Cate La Farge Summers is a Nantucket native and Brooklyn-based writer and contributing editor for One Kings Lane. Get to know Cate in her monthly columns that run the gamut of decluttering her home Kondo style to learning how to make the perfect apple pie.
Late summer always finds me knee-deep in nostalgia. I grew up on Nantucket, an island 30 miles out in the Atlantic, and for those of us natives who’ve moved to the mainland—I’m now in Brooklyn with my own family—it’s easy to romanticize our childhoods. By late summer, I like to think I was deep in the swing of a barefoot existence—hair permanently salted by the ocean; living off bush-fulls of berries, fresh-caught fish and fresh-dug clams, and garden vegetables; spending days collecting shells and sea glass on the beach; gathering handfuls of wildflowers for the dinner table. There are less romantic slants, but that’s the one I chase when we come back.
There’s another thing I always search for when we come back—a certain aesthetic that, in my mind, is also native to Nantucket. The island houses I always loved most are grounded in the island’s natural layers: ocean, fog, low grassy landscapes, sea-smoothed shells. There’s an understatement, a Yankee sparseness to the way those houses are put together. Everything is made well, in the kind of good material that might weather a few generations: hand-loomed textiles in bare blues and clear whites; handwoven rattan baskets; ceramics in oceany glazes that have a pleasingly earthy weight; glass in foggy sea-glass greens; aged wood. While these things all carry a summertime ease, they can also be layered and cozied up in the winter or during a summer storm.
The island imports many things such as newspapers and gas and milk, but this meticulous kind of craftsmanship is often homegrown. And a lot of it carries the DNA of the Nantucket Looms, an arts-and-crafts studio founded in 1968. You can get name-droppy about The Looms, as it’s known—Princess Grace and Jackie Onassis each beelined there on visits to the island—but at its heart, it’s a weaving studio. The weavers still work above the shop, passing shuttles across alpaca blankets and light-as-air linen-cotton napkins.
My mom was one of those weavers in the late 1970s, a few years before my parents met on the island and decided to stay there. I think of my parents as part of a generation of thoughtful, slightly countercultural, hearty souls who planted themselves on the out-at-sea island and made a real life of it. I’m not one of them now, but I love keeping up with the many people who are continuing those island traditions of making beautiful things by hand or otherwise staying close to the elements. Or starting farms: According to Sustainable Nantucket, the number of farms on the island has more than tripled since 2007.
Before fall swept us back to New York this year, I wanted to find a way to capture this natural, lower-profile side of Nantucket: the summery comfort foods that reflect the local supply, the understated look and feel of island design, and the people who are making all of this happen in a fresh way. A dinner party—an open-house, outdoors, no-place-cards kind, in my childhood home—seemed like a doable way to conjure that all up, for a few hours at least.
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