As far as I’m concerned, a house tour on Nantucket is as much a summer ritual as a visit to The Juice Bar for ice cream. Summer just wouldn’t feel like summer without a chance to critique some random stranger’s home while making all sorts of crazy assumptions about the owner. I think this is called judging a book by its cover, but allow me to assure you, the shallowness it inspires can be truly cathartic. It doesn’t matter one bit what sort of home you might live in. Traipsing through somebody else’s house when the home owner is out helps lower your inhibitions and can cause you to make all sorts of comments you ordinarily wouldn’t dream of uttering. Under normal circumstances, being invited into someone’s home is a reason to compliment them on decorating decisions. However, under the free-for-all conditions of a house tour where women wearing surgical-looking blue booties are herded through the house like cattle can help bring all your inner snootiness to a boiling point. Does it smell like mold? Does the kitchen make you think of a housing project in the Bronx? Go ahead. Express yourself. This is one reason house tours can be so entertaining.
Of course, in many cases, the fancier, more pristine homes are more a show of extravagant wealth than anything else. Funny enough, the homes that have been professionally decorated and have a common color scheme or other sleek theme running from room to room are usually the most boring. Yes, a fortune was spent, but whose personality is being showcased? The decorator or the home owner? Don’t get me wrong. I certainly dream about fantastic huge kitchens outfitted with high-end appliances and all the accompanying bells and whistles. But once you’ve seen one Sub-Zero refrigerator, granite counter top, and Wolf six-burner stove, you’ve pretty much seen them all.
The house tour I attended this year was held in the historic district. Nearly all of the homes featured were built around 1800. On the flip side of the lavish, huge homes scattered around the island are these historic old homes that play a key role in Nantucket’s interesting history. When the whaling industry faded around 1850 with the discovery of kerosene in Pennsylvania, the population on the island dwindled and many old houses were deserted. Eventually, nearly 100 years later, Nantucket re-established itself as a tourist and resort island. The vast number of historic old homes helped Nantucket stand apart from other similar vacation spots. Today, all of these old buildings are protected by the Nantucket Historical Society, which as far as I’m concerned is just peachy.
This was not my first time inside such abodes, and I must admit that each time I have a chance to view one, I am struck by the same thought. Would anybody ever sit in these rooms in their wet bathing suit? Old Nantucket houses are characterized by a series of small, often dark, low-ceiling rooms. Way back when, the rooms were designed to help keep them efficiently heated through long, bitter winters. Today, though, they just don’t seem that livable. There are no great rooms or huge kitchens, or even a living area that’s large enough for more than four people to sit together comfortably.
And although I can understand why the rooms are preserved, I am often struck by how old the furniture looks too. As far as I know, there are no rules pertaining to using hundred-year-old upholstered furniture just because your house was built in 1809. When I’m on Nantucket, we spend a lot of time at the beach. We go fishing and cycling and golfing. We make big, family dinners. There’s no chance I would feel comfortable flopped out on a mildewed Victorian love seat in a formal, stuffy parlor wrapped in a damp beach towel with sand still lingering between my toes. These houses, although classic and worthy of respect, are more like museum pieces than living spaces.