"The best advice I can give to someone building a house on Nantucket is to be patient," laughs James Lydon. Building a home from the ground up can be a daunting endeavor for anyone anywhere. But Nantucket adds its own little twist to the whole process by throwing in local regulations that are different from most other places. Add in crazy weather and the roulette wheel of shipping things to the Island and you've got all the makings of a nightmare.
But it doesn't have to be that way if you are patient, which was the key to James Lydon and his family's building their new home.The initial planning stages for Lydon and his family began in the winter of 1999 and they began moving into their new space three years later in the early spring of 2003. How he and his wife Nance, their two daughters Madeline, 9 years, and Mia, 1 year, and his college-bound son Christopher, finally began enjoying their new home is a study in patience, knowledge, and a little bit of luck.
Lydon has been in the construction trades on Nantucket for over twenty years under the name James Lydon and Sons. He specializes in roofing and the remodeling that comes out of a roofing project, such as additional rooms, cupolas and dormers. He put all his years of accumulated wisdom to work on his own project and built a second dwelling on his property on Evergreen Way near Surfside. This would be a second dwelling in which he, his wife and two daughters would live. Since Lydon is a builder himself, he naturally turned to previous properties he had worked on for inspiration and ideas. The one he found himself most drawn to was a property built by Twig Perkins on Gardner Street. Here was a home that Lydon liked and knew was historically acceptable to Nantucket's Historical District Commission, a.k.a. the HDC. He had also been the company to roof the home, so he knew the structure well.
Every builder, every architect, and every homeowner on Nantucket is familiar with the HDC. It is the third oldest commission of its kind in the country and its mission is to protect the overall look and feel of Nantucket by keeping the architecture within historical parameters. The tricky part comes when trying to define just what those historical parameters are, as they are sometimes open to interpretation. Getting through the HDC can take several months, but Lydon got approved in just one meeting.
This was not by chance. Lydon knew what he was doing when he hired local architect Dave Wiley to draw up the plans for the new home. It didn't hurt that Wiley was a former chairperson of the HDC, being familiar with what would pass and what would not, as are most local architects. As a builder, Lydon spends time at HDC meetings as well and sees plans get turned down all the time. "Some people come in with plans that are so out of line with Nantucket," he says. "If someone had just told them in advance, maybe they wouldn't have to spend so much time re-designing their Nantucket home." Indeed, an architect familiar with the complexity of the HDC would be both a time and money-saver in the long run.Lydon experienced a nine month delay after HDC approval awaiting his time to build. "The building cap was in place during this time," Lydon said, "so we had to wait until January 2001 to break ground." Once they broke ground, Lydon was able to get a water-tight shell fairly soon, utilizing the local workforce. (See credit box on page 28.) "I'm a local guy so of course I want to use local people as much as I can. They have been good about referring me for work so naturally it made sense to go local." But that's not the only reason for Lydon to keep the work local when he could. Being in the trades himself, he knows where he can go for excellent workmanship and he knows who he can trust to bring the job in on time and at the right price. "Plus if you need hem for repair later down the road, it's easier to get service," added Lydon.
Often times the design process can take up to a year or more due to all the planning and drawing and changes that must be made both prior to and after meeting with the HDC. The fact that Lydon moved so quickly is testimony both to his knowing what he wanted and to being somewhat familiar with HDC regulations. Part of his design plan comes from what he does not like about his current house. "It has a cathedral ceiling but that keeps us from having an upstairs or attic space in that part of the house. There is about 40 feet of wasted hallway space."