Tour an Edgartown Home Designed by Patrick Ahearn
May 23, 2022
An Edgartown home conceals a surprisingly contemporary interior within its classic Martha’s Vineyard exterior.
Text by Jorge S. Arango Photography by Taylor Ahearn and Amy Vischio
Building a new home in a picture-postcard New England village like Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard—where the oldest surviving house dates to 1672—requires a profound respect for tradition. Patrick Ahearn knows this well. He estimates that about seventy percent of his Edgartown projects have been restorations. For the rest, the architect developed a typology he calls “the urban island village compound.”
It has to do primarily with historic styles and massing, where various subordinate structures are anchored by a main section. “It’s implied history,” Ahearn explains. “It looks like the main building was added onto and tells the story, theoretically, of how the house grew over a couple hundred years.” Take the 4,500-square-foot Greek Revival residence he designed for an empty nester couple, where the “original” house commands the show and other volumes are stepped back from it or, in the case of the carriage house, detached and off to the side.
The challenge, of course, lies with making something designed for the past livable for today. The husband’s tastes skew traditional, but his wife loves contemporary comfort and color. “During the process, we reached consensus,” recalls Ahearn. While the exterior would be classic Vineyard, “the interiors and finishes would be more modern and beachy.” All living spaces also had to be packed with function.
“There’s no one who entertains more or better than this couple, except maybe Martha Stewart,” explains interior designer Karen Bow. “But they’d even give her a run for her money!” There were also dogs and visiting grown children to consider. Ahearn addressed this by building, he says, “architecture you can use.” This translates to lots of built-ins and tuckaways that also add cottage flavor. Bow packed in the outdoor fabrics and furniture to ensure easy maintenance and durability.
It fell to Bow to reconcile her clients’ disparate approaches to interiors. The husband wanted a nautical theme—naturally de rigueur in these parts—while his wife, Bow observes, “is so full of life” that, were it up to her alone, the place would explode with color.
“We wanted it to nod to Martha’s Vineyard, but it was important for me to add texture and do things that were new,” Bow says. Nautical decor, for example, calls for brass details. There are obvious applications, such as the large dining table and ship-deck chairs, which boast brass brackets and trestle braces. Kitchen fixtures and hardware are also all brass. But there are less obvious touches too, namely the lights above the bed in a guest suite. Their positioning and round shapes are subtly reminiscent of portholes.
Shades of blue were a no-brainer for a quaint fishing village. But in a cedar-paneled den, “There’s a little introduction of lavender,” says Bow. Chairs with traditional silhouettes surround a modern round ottoman with a more contemporary paint-splatter pattern.
In the primary bedroom, a turquoise rug sporting a Central Asian ikat design grounds the bed.
From the outside, however, you’d never know. For Edgartown and other similar historic seaside locales, says Ahearn, “This is really like the prototype for a new ‘old’ house. You can’t tell it from the real old houses. It’s a convincing story.”
Architecture: Patrick Ahearn, Patrick Ahearn Architect
Interior design: Karen Bow, Karen Bow Interiors
Builder: John Magnuson, Burnham + Magnuson Builders
Landscape design: Mike Donaroma, Donaroma’s Nursery, Landscaping + Floral Design
Photography note: Exterior photography by Taylor Ahearn and interior photography by Amy Vischio