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Meet a Father-Son Duo Transforming Nantucket

Real estate developers Stephen and Douglass Karp are helping to make Nantucket into a posh summer playground

While staking out land around Cape Cod has long been a pastime for moneyed New Englanders, Stephen and Douglass Karp have made it their business. New England Development’s father-son duo have owned property on Nantucket for 30 years, but it wasn’t until Stephen hired Douglass to spearhead a new venture, Nantucket Island Resorts, that the two began to elevate the island into a bona fide hospitality hotspot.

Stephen Karp founded New England Development in 1978 and built the business through a constellation of indoor malls across the northeast. Douglass inherited his father’s entrepreneurial spirit, starting the mall mecca Lids with a buddy while still in high school. Years later, Stephen sold his properties and Douglass left Lids for the family business. “It was a shift we decided to make from being just a retail developer to more hospitality,” says Douglass. “That was when we made a big purchase on Nantucket and bought a bunch of hotels.”

Douglass Karp’s White Elephant is a quintessential Nantucket waterfront destination.

Douglass Karp’s White Elephant is a quintessential Nantucket waterfront destination.

The White Elephant, a collection of 8 to 12 sleepy cottages, became Douglass’s pet project. “That winter I essentially lived in Nantucket during the week and helped oversee the construction of what White Elephant is today,” says Douglass, who owns a home on the island and got married at the White Elephant last year. “We took it from almost a motel format to a real first-class hotel.”

Today, the White Elephant is a quintessential beachside waterfront destination and the flagship of Nantucket Island Resort’s portfolio, which also includes The Wauwinet, Jared Coffin House, and The Cottages at Nantucket Boat Basin. As the Karps expanded, so did Nantucket. The island is growing so fast that Elon Musk is furnishing it with a Tesla-made 48MWh Powerpack battery to help with electrical demands.

But, says Douglass, the upswing hasn’t overpowered the town’s quaint charms. “A board oversees all the aesthetics of the island so it generally looks very similar to how it did 100 years ago,” he says. “There’s still that historic charm but you can go to restaurants that rival any major city in the country.”

Photos courtesy of Nantucket Island Resorts