the restaurant, at the White Elephant hotel.
The otherwise inviting front porch looks onto the parking area.
The aforementioned private parking area is a real luxury in a town that is often extremely crowded.