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New owners come to the rescue of an unfinished Aquinnah home

Tasked with replacing a design icon, architects rose to the challenge on the south side of Martha’s Vineyard. Then came an unforeseeable delay.

The space under a triangular niche on the main floor creates room for a patio. The covered area is particularly enjoyable on hot summer days.

Dan Cutrona

The space under a triangular niche on the main floor creates room for a patio. The covered area is particularly enjoyable on hot summer days.

Starting in the 1980s, Stephen Trevor regularly visited the south side of Martha’s Vineyard. Later, he and his wife, Stephanie Hunt, who now have three children, rented houses on the island seasonally. “We loved the beaches on the south side,” says Trevor.

By 2014, the family was ready to buy its own retreat. On a whim, Trevor visited a site on the north side of Aquinnah, the community at the island’s southwest corner. “I never expected to find this part of the island compelling,” he recalls. “But I was blown away.”

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The property he saw that day sits on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, 32 feet above sea level. “The eye is drawn out to Vineyard Sound and toward the Elizabeth Islands,” says Trevor. The house is surrounded by lush vegetation amid 25 acres of protected conservation land. While there are adjacent houses, the 3-acre property feels remote.

At the time, the house was a mere shell. The previous owners had abandoned the project during the early phases of construction, and the property sat on the market for nearly 2 years. It was difficult to find the right buyer, explains Philip Regan, who drafted plans for the home with Gregory Ehrman, a fellow principal at Hutker Architects. “Most potential buyers could only see a derelict building,” says Regan. “They didn’t see the potential — the house had already been designed, and all the permits were in place — and the history of the property didn’t resonate with them.”

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Trevor and Hunt, however, recognized its appeal immediately. The previous home on the site had been an architectural icon. It was built in 1984 by famed architect Steven Holl, who said he was inspired by a passage in Moby-Dick. Ehrman says Holl conceived an “inside-out balloon frame — a rectangular prism with articulated wooden ‘bones’ framing views of nature beyond.” Holl’s design received two major awards and has been studied in architecture courses around the country.

When Regan and Ehrman joined the project in 2011, the Holl house was standing but in disrepair. “When we started working with the prior owners, we initially thought the building could be saved,” says Regan. “But it was in such poor condition it had to be torn down.”

The architects revered the original home and were determined to ensure that the new plans honored the form and spirit of Holl’s design. “We felt a huge responsibility to keep Holl’s legacy alive,” says Ehrman. “Unfortunately, the house had been built with substandard materials during a time when there wasn’t as much focus on views and property values as there is today.”

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Before the building came down, the architects meticulously documented its materials and dimensions, which they used for inspiration. The new design incorporates features that add to its durability, such as virtually maintenance-free white cedar and mahogany windows. New elements include an ambitious energy profile (the house is expected to receive LEED Gold status), including heating and cooling systems, additional living space, and ample bedrooms.

While the original structure had a large fireplace that broke up the kitchen and living area, blocking the astounding view, the new plan is entirely open, with full-height windows throughout. “Holl’s house was progressive for the 1980s,” says Ehrman. “We have redefined what is considered progressive today. Systems with all that glass and [that] orientation take a little bit more science to figure out to ensure that we get the glazing and insulation right.”

Regan and Ehrman re-created one of the most striking elements of Holl’s design: a glass-walled triangular niche that juts out toward the ocean. The intriguing area has just enough room for a two-seated chaise suspended from the ceiling. “The swing transforms what was sort of an empty, awkward space,” says Hunt. “It’s the most wonderful place at all times of day to sit and look out at the sea. Everyone in the family loves it. It sort of feels like you are outside.”

The original home had been perched on concrete piers, says Regan, which contributed to the structural failure over time. “The new design introduced a full foundation, which allows for three bedrooms and a family room on the ground floor while providing structural stability and cover for mechanical systems,” he says.

Upstairs, the main floor holds the living spaces and the master suite. From the suite, a hallway connects to the tower loft, which opens to a large roof deck and garden overlooking the spectacular 360-degree views beyond.

“I love to watch the sunrise out there at 5:30 a.m.,” says Trevor. “It’s magical. Every time I’m there I think, ‘I can’t believe I’m seeing all of this.’ ”

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“The homeowners’ main request was to keep the interior simple and allow the views beyond to be the focal point,” says Julia Vandal, an interior designer for Hutker Architects. “This led us to follow an organic, modern aesthetic, pulling textures, colors, and patterns that evoked a serene and comfortable retreat for the family to enjoy the beautiful view.” The floors throughout the home are wire-brushed character-grade white oak with a very light finish. “The wood is indigenous and super durable,” says architect Gregory Ehrman.

Dan Cutrona

“The homeowners’ main request was to keep the interior simple and allow the views beyond to be the focal point,” says Julia Vandal, an interior designer for Hutker Architects. “This led us to follow an organic, modern aesthetic, pulling textures, colors, and patterns that evoked a serene and comfortable retreat for the family to enjoy the beautiful view.” The floors throughout the home are wire-brushed character-grade white oak with a very light finish. “The wood is indigenous and super durable,” says architect Gregory Ehrman.

Polished travertine on the fireplace surround strikes a sophisticated note in the living area (above). The gray sectional, bought at Montage, is by B&B Italia. Two Tacchini swivel chairs have a modern appeal; the coffee table is live-edge poplar wood by Usona.

Dan Cutrona

Polished travertine on the fireplace surround strikes a sophisticated note in the living area. The gray sectional, bought at Montage, is by B&B Italia. Two Tacchini swivel chairs have a modern appeal; the coffee table is live-edge poplar wood by Usona.

In the kitchen, a mosaic by Martha’s Vineyard artist Jenifer Strachan depicts a narwhal. Counters are quartz, while cabinets are painted Benjamin Moore Smoke Embers; the walls throughout the home are Benjamin Moore Misty Gray. The walnut dining table is by Usona, the chairs by Danish designer Niels Otto Moller, and the striking tree-branch-inspired chandelier by Brandolini.

Dan Cutrona

In the kitchen, a mosaic by Martha’s Vineyard artist Jenifer Strachan depicts a narwhal. Counters are quartz, while cabinets are painted Benjamin Moore Smoke Embers; the walls throughout the home are Benjamin Moore Misty Gray. The walnut dining table is by Usona, the chairs by Danish designer Niels Otto Moller, and the striking tree-branch-inspired chandelier by Brandolini.

The homeowners were drawn to the beauty and simplicity of Japanese soaking tubs and decided to install one in their master bathroom. “We looked around for the right one for a long time,” recalls Stephen Trevor. Finally, they found a craftswoman in Austria who created a walnut tub. “It’s almost like a work of art or a piece of furniture,” says Trevor.

Dan Cutrona

The homeowners were drawn to the beauty and simplicity of Japanese soaking tubs and decided to install one in their master bathroom. “We looked around for the right one for a long time,” recalls Stephen Trevor. Finally, they found a craftswoman in Austria who created a walnut tub. “It’s almost like a work of art or a piece of furniture,” says Trevor.

ON THE OUTSIDE

Eric Roth

Building on Steven Holl’s original narrative, the architects added a detached structure in the south garden that houses an outdoor shower, sauna, and spa. “Its geometric form echoes the main house in microcosm,” says Philip Regan, “suggesting a piece that has broken off from the whole and come to rest beside it to house something new.” Falmouth-based firm Horiuchi Solien handled the landscape design. “It was important that the site be disrupted as little as possible, so we used all native plantings,” says homeowner Stephen Trevor. To help keep the house cool during the summer, plantings on the roof (above) mimic the dune grass and marshland beyond. “The color of the vegetation evolves with the landscape as the year goes on,” says Regan. “It’s lovely to look at and requires virtually no maintenance.”

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