When summer's at its height on Martha's Vineyard and Edgartown Harbor is a flight of bright-plumaged boats bobbing and becking on the blue water, Jayne Ikard likes nothing better than to draw a bath in her forest green bathroom and soak herself as she surveys the scene spread before her.
Typically the bath comes as sunset is torching the western sky aflame and suffusing the harbor's water with spangles of pink and gold. "You might call Jayne a sort of assistant harbormaster," said one friend of Ikard's balneal supervision of the boats.
That kind of eccentric domestic detail -- a bathtub splayed smack-dab in front of the most winsome view from the second floor -- is the kind of personal, sometimes whimsical detail that turns up again and again in the summer house that Frank and Jayne Ikard own on North Water Street in Edgartown, Mass., the principal town on the 108-square-mile island seven miles off the southwest coast of Cape Cod.
The Ikards -- he's a lawyer, lobbyist and sometime congressman from Texas, she's a former Newsweek reporter -- used to summer in an isolated house in Chilmark, a much wilder area on the western side of Martha's Vineyard. For years, though, they had cast affectionate eyes on the shingled former tavern and former grocery store that nestled a little raffishly among the clapboard Greek Revival mansions in the heart of Edgartown adjoining Edgartown Marine's boat yard and a hundred yards or so from the Chappaquiddick ferry.
"Frank likes to be able to walk up the block in the morning and buy the paper," Jayne Ikard said in defense of the location, which is considerably more urban than many might choose for a summer hideaway. When the Candler place, the name it was then known by, unexpectedly came on the market in 1981, the Ikards bought it in a flash.
Their friends were very tactful when they heard the Ikards were forsaking Chilmark for downtown Edgartown. They were even more tactful when they saw the interior of the shingled treasure, with its dim, dark, tiny rooms, dank basement and modest amenities (e.g., a roll-around dishwasher). In fact, they didn't say anything at all. That discretion didn't fool Jayne Ikard. "Their very silence told the story," she recalled ruefully. "I do not exaggerate when I say very extensive work on the house was necessary."
IN DUE COURSE, though, what emerged was classic Martha's Vineyard, an unassuming exterior that tells the passerby next to nothing about the glories within, where interior partitions have vanished, red gum floors have acquired the rich limpidity of antique furniture lovingly refinished, and one room flows invitingly into another. "This house is all about light," Ikard said.
It is also all about view. The master bath is just one example. Downstairs, seated at the cozy kitchen table, the breakfaster can look through the sun-filled, flower-bedecked dining room, through the more formal living room two steps down, through the french doors, across the porch and down-sloping lawn, beyond the narrow strand of adjoining beach to the waters of the harbor and the shores of Chappaquiddick Island a quarter-mile or so away, all agleam in the morning light.
Above the U-shaped counter that houses most of the kitchen appliances hangs the Pease Bros. sign that once announced the grocery store the 19th century building was in one previous role. Ikard asked the former owners specially for the sign when she and her husband bought the house. She also asked for a dark circular table with ornate carved legs that she'd seen in one room, thinking it might make a useful side table. The sellers agreed to both requests.
When the Ikards took possession of the house, they discovered 10 leaves to the table in the basement, and Ikard realized that unwittingly she had acquired one of the main features of her new dining room. She sent the table out to be refinished; what went off as dark as ebony returned a warm, honey-colored oak ample enough to seat 22.
Jayne Ikard well recalls the day the table was brought back, because it was a day that Lady Bird Johnson, the widow of the former president and an old Ikard friend, and Los Angeles Times publisher Tom Johnson, himself a one-time Lyndon Johnson aide, and his wife Edwina were coming to dinner. The table was delivered with instructions that it be left fully extended with all the leaves in place for several days while the finish stabilized, lest the leaves lose their uniform hue because of exposure to different levels of light as they seasoned. When dinner was served, the Ikards took their places at the distant ends, the three Johnsons faced each other at a midway point and everyone felt very grand.
Flowers are a recurring theme in the dining room. Ikard is partial to flower prints for the place mats and napkins. Floral still lifes by Martha's Vineyard artist Michael O'Shaughnessy hang on the walls, and housekeeper Peggy Schwier, who was trained as a sculptor, delights in assembling flower arrangements for the table that echo and complement the O'Shaughnessys.
"The Ikards love flowers," Schwier said. "In the summer I often spend two days a week just doing the flowers."
MANY of the blossoms grow from the Ikards' own garden, which is finally coming to full maturity. (This summer will be the Ikards' fourth season of residence; Jayne is there most of the time from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and Frank comes and goes as his schedule dictates.) While Jayne Ikard supervised the installation of much of the present garden, parts of it are gifts from the past preserved at Ikard's insistence -- and, in one case, at considerable expense.
One flight down from the house's principal floor is a not-yet-fully-renovated area that Ikard calls the tavern. (Indeed, it once was such, when long-ago whalers and fishermen strolled up the lawn from the docks to raise a convivial glass and tell each other tales of the sea.) It was clear when the Ikards moved in that water was seeping into the tavern through the side walls, which, unlike the back, were mostly below grade level. The contractor recommended excavating down the outside to the footings and coating the exterior bricks with waterproofing material.
"Absolutely not," responded Ikard, pointing out excavation would uproot the antique climbing roses that clamber up the south side of the house. Instead, at a cost the unsentimental contractor thought ridiculous, the trenching was done inside the house and one-foot "shoulders" at either end of the tavern now conceal french drains that capture the seepage through the side walls and convey the water harmlessly away.
An alcove in the chimney that once had been the tavern's fireplace proved precisely the right size for a treasure that Ikard had stored for a number of years in a barn in Edgartown -- a Kitchen Charm cast-iron stove unwisely converted at some time in the past into a combination kerosene- and propane-burning range. Ikard found a craftsman in West Barnstable on Cape Cod who was willing to restore the stove to its original wood-burning condition and shipped it over to him. Then the arguments began.
"I asked him to paint the stove blue," Ikard recalled.
" 'Cast-iron stoves are always black,' he told me.
" 'Try it blue,' I said.
" 'I only do black,' he said.
And so the debate volleyed back and forth. Finally Ikard administered the clincher. "Look," she said, "it's my stove, I'm paying for the restoration and I want it painted blue." Even the craftsman, indomitable New Englander that he was, had to admit she had a point there.
As she approached the climax of her tale, Ikard's eyes began to twinkle. "When he saw that blue" -- a clear Williamsburg-like blue -- "he loved it. Now he's painting lots of his stoves blue."
The stove is no mere decoration. When guests are coming on cool days, the Ikards often fire it up with apple wood. (They got one load of wood from a friend in return for the use of the Ikards' dock for his boat.) Soon the tavern is redolent with the perfumes of burning apple wood and simmering clam chowder or corn on the cob or, says Ikard, "sometimes Texas chili," in deference to Frank Ikard's Lone Star origins.
JAYNE IKARD is a Massachusetts native, and those beginnings shape her feelings about the house and about the character of Martha's Vineyard, which sustains a vigorous year-round life of its own at the same time it plays host to thousands of influential summer residents, many of them from Washington. The island is now an easy hop from Washington: Less than an hour to La Guardia via the Eastern Shuttle, walk about 50 yards to the Provincetown-Boston Airlines terminal next door and catch one of PBA's twin-engine, nine-passenger Cessnas for the 55-minute flight to MVY. You might even get to sit in the copilot's seat. Vineyard summer residents include Edward Bennett Williams, Laughlin Phillips, James Reston (who with his wife Sarah owns the 135-year-old weekly newspaper, the Vineyard Gazette), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Katharine Graham, Beverly Sills and Walter Cronkite, to name just a few.
Some Washingtonians who summer in the Vineyard, said one bemused year-round resident, go right on seeing the same people at the same little dinner parties and having the same conversations they have back home in the capital. "The only difference is they change their clothes and talk about how relaxing it is to be in the country," he said.
Not so Jayne Ikard, who sinks herself deeply into her surroundings and makes a point of spending time with local people as well as transplants from New York and Washington. From her windows she watches the steady progress of the seasons from the startling greens of midspring to the bare-branched, sparkling grandeur of November, when the summer folk are long-since departed but the Ikards regularly assemble en famille to celebrate Thanksgiving in the precincts where the holiday was invented. When it's warm, she swims in the surprisingly clear water of Edgartown Harbor, sometimes stroking across the narrows to Chappaquiddick. She moves about the Vineyard vying with her friend and fellow collector Sills to be the first to snap up an O'Shaughnessy canvas when it comes on the market.
Ikard does not limit her art purchases to O'Shaughnessys, though every painting that hangs in the Edgartown house was painted by a Martha's Vineyard painter. The master bedroom's pictures all have a seafaring flavor, seascapes, sailing vessels and the like. The living room tends toward portraits, most notably a Stanley Murphy painting of a young woman collecting mushrooms in front of which housekeeper Schwier said she often places an arrangement of rubrum lilies. The portraiture harmonizes with the living room's formality, a formality that stems both from the tailored furnishings and draperies and from the coffered ceiling.
As often is the case with Ikard, there's a story behind the particular furniture in the living room. Both the matching sofas and the four cubes that roll together to form the coffee table came from the Chilmark house and Ikard did not at first intend to keep them. She offered the sofas, which she said cost $2,000 each when they were new, the four-cube coffee table and a dozen side chairs to the buyer of the house for $500.
To her annoyance, though, the buyer tried to talk the price down from the $500 Ikard was asking. Ikard withdrew the offer and kept the furniture. As matters turned out, the sofas and the coffee table meshed perfectly with the ambience of the new living room; the side chairs she has since disposed of.
TO A LESS demanding eye, the upstairs floor of the Ikard house, with its cheery painted matchboard panel walls and colorful hanging quilts, seems finished enough, but Ikard contrasts the spare atmosphere of the three small guestrooms and a small study, all clustered around a single bathroom, with the relative grandeur of the master bedroom and master bath, which sprawl across the entire back of the house. Then she feels a familiar restlessness rising within herself as she thinks about what is and reflects upon what might be.
In Ikard's mind's eye there is a children's suite at the west end of the second floor assembled out of one of the existing bedrooms, the study and the existing bathrooms. Then the middle section, developed out of the two remaining bedrooms thrown together, will be consolidated into one grand room with an adjoining bathroom.
"The plumbing's already in place," she said. "I was all ready to get started when the contractor happened to mention hanging plastic to block off the dust, and I remembered all the dirt and confusion that comes with remodeling, and I thought to myself, 'Hey, let's wait a little longer and just think about this awhile.' "
Ikard doesn't even go that far with another potential project around the place, the boathouse down by the beach at the far end of the lawn where the flag flies when the Ikards are in residence. "The boathouse," she said, "is very rinkydink, and it will not be changed."
After two decades and more of building and restoring, during which six houses have passed through her hands, one thing Jayne Ikard has learned is when to leave well enough alone. A house with a past has its own messages for the present, and it behooves the sensitive owner to give it some leeway to speak for itself.