See Inside an Extravagant Martha’s Vineyard Home

Sitting quietly in the landscape, this home honors the site's agrarian past.
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Seen from the meadow, the house reveals its full height and transparency. Photography by David Sundberg (Esto) and Matthew Carbone

Excerpt from Martha’s Vineyard: New Island Homes (Monacelli, June 2021) by Keith Moskow and Robert Linn. The recently released book is a collection of contemporary residential architecture on Martha’s Vineyard.

This house sits on nearly five acres of previously unbuilt land in the heart of the farming and artistic community that is known as “up-island” Martha’s Vineyard. The long agrarian history of the windswept southern edge of the island underpins the design approach to the project.

In deference to the site’s history as a sheep-grazing field and to the simple New England forms that shape the area’s architectural heritage, we developed the house and studio as a pair of barns with low pitched roofs that sit quietly in the landscape. The two buildings form a series of courtyards and outdoor spaces, with varying degrees of privacy and views. Based in a love of the dense aggregation of New England farm complexes, we sited the studio and the house barns tightly together, creating a charged space between them.

On arrival, the house presents as a single-story structure, tucked neatly into the landscape. From the meadow, a grass pathway leads up the hill to a broad stair and an elevated, large south-facing porch back to the farm road and meadow landscape.

The sweeping Atlantic views are experienced only after a visitor enters the house; the northwest entry courtyard is edged by a mute, charred cedar wall with screened apertures, creating a private courtyard with views west over the rolling fields and stone fences.

An integral process in the making of the house was the research and testing that went into producing the shou sugi ban louvers on the exterior, which screen private spaces and shade the interior without diminishing views. The basis of this treatment is a traditional Japanese method of wood preservation using heat. Our team rented a warehouse in the Bronx to assemble and burn the timber louvers ourselves, scorching, washing, and sealing each of them by hand. The result is a dark, elegant, and weatherproof façade that complements the landscape.

Martha's Vineyard Residence

A fully glazed corner of the living area opens up to become an outdoor space. Photography by David Sundberg (Esto) and Matthew Carbone

Inside the buildings, bleached ash lines and lightens all surfaces. The ceilings in the public rooms lift to the high ridges, with dropped areas to create a children’s sleeping loft high in the roof. Blending natural and man-made spaces was a consistent focus of study.

The lower level consists of a series of bedrooms with shared spaces between that look into light wells, landscaped with local rocks and moss. We took advantage of deep foundation walls buried in the hillside to plant trees underground. The below-ground light wells bring daylight, rain, and nature into the lower level. People walk over glass bridges above the trees to reach the front door. These trees bud and blossom more than a month before the rest of the island, as the wells funnel natural sunlight and rain, while keeping out damaging gusts.

The print version of this article appears with the headline: House Above the South Shore.
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