A Contemporary Martha’s Vineyard Retreat Designed by Hutker Architects

A family getaway nestles comfortably in the rise and fall of the landscape on Martha’s Vineyard’s north shore.

Text by Megan Fulweiler Photography by Eric Roth

The green, rolling hills of Martha’s Vineyard are often overlooked, but they’re every bit as picturesque as the beaches for which they play a supporting role. Under an electric-blue sky or swathed in mist, the undulating landscape tugs at the heart.

Romantic thoughts aside, though, this same topography can make building challenging. Such was the case for the team from Hutker Architects, who were recruited to design a retreat for a couple who’d fallen in love with a slice of the island’s north shore. The cinematic views more than made up for a sloping site and the outdated ranch house that sat there, and not even the fact that the existing driveway would have to remain where they found it—between the house and the water—could deter the couple who dreamt of family vacations here.

Spurred on by their clients’ enthusiasm, Hutker principal Phil Regan and project manager Matthew Cramer devised a glorious solution. Down came the aged ranch and in its stead, with the talents of builder Leo DeSorcy, a stunning barn-like dwelling that riffs on the island’s agrarian history was nestled into the hillside.

A pool and pool house sprang to life across the drive which, no surprise, is not at all like it used to be. Landscape architect Kris Horiuchi cleverly reinvented the route to be a magical journey, with two pea-stone tire treads paralleling a grass strip that winds around the house to the parking area and garage.

Visitors make their way via boardwalk through the north wing of the new building, known as the dairy barn, into a protected fieldstone entry courtyard. Not until the front door opens on the main house and one steps into the great room do the staggeringly beautiful vistas come into play. A continuous wall of windows showcases Vineyard Sound. “When you’re in the house or on the lawn, you’re drawn to the sweeping panorama of the shore, while the driveway passes unobtrusively fifteen feet below you,” Horiuchi explains.

The great room’s timber framing and soaring stone hearth speak to the rugged surroundings. Light spills from all directions, furthering an indoor/outdoor bond, and nowhere are there jarring colors to lessen the blissful union. Interior designer Liz Stiving-Nichols has conjured a harmonious palette that resonates with tones of driftwood and sun-bleached shells. “It’s important we honor the owners’ lifestyle,” she says, “but also that we respond appropriately to the architect and support his vision.”

To accommodate the couple and their grown children, not to mention a horde of family and friends, the great room is subtly divided into areas for living and dining. “Scale was a critical component,” says Stiving-Nichols. “In order not to be engulfed by the large space, the furniture had to stand on its own.” To that end there’s ample seating ringing the hearth, including stalwart twin Flexform sofas. Ottomans on concealed castors can zip wherever needed. And generous consoles—one of woven coconut shells, the other of reclaimed oak and steel—provide a stage for reading lamps and summer bouquets.

Maintaining similar colors throughout, from the tidy mudroom to the book-lined study, the designer has concocted a serene ambience that helps unify the spacious house. Richness is derived from a wealth of textures, including a stash of casually elegant, durable fabrics. Natural fiber rugs dot the reclaimed oak floors, and woven baskets in myriad styles (one a vintage baby basket) pop up here and there like wildflowers. Even the accessories—personal mementoes as well as a sprinkling of treasures from Stiving-Nichols’s Vineyard Haven boutique Bespoke Abode—are carefully edited. In this well-ordered home, every detail is purposeful. Even the height of the pleats on the granite-floored porch’s slipcovered dining chairs was calculated to catch the breeze, says the designer.

There’s an oversize table for crowds in the great room. But sleepy heads craving coffee or swimmers wanting to refuel gather around the artful breakfast-area table crafted by Jeff Soderbergh. As if the blue water rippling in the distance wasn’t heaven enough, the cushioned seats draw raves.

The room’s opposite end shelters the efficient kitchen with its foggy-gray concrete-topped island and concrete counters. A sleek steel hood designed by the architects slips neatly between a series of open shelves. And flanking the cast bronze sink—a thing of beauty in itself—are sliding windows opening to a thriving herb garden.

A staircase of white oak and metal leads to the owners’ second-floor haven with its private porch. Relaxing there, or on the Verellen sofa so perfectly proportioned to match the bed’s height, the couple have a bird’s-eye perspective on the lovely marshes and dunes.

There’s another praiseworthy feature as well: “We derived a story,” says Regan, explaining the room’s attention-getting centerpiece. “Old homes always had an attic, and summer visitors would end up using it. The core element we added is like a storage box you’d find up there.” Hardly a box, the ingenious horizontally paneled volume contains the couple’s walk-in closet and water closet. And behind unfolds their tumbled limestone-floored bath.

“We wanted the bath to be a spa-like experience,” says Stiving-Nichols, who forged space at the limestone-topped vanity for a dressing-table-like area complete with make-up mirror and dainty linen-clad chair.

The winter suite—the couple’s hideaway for cold-weather stays when they have the place to themselves—is located on the first floor along with three additional bedrooms. Stiving-Nichols has thought out each as meticulously as she has the rest of the house. Even an understated room like the daughter’s nest with its just-so built-ins, custom Olympia sconces, and pillow-strewn window seat makes a statement on good design.

Things done well last, and this family-friendly home will only get better with time. The building’s cedar facade will weather to silver, mason Eben Armer’s magnificent stonework will patinate, and myriad native plants and flowering shrubs will thicken. Never for a minute will anyone ever doubt this was the most idyllic place on all the island for the owners to have set their dream.

Architecture: Philip Regan and Matthew Cramer, Hutker Architects
Interior design: Liz Stiving-Nichols, Martha’s Vineyard Interior Design
Builder: Leo DeSorcy, DeSorcy Company
Landscape design: Kris Horiuchi, Horiuchi Solien

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