At first glance, film director and Airbnb host Nick Fitzhugh’s warehouse loft feels like the epitome of hip Brooklyn aesthetic. But look closer: the contemporary style with marble countertops, slate floors, bright whites and rich exposed brick serve almost as gallery space to the unique and personal touches that make this place personal and unique. Family heirlooms. Found and repurposed pieces. Art that Nick has collected from world travels, friends, and family. But a constant theme in this house is Starboard Light: a home in Cape Cod that the Fitzhugh family had through five generations, busting at the seams with 210 years of memories. So much so, it inspired Nick to spend their last summer there creating a documentary that asks the question, “Does a family make a home? Or does a house make a family?”
What is your definition of home?
Nick: I think of home as a place of shelter from the rest of the world. But at the same time, it’s a place where we get to bring inspiring elements from the world to help remember them. Home is a space that involves loved ones—whether you have your own family or you’re single, your home is something that is ideally a reflection of those closest to you. I think that’s what my home reflects. And what makes it feel “homey” to me is the way other people have helped me fill it. Everything in here, with very few exceptions, I’ve inherited. They are pieces that have been in my family for generations or art that has been given to me by friends who made it. Basically, everywhere you look, there is something personal to remind me of someone who is special to me.
We’d love to hear about some of your favorite pieces and the stories behind them.
Nick: The most iconic is the actual starboard light from my family’s house on Cape Cod. It’s this white tin fixture with turquoise glass surrounding the light. It was part of a ship and was always hanging on the outside of Starboard Light. It is where the house got its name.
There is also this old science fair project that makes me happy—something my dad and I built together when I was in the fourth grade. It’s basically a briefcase handmade from wood with a hinged lid and, inside, there is a mirror and piece of glass on the bottom. It’s this portable solar cooker, so you could put an egg or hotdog in there and cook it. That has some great bonding memories tied to it.
And of course, there is all of the art. Four of the paintings in here were done by my grandmother who passed away this year at 94. She was so talented—always winning ‘Best in Show’ awards for her work. And there’s a sculpture my cousin made from these beautiful pieces of wood that are woven together with natural tips. That was a wonderful housewarming gift he gave me.
What inspired you to actually create this documentary about your family’s home?
Nick: I had thought for a while, since 2008, that I should make a film about the house. I always assumed it would just be a short film inspired by the experience I witnessed at the house when friends would visit. They’d walk in and say, ‘Wow, there is this unusual sense of history here.’ So it wasn’t just my family that felt this really strong sense of belonging, history, and magic in this house. It felt like there was story that needed to be told here.
In 2010, when I heard that the house was going to be sold, we knew we’d have one more summer in the house. I’d been in South Africa working on another documentary when I got the news, so when I flew back to the U.S., I just decided to go straight to the house and spend the rest of summer there. I didn’t have a plan; I just started filming. And as I did, we found all of this old video footage from the home—an hour or more of good clips that my great grandfather and grandfather shot starting in the 1930s through the 1950s. I realized there was enough context there to show the changing landscapes of Cape Cod going from a sparsely populated beach town to what it’s become now. So we went on from there.
Your film asks the question “Does a family make a house or does a house make a family?” So how do you personally answer that question?
Nick: It’s not one or the other. It’s both. I have this home in Red Hook that is now filled with many objects from the old house. So, in many ways, the house lives on. I may not have my own family, but that doesn’t matter — because I have this understanding of what a family is, and it’s part of me. I can create that feeling of home and family in this space for others. It’s peaceful and calm and I hear from so many friends and Airbnb guests who stay here just what a strong sense of home they get when they are here. I try to reflect that in how I use the space, too: I love hosting dinner parties, I love leaving my guests with gifts from the area and from local friends—candles from my friend’s line, Fox Fodder Farm, that they can take home with them and be reminded of their stay here. I love using this as a gathering place the same way Starboard Light always was for my family. It’s something that I’m very proud of. And I love getting the chance to share that feeling with others.
Nick Fitzhugh is a film director and producer based out of Red Hook, New York. For more information about Nick’s work, visit his website.
For more information about the pieces and the artists featured in Nick’s home:
Devin Burgess: handblown glass
Farrah Sit: hanging planters
Fitzhugh Karol: wood sculpture
Jacob Perkins: mirror, projector box, dining room benches
Photography credit: Lindsay D’Addato