Designer Insider

For more than a decade, Liz Stiving-Nichols has been refining looks for homes on and off the Island. Her team at Martha’s Vineyard Interior Design and Bespoke Abode in Vineyard Haven garners accolades from architects, the media, and homeowners alike.

Liz Stiving-Nichols’s bracelets clink as she gestures with her arm toward her office door, beyond which sits the staff of Martha’s Vineyard Interior Design, “Out there, everyone has different strengths. We have to be a team and we really are a great team.”

Her employees are bustling away in the cheerful outer office. “We do CAD [computer-aided design] drawings, lighting plans, built-ins, kitchens, baths, space planning,” Liz enumerates. “We’re involved in a lot more than decorating.” And that’s just her interior design business.

Scattered across the table in front of her are sketches of her next line for Martha’s Vineyard Furniture Company. The window beside her overlooks Bespoke Abode, her Main Street, Vineyard Haven, boutique.

And yet, there’s more. Four years ago Liz and her husband, Kevan Nichols, a physical education teacher, adopted a baby girl, Phoebe. “We matched in less than six months,” she recalls, “which is practically unheard of. It was four weeks before the mother’s due date. The day that we left for Denver for the birth was the same day my first shipment of furniture arrived. After we brought her home, she went everywhere with me in a sling on my chest, a Blackberry in my hand.”

Liz grew up on a horse farm in Ohio, the daughter of a very creative mother with a gift for quilts and watercolors. “We were always encouraged to do anything we wanted to do,” recalls Liz, who now makes her home in Oak Bluffs.

In her undergraduate work at the University of Cincinnati, she discovered she was much more interested in the electives than in the requirements for her elementary education degree. She spent some time working in retail and found herself drawn to creating displays and visual merchandising, which led her to contemplate the possibility of becoming a set designer.

After she met Kevan at an off-Island wedding, she ventured over to the Vineyard and fell in love – with him and his environs. She left to study interior design at Harrington Institute of Interior Design (now Harrington College of Design) in Chicago. After earning her MFA, she returned to the Island in 2001 and immediately found work as a staff designer for Hutker Architects in Vineyard Haven, where she stayed for seven years.

When Phoebe became a possibility in 2008, Liz left Hutker to design furniture. She continued to design interiors for architects for two years, then in 2010 opened her studio in Vineyard Haven, with Bespoke Abode as a retail storefront.

Now her team of nine comprises an additional three designers, a marketing coordinator, a finance administrator, a design assistant, and two sales associates at Bespoke Abode. There is a lot of crossover among the interior design work, the furniture business, and the boutique. “It’s a collaborative effort,” Liz explains.

The interior design alliance extends beyond the inter-workings of the staff, however. “I take my cues from my clients’ personalities,” Liz says. “And we work a lot with architects. I encourage my team to see themselves in a supporting role to them and their vision. We have a lot of respect for their work and always get their approval.”

Matthew Cramer, an associate and project manager for Hutker Architects in Vineyard Haven, gladly bears witness. After working with Liz at Hutker and on projects since she sallied off on her own, he avows, “Collaborating with Liz and the MVID team has always been enjoyable and successful; the creative thinking and enthusiasm that she brings to the table is refreshing. They go to great lengths to find materials and products that help strengthen the overall concept.” He recalls one instance in particular. “Liz scoured her sources to find the perfect vintage light fixtures that completed the client’s picture of the new dining and living room spaces; the scale, finish, and aesthetic of the fixtures were perfect.”

Another client, Marcy Gringlas, a developmental psychologist and a seasonal resident on the Island, concurs. Liz and her staff recently helped design the interiors of her family’s new summer home in Chilmark. “They were amazing!” Marcy says. “Not only did they participate in all facets of the process, but they were also always fun, and a great team to work and be with.”

The designs created by Liz and her crew often play a supporting role to the Island itself. They allow the remarkable exterior views to take center stage while the understated colors and textures inside provide a calm haven without being boring. Stone, wood, and tile predominate. Colors tend toward neutrals with complementary muted colors or the occasional bright flash.

Her eco-friendly furniture is also inspired by the Island’s natural beauty, with nautical and equestrian motifs for her new line, and pieces bearing such iconic names as Great Pond Arm Chair, Eastville Slipper Chair, and Lucy Vincent Arm Chair. Her “Many Shades of Green” collection uses Hevea –
a hardwood tree tapped for its latex in rubber production and usually cut and burned after its twenty-five or thirty years of usefulness are over. The furniture is available in thirty colors of paint with zero VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

Liz’s store is a designer’s dream, its 2,200 square feet of home décor chock-a-block with custom furniture, rugs, lighting, window treatments, stone, tile, and other items. Bins hold nautical-themed bottle openers. Shelves display stacks of hand towels embroidered with seashells and whimsical throw pillows emblazoned with Island zip codes (part of Liz’s “Destinations” collection).

The dedication of Liz and her staff is paying off. Besides her work on Martha’s Vineyard, her portfolio includes installations on Cape Cod, and in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Her work has been featured in several regional and national design magazines, and one of her Island projects was recently featured in The Boston Globe Magazine. She was lauded by New England Home Magazine as a 2012 recipient of the “5 Under 40” award for design excellence – which meant even more work. “We each had to design a custom rug,” she recalls, “that would later be auctioned off.” Hers was an abstract design of an oyster shell inspired by – you guessed it – the Vineyard.

How does Liz, at thirty-seven years old, keep up with the onus of three businesses and a family? “I think I’m best under pressure,” she explains. “And I have a great team.”