There’s nothing that says Nantucket so much as its weathered grey houses with white trim. Although Nantucket is famous for shingle style houses, the architectural style is a tradition on beach front properties across the east coast, including Long Island, Cape Cod, coastal Maine and Newport, Rhode Island. They first appeared in New England after the 1876 Centennial celebration, when America was fondly looking back on rustic Colonial style buildings, and architects were happy to a rebel against Victorian fussiness.
One of the primary characteristics of a shingle style home is the gentle way it blends into the landscape. Key features are its soft grey surface, plain siding, very little ornamentation, a welcoming porch, and a rambling outline. Victorian shingles were made of thinly cut, unpainted cedar that quickly became a weathered grey from exposure to the oceanfront elements.
Their apparent simplicity belied the fact that most were vacation homes for the very wealthy. Well-known architects such as Henry Hobson Richardson, Charles McKim, Stanford White and Frank Lloyd Wright were drawn to the form, and began creating their own versions of shingle style homes. Perhaps the most famous shingle style home is the summer residence of George W. Bush, built in 1903 on Walker’s Point near Kennebunkport Maine.
On Nantucket, a large population of Quakers greatly influenced the social mores and architectural styles on the island. Their insistence on simplicity and minimal decoration made the shingle style house enormously popular during the 19th century, and the island’s large stock of historic homes has set the standard for any new homes built since.
Today, the Nantucket Historic District Commission oversees homeowners’ building and renovation plans with strict regulations that dictate a home’s height, use of shingles, and a pitched roof to protect the island’s historic character. Homes are often surrounded by charmingly old fashioned gardens, overflowing with hollyhocks, peonies, foxgloves, and larkspur, and bordered by trellises covered in tumbling pink roses that give the island its signature grace and charm.