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The Magic House

Ole Lokensgard
Ole Lokensgard

by Sarah Teach

The Town of Nantucket calls it Three Derrymore Road; some friends call it The Magic House. But to its architect and builder, the saltbox inspired structure built from materials gathered largely from the Nantucket dump is home sweet home. Ole Lokensgard is a Kilimanjaro-climbing, poetry book writing Harvard graduate who has two advanced degrees and an overwhelmingly diverse collection of skills and interests. Back in the seventies, he and his wife Mary Heen built and furnished their beautiful,
two-story Nantucket summer home right on the edge of town. With its alluring yet understated presence, the house thrives in an anonymity that is usually untapped. But today, Lokensgard unlocks his home, his secrets, and the many mysteries of his magic house for you and me to discover.

YI: You’re a Minnesota native; how did you find your way to Nantucket?
OL: “My parents honeymooned here in the thirties. So that was the initial Lokensgard tie to Nantucket. Then when I was about 15, my whole family – including me, my brother, and sister – all vacationed here. It was the sixties, so we stayed in the Youth Hostel. We had such wonderful times here that I came back as an adult in ’76, with only one item in my possession: an ax. I actually hitchhiked to the Cape, and then got a ride to Nantucket with the wife of the former mayor of Cambridge. So there I was, this stranger carrying an ax, in the car with the wife and two children of a mayor of Cambridge.”

YI: How did a hitchhiker obtain funds enough to build a two-story home on Nantucket?
OL: “Some really good friends, the Pfeiffers, practically gave us the plot of land because they wanted us to move here and live next door. As far as the materials themselves, fortunately Madaket has a mall where you needn’t make any purchases in order to come home with a bounty! We found our kitchen counters there in the form of two-by-fours. We split them in half then matched each half up side-by-side so they mirror one another, which I think is a really beautiful look. We rubbed the bare wood with mineral oil, and then eventually put a polyurethane finish on top. So it retains this luster,
plus we can use our entire countertop as a cutting board! Our fireplace is made up of bricks we gathered from the dump. And did you see the cobblestone pathway outside? Those stones were gathered bit by bit whenever we could find any!”

YI: These methods sound like tricks of a seasoned and dollar-savvy architect.
OL: “I actually studied English during my undergraduate years at St. Olaf College. It wasn’t until after I began working on the house that I realized I wanted to really learn architecture!”

YI: So you were confident that you could build a sturdy home before you even went to architecture school?
OL: “Oh, I did what any good student would do: I read a book about it! I went to Nantucket Bookworks, back when it was on Federal Street, and I bought a book called ‘So You Want To Build A House.’ The then owner, Patty Claflin, said to me, ‘If you’re building a house, you should talk to John Holland. He’s in here right now!’ So I went over and met this guy, who really turned out to be my mentor throughout the whole building process. John turned out to be an incredibly kind individual, and he told me that I could call him whenever I had any questions. I definitely took him up on that offer! I’d call him and ask things like, ‘How do you lay concrete block?’ And he’d say, ‘I’ll come by your
place before I go to work tomorrow. I’ll lay three for you, then you can do the rest on your own.’ John genuinely loved to build. He was just an invaluable part of the three-summers-long process.”

YI: So the house is not solely a product of the brain of Ole Lokensgard?
OL: John, of course, and friends and family had much to do with the building and also the furnishing. People who have visited us here have added their own piece of… I hesitate to use the word ‘charm’ but well, charm. At some point, the house kind of started to inform the decisions. Interesting things would come along, we’d incorporate them, and they’d either work or they wouldn’t. You might say that the house actually came to life!”

YI: Was your financial state at the time the main reason you used the method you did: to gather, then do-ityourself?
OL: “It was certainly a factor, but the primary factor? No. Though we had very little money, we didn’t skimp on materials. We bought the main structural components; and it ended up costing about $12,000 to complete the entire project. Of course, that would be a bigger amount in today’s terms but still not a whole lot. So yes, we did pay for some things. For example, we got our lumber for the floors, the ceilings, and some walls from a guy who had bought it then decided he didn’t want it. The wood had some grey water stains on it, so he sold us a huge amount of it for five hundred bucks.
We just sanded it down and finished it. And a number of our most unique little items, like our antique Turkish coffee grinder, came right from the dump!”

YI: Has the dump changed since those days?
OL: “The dump is a different creature today than it was back then. What is now the Take It or Leave It began as a little hill where people would just drop off items they didn’t need. It wasn’t structured or competitive like it is today. However, the whole Madaket operation has come a long way in terms of recycling, which is wonderful. People actually come here to study it because it’s such a great example of a sound recycling concept in action.”

YI: You may not refer to yourself as an environmentalist, but you certainly express a passion for preserving Nantucket’s pristine nature. As an architect, what’s your role in preserving the earth?
OL: “The Green Movement in architecture and home creation is quite important. Many people on Nantucket want these suburban lawns; they want to create this    monolithic, very green turf. So they dump chemicals into the soil, making an artificially sustained environment. Before anything changes for the better, people must accept that sometimes a lawn turns brown! That’s part of what makes it a real piece of nature. I would hope that people want their grandchildren to be able to enjoy Nantucket, to be able to experience oysters, to be able to eat clams out of the harbor. We need to preserve the things we love.”

YI: What kinds of benefits have you seen from sharing Nantucket with your own children?
OL: “They were both born in New York City, so it was wonderful for them to have a place where they sort of had the run of the neighborhood. They learned to swim very young, and to enjoy Nantucket’s natural amenities. Clamming, fishing, boating, walking on the beach. Those things aren’t available in New York City. Our daughter Sonia was only seven days old when we first brought her to Nantucket; and our son Erik was six months on his first trip here. This summer, my wife and I feel very lucky to have both of our children in our home on Nantucket. No matter who you are, this place just keeps calling you back.”

Like Nantucket itself, The Magic House is a place of beauty and solitude to which one can retreat to relax, to relieve urban anxiety, or just to enjoy life at its simplest. Thanks to Ole’s keen sense of preservation, future generations of Lokensgards will experience the little wonders tucked within each drawer of every restored secondhand dresser. They’ll enjoy beach walks and boating, then come home sandy to an outdoor shower that was crafted by minds that knew no bounds. And waiting patiently behind a sturdy front door that was once discarded, they will discover the magic of this homemade house on Nantucket.

Articles by Date from 2012