Nantucket’s White Elephant Hotel Gets a Centennial Makeover

Boston’s Elkus Manfredi Architects will transform the landmark resort just in time for summer.

Courtesy of Elkus Manfredi Architects

The White Elephant hotel in Nantucket first began as a series of rustic guest cottages that were the dream of local socialite Elizabeth T. Ludwig, who believed when she opened the property in the 1920s, it would one day be a grand destination. Lore has it that Ludwig’s project became the talk of the town and was affectionately coined “Mrs. Ludwig’s white elephant.”

Over time, as Nantucket’s tourism evolved and the White Elephant expanded, Ludwig’s vision was realized: the harborside hotel became an island icon, the pinnacle of a luxury vacation resort.

With the White Elephant’s 100th anniversary this spring, plans for the landmark’s overhaul were put in motion last year, with Elkus Manfredi Architects tapped to design the renovation. It’s not the first time that the Boston firm has partnered with White Elephant Resorts, which comprises a collection of premier hotels on Nantucket. When the group opened its first out-of-state resort in 2020, White Elephant Palm Beach, Elkus Manfredi conceived the design, which won multiple awards.

The inspiration for the hotel’s reimagination was the island itself, says Elizabeth Lowrey, principal at Elkus Manfredi Architects, who spearheaded the complete renovation of the 54-rooms and suites, along with 11 cottages. “The idea was to immerse guests in an authentic Nantucket vacation experience.”

Within the shell of the historic hotel, Lowrey and her team redesigned the lobby to evoke a relaxed, elegant vibe. “We weren’t going for a generic, beachy feel that could be anywhere,” says Lowrey. “Every aspect of the design had to be authentic to Nantucket. Everything we did, we stopped to ask ourselves is this truly Nantucket, or is it someone’s idea of Nantucket?”

Traditionally Nantucket colors inspired the design palette. Textures recall the landscape—grass cloth wall coverings, for example, evoke dune grasses. While most guest rooms have blue painted ceilings that emulate the Nantucket summer sky, the design of each one is distinct. “There’s not a standard room design that is repeated,” says Lowrey, noting that the concept was for guests to feel as though they are staying in someone’s home that is furnished with bespoke finds.

Courtesy of Elkus Manfredi Architects

In recognition of Nantucket’s rich history of basket weaving and textile production, Elkus Manfredi teamed up with Pennsylvania-based carpet mill, Bloomsburg, to create custom carpets depicting a basket weave design. In honor of Nantucket’s creative legacy, an artist-in-residency program was established to curate an array of art that is authentically Nantucket. “We invited artists from throughout the country, and as far as Sweden, to come stay on the island and create pieces that are hung throughout the hotel,” says Lowrey. Participating artists include New England-focused watercolorist Mary Chandler and Pennsylvania-based photographer and installation artist Thomas Jackson, along with Stockholm’s Clara Hallencreutz.

The 11 cottages have been given individual themes inspired by native plants of Nantucket, including Bayberry, Hydrangea, Beachplum, Marigold, and Rose. Unique color palettes and artwork were developed to align with the different plants. Guests will be able to stay in the renovated cottages and guest rooms sometime this spring, as the hotel marks its 100th anniversary.

“Our intention with the redesign is to deliver the feeling of deep relaxation that comes with opening a window, looking out to the sea, and taking a deep breath of fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin, smelling the salt air, boats softly rocking in their slips and the hum of children laughing on the beach,” says Lowrey. “We want all the senses to be engaged and excited.”