This Boutique Owner’s Shelter Island Retreat Is Part Scandi Winter Cabin, Part Beach Cottage
“If you love something, you figure out a way to make it work.”
Updated Apr 7, 2023 2:57 PM
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“The house had been abandoned for almost 10 years—it was a total mess,” says Jennifer Mankins, recalling the state of her Shelter Island home when she and husband Niklas Arnegren bought it in 2017. There was extensive mold, standing water, and damage, plus overgrown, three-story-high greenery surrounding the building. Just what every buyer is looking for. Amid the grim scene, Mankins could still envision a unique and vibrant enclave. As the owner of Bird—a constellation of indie fashion boutiques in Brooklyn—she has a talent for artfully mixing color-filled spaces and looks (cue her Instagram series #MyPrintedLife). Plus the Long Island project felt manageable compared to the Brooklyn brownstone renovation she undertook 10 years ago. “We have a habit of finding really scary places and turning them around,” Mankins says, laughing. Equipped with innate creativity, some reno know-how in her back pocket, and the help of architect Lisa Ekle of E.G. Projects, she set out to transform the dilapidated bungalow.
Mankins was drawn to the original structure’s simplicity—the promise of a low-key place to hang out with family and friends year-round, free from endless (read: nightmarish) upkeep. That’s why, despite tearing down the walls “beyond the studs,” she kept the floor-plan configuration the same—a central common area with bedrooms flanking either side. The design philosophy was equally as straightforward: Bring in well-made materials, then add on details with character. In practice, that meant the not-so-easy task of combining disparate styles—minimalist Scandinavian (a nod to Arnegren’s Swedish roots) with Mankins’s Texan-travels-the-world quirky charm. Somehow it just works.
Double-height windows and an open layout lend an airy atmosphere, while neutral, streamlined furniture provides the canvas for Southwest-inspired modern art, striped light fixtures, woven patterned rugs, and Josef Frank floral roman shades to take center stage. Simple white oak benches and teak bureaus are topped with lively Indian block prints and handcrafted Mexican ceramics. In the kitchen, ash-wood cupboards and white countertops ground a sunset-hued backsplash, where chartreuse, raspberry, salmon, and turquoise tile dance together.
Color bursts into most corners of the home—glossy yellow side chairs, a floor-to-ceiling blue Heath ceramic tile shower, mismatched mint and lemon pocket doors—and remains more nuanced in other places, like the striations in the cedar-plank walls, ebbing from pale straw to milk chocolate depending on the board. The overall vibe is part Scandi winter cabin, part beach cottage—an impressive balance that makes the interior look warm, even on cooler nights (when the wall-to-wall white brick fireplace is put to good use).
Mastering that mix of tone and texture is instinctual for Mankins. As the youngest of four girls, she had hand-me-down clothes for days, quickly becoming a magpie. “I’ve dressed crazy since I was 3,” she quips. Indeed, combining contrasting tastes wasn’t just fun—it was a necessary sartorial modus operandi. While wearing her distinct mashup of wacky-cool prints, Mankins has traveled the world, from Mexico to India to the American Southwest, absorbing lessons in color, shape, and layers along the way.
Her assortment of collected treasures has grown in tandem—not just small items like napkins and scarves (though she has those, too), but big things such as rugs and throw pillows. “One year I borrowed my sister-in-law’s ski bags in Sweden to bring home rolls of Svenskt Tenn fabric,” Mankins recalls of her commitment to the chromatic cause. All her acquisitions go into carefully curated closets for future use. It’s no surprise, then, that many were pulled out while fashioning her weekend escape.
Case in point: The aforementioned kitchen tiles were left over from Bird. When Mankins didn’t have quite enough to complete the backsplash, she went to her cabinet of goodies and retrieved “every single tile ever scavenged from other projects.” She then laid out the exact pattern herself to ensure the perfect color scramble. More material crossover between her stores and house can be spied in the extra linen from a Bird x Block Shop collaboration dress that was turned into an upholstered bench in the entryway, as well as Moroccan fabric from a boutique chair, of which the scraps were reused as a stool topper for the living area. This kind of resourceful repurposing appears throughout the bungalow, from recycled denim wall insulation to Garza Marfa pillows made of kilim rugs. Mankins even saved Indian tablecloths from a birthday party—now moonlighting as coverlets in the master bedroom.“ If you love something, you figure out a way to make it work,” she says.
The same concept applies to breezily assembling different elements. In addition to the tablecloth-bedspread, her bedroom features mustard sconces, a cane-back chair, Lars Nilsson painterly striped window treatments, Tamar Mogendorff pink and blush velvet shell pillows, a Les Indiennes blue check duvet, and a boat painting by a hobby artist found on an island in Maine. It may sound over the top, yet there is harmony among the designs. Mankins’s decor process boils down to: Be unafraid, throw it all together, and step back to assess. “When everything is bright and crazy but nothing stands out, it blends,” she says of finding that perfect balance. The unifier? It’s all personal; it all jells.
Her love of great materials and happy textiles isn’t just about aesthetics, however—practicality is always part of the equation. “I’m not going to buy Pierre Paulin or original French antiques that might get beer poured on them,” she points out. The house is, after all, meant for enjoying with her friends and family. Every piece has a purpose and a story as colorful as the threads that create them; every design is considered for the long term. Saturated or neutral, Nordic or East Coast, the furnishings are meant to be the backdrop for having the best time.
This story was originally published in our Summer 2020 issue with the headline “A Happy Oasis.”