56 Center Street

56 Center Street, constructed in 1842, is located in the core historic district of downtown Nantucket.  The building was originally a gracious residence and most recently operated as a guest house. The current owner, Wendy Schmidt and her ReMain Nantucket foundation, envisioned this building to be part of a larger Nantucket “campus.”  The physical location of 56 Center Street and its inherent beauty reminded Wendy of the campus buildings at Smith College where she completed her undergraduate studies. There, the stately homes from the 19th Century have been transformed into dorms and classrooms, and the campus has a residential scale much like Nantucket’s downtown.  Wendy charged us with repurposing and infusing the historic building with a new sense of life. Wendy loves not only music but learning of all kinds, and felt that the educational experience should be enhanced by beautiful spaces, serving to remind those using the building that what they are learning is valued and important.


The property was designed and renovated for the use of two tenants; the primary tenant being the Nantucket ­Community Music Center (NCMC); the secondary tenant is the Nantucket Community School (NCS). This building is a hub of activity for multiple generations and multiple ethnicities. It has become a place of civic and community pride for Nantucketers at large, while providing an environment of artistic exploration and shared learning for the students. I am not by any means a strict minimalist, but I do believe in boiling things down to the simplest solution while still achieving an artful outcome.  Simplicity is hard to find in this complex world in which we live. On this project, which is at its root commercial, I employed a blend of form and function so that the spaces still maintained a residential feel. I like having elements of surprise, so combined them with a dash of the unexpected, to reflect my belief that a music school should inspire as well as teach.  We wanted to harness as much natural light as possible, so the interiors needed to have an airy feel. I also needed to be keenly aware of the mandate that the building meet LEED standards, so we specified products and materials that were environmentally friendly. I harmonized colors and textures with existing period features, such as the elegant central staircase and mantlepieces, before adding contemporary touches. These include high-gloss orange lacquered walls in the library, clever porthole windows that offer discreet views into the state-of-the-art recording studios, and a show-stopping aquarium-like basement bathed in blue light.   We needed to incorporate fun and witty touches that would enchant young and old alike.  The result is a dramatic, yet serene interior that strikes “the right note.”   It is fresh and young, without being jarring, and nods to its historic past while having its feet firmly planted in the twenty-first century.

Excerpt from Nantucket Magazine:

"If ever there were a music school that made you want to break out in song, this is it. After three years of planning and construction, the new Nantucket Community Music Center at 56 Center Street is simply exhilarating. ­Belying its traditional Federal-style façade, built in 1843 by whale oil merchant Harrison Gray Otis Dunham, the interior achieves perfect harmony in the use of colors, textures, and lighting.

Conceived by Wendy Schmidt, with an interior design by Kathleen Hay of Kathleen Hay Designs and Joe Paul of BPC Architecture, this is not your father’s music school. The space was designed as much to inspire as it is to teach, and succeeds on so many levels that it is hard to single out a specific highlight of the building. The graceful central staircase, which was preserved through the devastating fire that nearly totally destroyed the structure last year, is set against a medley of soft hues of golden yellows, creamy whites, and light browns. Contrast- ing the traditional elements of crown moldings and a period fireplace, the space is filled with contemporary accents from Hay’s signature light fixtures, to Lucite framed audience chairs in a recital room featuring a baby grand piano."