Mariellen Murphy Scannell was tuned into the Nate Berkus Show one raw evening in February 2011, when the show’s smartly dressed host was enlightening his studio audience with tips about decorating on a shoestring budget. The hit reality TV series, a spinoff from the Oprah Winfrey Show, features how-to segments on everything from pinpointing your design personality to outfitting a nursery. Having furnished and decorated her own home with finds from the Take-It-Or-Leave-It at the “dump” out at Madaket, Mariellen said to herself, “Nate has nothing on me.” And she set out to prove it.
The longtime island resident contacted the network with her story. When she received an automated reply, she figured that was the end of that. Yet two weeks later, a producer at the show called saying that her story was being considered for a segment. “I just couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I had put the whole thing out of my mind! Quite honestly, I think they heard ‘Nantucket’ and that sparked their interest.”
The production team needed photographs and footage within forty-eight hours. They shipped her a compact video camera, and she set out to film the images requested, capturing quintessential Nantucket scenes, some shots of her living room, and a typical afternoon at the Take-It-Or-Leave-It. While on assignment, Mariellen selected two pieces that would be worthy of a Nate Berkus makeover: a beat-up old chair and whicker settee. A few months later, she was on a plane to New York City for a live appearance on the show.
Mariellen, whose personality is as big as the Big Apple itself, received star treatment in the city. She was chauffeured around in a limousine, had her name on the door of her dressing room, and was treated to a full makeover before appearing in front of the camera. A handful of friends were in the audience calming her nerves. She looks back on the experience recalling how surprisingly relaxed she felt. “He is such a gentleman and so nice,” she said of Berkus, “but the thing I remember most was at the end he told me how he would rather live on Nantucket than anywhere else in the world. He even raved about the Downeyflake’s blueberry pancakes!”
Mariellen walked me through her home pointing out the various pieces that had been salvaged from the landfill. This was no hodgepodge of junk spiffed up enough to pass as decent—it was the real deal! Take, for instance, the sofa covered in pricy Scalamandre velvet with braided cord trim in her living room, or the antique china service and set of four hand-blown wine goblets on her dining table, or the handsome pair of brass lanterns on a wall-mounted bracket—all nice pieces used tastefully and in harmony with one another.
These days her frequent passes through the landfill are fueled by the “thrill of the hunt,” but fifteen years ago they were driven by necessity. Newly-divorced and a single mother of two, Scannell had just moved into a new home and there was little money left over for furnishings. Slowly but surely, she filled up the rooms, making them cozy and welcoming for her small family.
Mariellen relished her moment in the spotlight and occasionally gets comments from people who have seen reruns of the episode. A couple years ago, she never imagined she would one day make it on national TV by showing off her finds from the dump. Now she only needs to look as far as her newly refurbished chair and settee, courtesy of Nate Berkus, to remember her moment of fame.