Vineyard Heaven

A couple builds their ideal island hideaway—for the second time.

Location,  location, location: The three rules of real estate rarely need repeating. Once was more than enough for the New York couple who built this Chilmark, Martha’s Vineyard, getaway on five acres overlooking Vineyard Sound and the Elizabeth Islands. They discovered the area in the early ’60s and soon developed a deep love for the island’s low and varied landscape. A decade later, the pair—she a museum curator, he a rabbi—purchased a piece of land and hired New York architect Richard Henderson and local builder Colin Whyte to build a simple summer home. “I have very fond memories of that first house,” the curator muses. “But after almost 30 years, we looked forward to starting over and making ourselves a place where we could retire.” Instead of building elsewhere, though, the duo decided to create a new home on their existing plot.

This time they chose New York firm Architecture Research Office (ARO) and gave the designers two directives: celebrate the property’s astounding views and provide a space that calms the soul. But creating a dream retreat wasn’t as simple as drawing up plans. First, they’d have to take down the house they’d already built. “We’ve torn down a few of our old houses before,” Whyte, the original builder, says, “but this was the first time we’ve done it for the same client!”

ARO principal Adam Yarinsky wanted the water views to edge into the home, reflecting the slow decompression the busy New Yorkers experience when they reach their Zen-like getaway. “The old house was a long box, with every room facing the water,” Yarinsky recalls. “Our challenge was to make the new house and its site an experience.” To develop this narrative, Yarinsky positioned the 2,700-square-foot home parallel to the slope of the land and diagonal to the ocean views. He then worked with landscape architect Michael Boucher of Freeport, Maine, to design a large courtyard hidden behind a 5-foot-high wall of tightly set cut granite. Guests now slip between the house and this wall to discover a “secret garden” carpeted with native bearberry and adorned with a single hawthorn tree.

Inside the house, precisely crafted materials—basaltina, glass, zinc, and American white oak—interlock with each other, like the mechanism of a watch. Likewise, the exterior wood wall crosses through the glass into the interior spaces. Made of flush boards, the pieces were custom milled and locked together with shiplap joints. They form a textured, shadowed surface inspired by the property’s gnarled, lichen-covered scrub oaks. “We spent a lot of time getting that wall treatment right,” says Yarinsky, recalling the firm’s use of a laser cutter to construct a full-size wood mockup.

The rest of the walls are simple painted plaster, except where panels of vertical-standing-seam zinc appear, echoing the building’s exterior. “We love the way the house works with differing textures rather than strong colors,” say the owners. “It’s serene and calming.” To further keep the attention on the architecture, the owners opted for furniture in a neutral palette, with a midcentury modern sensibility. The pieces’ quiet elegance, combined with the home’s careful design, complete a contemporary picture—a thoughtful, restful escape for a couple who can finally, after several decades, retire.

ARCHITECT ARO CONTRACTOR Martha’s Vineyard Construction Company

INTERIORS Jennifer Hanlin, New York