In Nature’s Embrace

July 1, 2013

Designed to hug the landscape rather than stand out from it, a Martha’s Vineyard summer home forges a close connection, inside and out, with its spectacular location.

Text by Susan Kleinman    Photography by Michael Partenio    Produced by Stacy Kunstel

It’s a paradox: one of the most outstanding things about this house on Martha’s Vineyard is the way it doesn’t stand out. And that’s just how the couple who summer here with their two young children wanted it. “A lot of homes around here seem to call out for your attention,” says Mark Hutker, of Hutker Architects in Falmouth, Massachusetts, who renovated the 5,600-square-foot house. “But our clients wanted to be in the landscape, and not stand out from it. The main thing for them was the connection with the land and to the views.”

Those views—of Farm Neck Golf Club, Sengekontacket Pond and the Atlantic Ocean—were easy to miss from much of the property before the renovation. “There were lots of windows in many different places,” says the wife, “but not where you could enjoy the view.”

When she and her husband decided to build a pool and a guest house five years after they bought the place, they realized that it was a perfect opportunity to overhaul the main house and landscaping as well, and to better integrate the home into its surroundings.

Hutker and project designer Greg Ehrman began by re-jiggering the floor plan for more space and better flow and simplifying the roofline for a more graceful profile. “One of the first decisions we made,” says Ehrman, “was to leave the trim around the upper-story windows unpainted. The cedar is turning silver over time, almost matching the color of the surrounding trees. So when you look toward the house from the golf course, you don’t see white paint.”

You don’t see the swimming pool from the golf course, either (although the views from the pool are spectacular), and from afar, the four-foot-high pool enclosure required by local building codes is almost invisible. “The way we did the enclosure,” says landscape architect Gregory Lombardi, “was to manipulate the grade to slope down to a low point. It was a big move to cut into grade, but now the pool area is nestled into the landscape.”

The desire to have the home seem like an established part of the island was fulfilled ingeniously in the new guest house/garage, designed to look as if it had been on the property for generations, and merely updated to turn it into guest quarters. “It was sort of like a fabricated narrative,” says Hutker, “as if it could have been an agricultural building that was converted.”

The architects even installed transom doors on one side to enhance the illusion of an existing structure that had been reincarnated. What makes the gesture feel sincere and not gimmicky is the building’s architectural integrity—and the use of the same site-appropriate materials that Baumhofer Builders of Edgartown, Massachusetts, used throughout the project. “On the Vineyard,” Hutker says, “a lot of clients say they want to make their houses timeless. The real way to do that is to connect to things, like the natural elements, that don’t change over time.”

Timeless, natural elements also inform the home’s interiors devised by Heather Wells and senior designer Janine Dowling of Wells + Fox. Although the palette was initially inspired by a favorite silk scarf and a shirt the homeowner showed the designers, the upholstery and paint colors also mirror hues found on the island: the sand near the pond, the bark of local trees and the blue of the ocean as it appears at the nearest beach. “The travertine we chose for the fireplace is the stone closest in color to local beach sand,” Hutker says, “and the soft tones of the floor look like bleached driftwood. From an architectural and interiors point of view, the nature of those materials and colors gives you an effervescent connection to what’s outside the house.”

That connection between indoors and out is best experienced on the window seat around the new living room’s perimeter, the perfect place to rest, read or chat with guests while looking out toward the pond. “We went from a house with no water view to a living room that seems surrounded by water,” says the husband, a financial executive who works from Martha’s Vineyard during the summer. “That’s my favorite part of the renovation.”

The family room and master bedroom also enjoy glorious pond and ocean views, and while the dining room (created where the former living room stood) has no windows, Wells and Dowling made it memorable with the addition of a round walnut table, white leather chairs and an eye-catching chandelier. The back wall in the dining room is covered in slatted boarding with a small reveal between the boards. Wells calls it “beaded board with a twist,” and notes that playing with beach-house conventions, rather than hewing to them too faithfully, is part of what gives the decor its un-clichéd feel. “We used blue and white fabrics,” Wells says, “but not your classic stripes. The colors are more periwinkle than navy, and the patterns are more bohemian, rather than nautical.”

The modern seaside vibe flows throughout most rooms of the house, including the master bedroom, and it continues outdoors, too, thanks to the blue hydrangeas Lombardi planted. The bushes, a Vineyard garden staple, bloom at the height of summer, when the homeowners are most likely to be on the lawn and around the yard. “When you’re designing a home used mostly in July and August,” says Lombardi, “you want to be sure to plant things that the clients will enjoy when they actually use the property.”

That attention to timing was similarly a factor in Lombardi’s choice of the Casablanca lilies near the pergola that lines the southern wall of the house. “On a sultry summer night when the homeowners are entertaining outdoors,” he says, “the smell of the lilies is very dramatic.”

Dramatic, yes, but not overpowering or ostentatious. “What’s so special about this property,” he sums up, “is its understatement. There was always a conscious effort that the house should have a bit of humility.”

Architecture: Hutker Architects
Interior design:  Heather Wells, Wells + Fox
Landscape design:  Gregory Lombardi,  Gregory Lombardi Design
Builder: Baumhofer Builders

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