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A Decorator’s Haven

by Jean Childs Photography by Tom G. Olcott

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a d e c o r a t o r ’s haven

more than I 20t was years ago when Barbara Saxon Morgan rounded Brant Point to catch her first glimpse of Nantucket Harbor. The Grey Lady did not disappoint.

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Coming to Nantucket

selection of timeless design elements and furnishings of the

“I was immediately struck by the quiet beauty, the subtle

highest quality.”

colors of dockside boats, and the romance of the historical homes and cobblestone streets,“ says Saxon Morgan. Yet, it

So how did Barbara and Rick decide to buy on the island?

would be another 15 years before Barbara and her husband, Rick, would buy a home on the island, and thus begin the

“After years of visiting friends on the island, we found the

process of turning an ordinary spec cottage into a family

charm that is Nantucket had worked its way into our hearts.

home filled with historic references and, above all, elegant

Then, about six years ago we started looking at properties.

understated charm.

When Rick and I first looked at the cottage, we were both attracted by the grounds,” states Saxon Morgan. “I could

“Design is a process,” says Saxon Morgan, and she should

envision the lush English gardens and the croquet and

know. In 1979, after completing her studies in Fine Arts at

badminton tournaments on the lawn before we even entered

the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, Saxon Morgan

the house!”

established Saxon Design Group, Inc. The company soon grew from predominately residential design to include

Once inside the little cottage, however, Saxon Morgan liked

large scale hospitality, healthcare, and corporate projects

the classic lines but felt that the home was missing historical

throughout the East Coast. In 1984, the firm relocated first to

references that define the Nantucket Style. She also realized

New York and Philadelphia and now includes offices based

that there was major work to be done if she and her husband

in Henniker, N.H. and Nantucket, Mass.

were to accommodate family and the many friends, on and off island, who are a large part of their life.

Saxon Morgan’s design partner, Jean Childs, describes her “…as an artist, first and foremost. Happily, Barbara has

So, how does a designer function when she is also the client?

brought her talents as an artist to bear on the world of design. Her innate sense of style, coupled with her training and years

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In Saxon Morgan’s case, she called on her friend and partner.

of experience, has resulted in her ability to envision and

“Jean and I have known each other since we were freshman

execute memorable interiors uniquely characterized by the

in high school. She is a friend, who became a client, who


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became a partner.” says Saxon Morgan. Childs adds, “After

conversations, ideas begin to crystallize as design

I had purchased a historical Greek Revival home in San

solutions are tossed around (and oftentimes tossed out) until,

Diego, California, the first person I called was Barbara. We

finally, an inspiration for the project emerges that a designer

worked closely on restoring this unique property, which led us

can build upon.“

to continue to collaborate on many additional projects.” Childs later formalized her amateur design status by completing her

Starting The Project

degree in design at the Interior Designers Institute in Newport

The first and foremost order of a project is to follow the

Beach, California.

architectural envelope and natural landscape of the project. Equally important is the client’s lifestyle and individual

Saxon Morgan quickly picks up the narrative – they often

personality.

finish each other’s sentences – “Jean came out from the West

understanding of the functional requirements of the project,

Following that, there must be a thorough

Coast and started asking me questions that I so often have

an inventory of possessions, and a concrete idea of the

asked of my clients.” What do you want your lifestyle to be

budget. “Oftentimes, clients are reluctant to reveal their

here on Nantucket? How often will the kids be here – and will

budget; however, the budget is a driving force for the scope

they be bringing their friends? How much will you entertain here?

of design and the quality of materials to be used, “ states

What will you need to accommodate this lifestyle? What is

Childs.

your entertainment style? “ These are just a few of the basic

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questions a designer needs answered to establish the criteria

Early on in the renovation, Saxon Morgan found her inspiration

that will evolve into a design that is unique to the client’s

for tone, hue, and ambiance from a favorite period painting she

needs,” says Saxon Morgan. Childs adds, “And, from those

and her husband purchased at the Nantucket Antiques Show.


a d e c o r a t o r ’s haven

Painted in 1861 by Nelson Augustus Moore, “Heavy Surf”

Saxon Design Group provided Cosgriff with complete construction

depicts a seascape in Gloucester, Massachusetts, while

drawings and elevations so that everyone knew what to

another antique oil captures three fishermen sitting around a

expect. Together, they worked on every detail of the construction

fire on the beach. “I loved their old world - style and rich

and installation of the entire project. What emerged through

color palettes, and they became the starting points of our

Saxon Morgan’s collaboration with Cosgriff was the

design. I also incorporated my husband’s collection of classic

demolition of the existing kitchen and dining area to be

decoys, geese, and shore birds into the overall design plan,”

replaced with a large great room, dining room, and a

says Saxon Morgan. Those key inspirations translated into a

luxuriously efficient kitchen that could manage entertaining

design characterized by rich tones, antique furnishings, and

for four or 50. As first envisioned, this open plan is now

the highest quality materials and finishes – all grounded in the

centered on a wall of French doors leading to an expansive

basic principles of sustainability and eco-responsibility.

deck overlooking the manicured lawn and the beautiful English gardens.

The overall design was further enhanced by the contributions of Buzz Cosgriff, a local general contractor. “Often, when

Team Play

working with a client, the designer is brought in after the plans

She and Cosgriff subsequently pushed onward to complete

have been drawn. In doing my own home, I had the luxury

the renovation of three levels of the home. It was a good

of being involved from the start. I love to cook and entertain

team. “Buzz introduced us to local artisans Paul McCarthy

and wanted a kitchen that was a dream to work in. I

and Jean Petty of Nantucket Carving and Folk Art,” says

envisioned one great, glorious room to facilitate entertaining

Saxon Morgan. McCarthy’s carving of a “happy” whale,

with style and ease,” says Saxon Morgan.

residing comfortably over the kitchen stove, complements the

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theme of the home “Far and Away Haven. ”Petty’s painting of

principles into practice by using reclaimed walnut flooring

the carving can only be described as pure Nantucket charm

(gorgeous!), using low VOC paints (healthy!), incorporating

with its primitive style capturing an early Nantucket Harbor.

low energy production fabrics where possible, and finding

Christina Wiggins, another brilliant local artist, painted two of

many local materials to help reduce the carbon footprint of

the guest room floors in traditional decorative designs and,

the project. Childs believes this concept is a natural for

when asked by Saxon Morgan to paint a mural in the

Nantucket. “Living on the West Coast for so many years, I

powder room, she produced a masterfully painted primitive

thought we were at the forefront of the new green revolution.

seascape.“This project demonstrates that the best of designs

However, the first time Barbara and I had to sort the house

are – in the end – largely dependent on the creative team that

trash in Nantucket, I was beyond being impressed!! Nantucket

comes together for a project,” says Saxon Morgan.

has the right idea and I just wish more communities would

Gorgeous Green

reuse, and reduce – the cornerstones of green design.”

incorporate your practices. It is a classic example of recycle, Saxon Morgan and Childs appreciate the growing client awareness of the importance of “Green Design” and

Relying on classical proportions and scale, and believing that

becoming environmentally responsible. “About five years ago,

basic good taste never changes despite the latest trends,

I started talking up green design and initially there was

Saxon Morgan and Childs are two designers who create

resistance on the part of clients,” states Childs. “Many had the

interiors that become classics while drawing on fresh new

idea that “green” somehow meant unattractive, perhaps crude

products, finishes and materials for projects that are unique to

even, and that it couldn’t be applied to a sophisticated

the client. Both designers agree that the understated

design. It became my goal to show clients that green could

elegance and charm of Nantucket has crept into their

also be gorgeous and Barbara and I started referring to this

imaginations and they are looking forward to designing

idea as “Gorgeous Green.” Saxon Morgan and Childs believe “Gorgeous Green” should be incorporated as an

“Nantucket – Just As You Imagined It.”

integral component in all aspects of design and that elegant

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interiors never need be compromised while achieving an

Visit their Website to view portfolio:

ecologically responsible design. Saxon Morgan put these

SaxonDesignGroup.com


A Decorator’s Haven