A Trinity of Trust
Intrepid homeowners team up with architect John Dvorsack and M. Duffany Builders for a trifecta of a project
The fortunate few who share their lives with a magnificent view understand that a vista is not inanimate. Instead, it is an ever-changing, ever-evolving entity that takes up residence in our surroundings, in our psyche and always, always, contributes to our discourse.
For homeowners Joanne and Joe, the decision to put roots down in Falmouth wasn’t a big one; they already owned a summer home in the waterfront community of Great Pond in Falmouth, and gathered there regularly with their grown children, extended family and an never-ending collection of friends. But given the constraints of many summer homes—not enough bedrooms, and never enough bathrooms—an investigation into what might be on the market led them to a very special offering on Davis Neck with expansive views of Vineyard Sound. While the listed home was aged and lacking, the site—with 180 feet of sandy beach on saltwater frontage—and that view were one in a million. A conversation with a friend, whose West Falmouth home they admired, led them to sit down with Falmouth architect John Dvorsack.
“Working with John was just an incredible experience,” recalls Joanne. “He could envision this project every step of the way. I knew I had ideas and certain things I definitely wanted incorporated, and he accomplished all of that, but more importantly, he added and thought of things I would have never considered.”
One of those things that sprung from Dvorsack’s fertile imagination is immediately presented upon approaching the home. A long driveway, culminating in a circular car court, positions visitors so that they can see Martha’s Vineyard across Vineyard Sound, framed by an arched breezeway separating the garage from the home. It is as if you were looking through a spyglass and sighting a distant treasure. A carved black and gold quarterboard aptly announces the home, “Vineyard View.” While visitors may not feel that they have been manipulated to gasp and take in the view, in fact deliberate planning put them exactly where the architect’s vision wanted them. Dvorsack, who doesn’t seem to do much by accident, says, “I wanted to have the effect that when you are pulling in the driveway, you would be focused on seeing the Vineyard. That was important to me, so we lined up the driveway and the center island on that opening.”
A sweep of a laid stone landing beckons guests up the wide stairs to a columned landing of the gambrel-roofed, cottage-style home. Once inside, the light and fresh interiors in softly muted shades of sand and sky blue give the illusion of standing on a beach as the water view stretches out for miles and miles. Dvorsack says that most of his clients prefer a first floor master en suite, which dictates much about the main floor of the home. “The floor plan becomes kind of stretched out, parallel to the water, allowing for every room to take advantage of the view, and that’s what really drives the shape of the house,” he explains. In addition to the floor plan maximizing the relationship with the view, the windows—cottage style, six-over-one by Andersen—not only subliminally suggest the style of the home, but as Dvorsack explains, they deliberately facilitate an unobstructed view, tailor-made for the homeowners. “This unbelievable view doesn’t want windows with any grills in them at all,” he says. “The way we resolve that is we put the check rail (the bottom of the top sash of a double-hung window) above the homeowners’ eyeline, so they are looking under the grills.” When asked how he knows the height of his client’s eyeline, he matter-of-factly says, “Oh, it’s one of the first things I determine when I meet with a couple. In fact it is always noted in the margin of my drawings so I am continually trying to imagine things from their perspective.”
The open and spacious living, kitchen and dining area share the luxury of space, but again, Dvorsack’s subliminal design channels the flow around a bank of cabinets flanked by columns. “Joanne knew that she wanted columns in between the kitchen and the living area. But instead of putting them at the edges of the room, we used them to frame a low set of cabinets that serve a multitude of purpose. They separate the living area, they prevent the flow from going through the middle of the living room, they serve as a buffet or display area, and they provide functional storage on the kitchen side,” Dvorsack explains.
To understand this project is to understand Joanne, and vice versa. “I am pretty particular, but John just totally got me,” she says. “I have strong feelings, and both of us would come at things from a different direction, but we would have a good debate and ultimately, I would see what he was trying to accomplish or he would understand what I wanted and figure out how to deliver.” One of those discussions centered on Joanne’s desire for a pantry. Dvorsack wasn’t sure where a pantry—a room that is usually shut off from the rest—would work and function in this open environment. After some creative consideration, Dvorsack presented his solution to Joanne, and she loved it. He situated a small set of cabinets, a prep sink and just enough counter space on a landing in the back staircase from the breezeway entrance. The landing is the intersection between the kitchen and the laundry room, and the perfect place to park groceries when coming in from the garage. Joanne is diligent in her efforts to keep her surroundings tidy and uncluttered—this is not a homeowner who shops at a warehouse club—so the compact and functional pantry was a perfect solution.
The collaboration between Dvorsack and the homeowners is evident elsewhere as well. The plans showed an outdoor shower perched just off the master bath on the plans. “I said to John, ‘There isn’t any access from the backyard to this shower.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Yes, that’s not a mistake—that is your shower.’” Dvorsack goes on to explain that he positioned the porthole window in the wall of the shower so that the horizon of Vineyard Sound perfectly bisects the window, at the owners’ eyeline, of course. “I wanted it to feel like you were on a cruise ship, looking out the window when you were showering outside in your own private space,” he explains.
The porthole window itself was just one of Joanne’s contributions. Joanne sourced every single decorative detail in the home. She is a world-class discoverer who demonstrates an unparalleled determination and diligent energy to find just the right accessory. Nowhere is that more evident than in the stunning array of unique lighting fixtures found throughout the home. “I just really enjoy doing it,” she says. “It is a bit like hunting or looking for treasure, because when you find the right piece it’s like a victory. The sales people in some of the local stores have been great in helping me find exactly what I am looking for, and sometimes it’s not easy!” It is not that she is unwilling to compromise, it is more that she is very exacting and knows precisely what she wants. And she believes with enough energy, effort and time she will find what she is looking for. Those who know Joanne know that her stockpile of energy is not the resource that will fail her in her quest.
The shared vision between Dvorsack and the homeowners would never have taken shape without a third party that was equally committed. That’s where Falmouth’s M. Duffany Builders joined the team. Despite both being fixtures in the Falmouth building community, Dvorsack and Duffany had never before collaborated. Now that their inaugural project has been successfully completed, both are quick and genuine to praise the other’s merits. “What I can say about Duffany is their craftsmanship is extraordinary, as good as I have ever seen, and I’ve been doing this for 35 years. And their finish guys are truly exceptional,” says Dvorsack.
Stan Crocker, the on-site foreman for Duffany, says it was a privilege to work with Dvorsack. “As far as I am concerned, it is probably one of my favorite homes that we have ever built,” Crocker says. Joanne echoes the praise for the entire team as well. “Duffany absolutely did what they said, and to say they are responsive doesn’t even seem to explain it because you never have to think twice about any interaction. They are either one step ahead of you or right by your side. We were so fortunate to have found them.”
Given the desirable waterfront location, the homeowners obviously spend as much time on the beach, in the yard and on their decks and patios as possible. Theresa Sprague, owner of BlueFlax Design in Harwich, successfully designed the landscape plan to restore the ecological integrity to the built environment, without, as she puts it, “forgetting that people and human activity are an important part of our ecosystems.” Dvorsack incorporated a second oversized outdoor shower on the backside of the garage, as well as a uniquely accessed bathroom so that the party doesn’t have to retreat inside before they are ready. A cozy tavern with three taps makes sure this beer-loving family is always fully hydrated. And a unique crescent-shaped fire pit that hugs a stone terrace dotted with Adirondack chairs reinforces the notion that there are still reasons to stay outside even after the sun has set.
The process of building a home, particularly one that is adored and relished by the people who get to live in it, can be an unknown and daunting process. Not just for the architect, not just for the builder and not just for the homeowner, but also for everyone involved. The best scenario involves building something before the home—building a relationship of trust amongst all of the individuals. That’s not something that is always easy; it requires shared vision, voices strong enough to be heard, portals of understanding flexible enough to allow new perspectives to enter, and a commitment to create something of quality with lasting meaning. Only then do you have a chance of building something that truly becomes a home.
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