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D: Distinctive Design

Hutker Architects

“Build once, well.”
– Mark Hutker

Three little words. Such a simple, yet powerful, philosophy that Mark Hutker, principal and founder of Hutker Architects in Falmouth, Martha’s Vineyard and a new office on the South Shore, has laid as the foundation, not only for his entire team, but every homeowner and collaborative partner that is fortunate enough to experience working on a Hutker project. There is a sense of timelessness found in the designs Hutker Architects creates, and by the mere definition of the word, that timelessness is influenced both by the contributions of the past and the promise and opportunity of the future.

The firm’s ability to create distinctive design comes always from listening. The relationships they forge with their clients and creative partners represent informed, deep and personal exchanges of ideas and visions. “How do you live?” That is a question that is asked of every potential client. While it may seem to be a simple interrogation, the path to the answer is full of life’s subtleties and complexities. From that kaleidoscope of input emerges a design solution that has the potential to not only change a person’s life experience, but also through the process of sharing and growing with family and friends, the right design has the power to set the stage for moments that will be cherished for generations.

Two uniquely disparate and distinct projects from Hutker Architects’ recent history provide a glimpse into the depth and breadth of possibility the talent in Hutker’s shop are able to imagine and ultimately execute.  Under the scope of distinctive design, we examine these adventures of the imagination and reveal two stories, accomplished by two principal partners, where creativity and competency collide and leave behind masterful paragons of thoughtful architecture.

Wychmere Cottage

When an active young family considered a site for a new home in Harwich, their interior designer suggested a dream team duo from Hutker for the project. Enter Jim Cappuccino, who has been at Hutker for fifteen years and notably has become a recent partner, and Erin Levin, a valued associate who Cappuccino describes as an indispensable asset. “Jen Palumbo, a really talented interior designer, had used us on her own home in Osterville,” Cappuccino explains. “So when she referred one of her clients to us, it was not only a huge compliment, but we jumped at the chance to work with her again.” A visit to the site that included an older home that was ultimately replaced by the newly designed structures allowed the team to take the cues from the surrounding topography as well as the established neighboring structures. “It was a heavily wooded site,” Cappuccino explains. “And one of those older neighborhoods on the Cape with historical charm that feels very familiar. So it was important for us to create something unique, but also work with the traditional history of that neighborhood.” From the approach, the home gives a nod to the neighborhood with a farmers’ porch on the front of the house that takes in the charm and activity of the streetscape.

“In the back of the home is where we created external spaces,” Cappuccino goes on to say. “It was really important to this family that they have an internal and external connection to their property. There are a few spaces set up to create that, and that is one of the drivers of the house, which is somewhat of a T-shape.”  The external spaces Cappuccino describes include a sublime in-ground pool that stretches across the backyard, and is enveloped in thick green grass with an apron of bluestone pavers.  A one-bedroom cabana with an outdoor seating area and exterior fireplace provides shelter as a counterpoint to the outdoor covered dining porch off of the main home.

Understanding how function can influence form, Cappuccino and Levin sited the backside of the home so that it was facing south, thus allowing this fast-paced, sun-loving family to enjoy the all of the bounty a Cape Cod day offers. The design was made even more accessible with the inclusion of a NanaWall between the kitchen and the outdoor dining space.

Inside the 3,200 square-foot home, Cappuccino explains, “The goal was to create an open plan that offered well-lit spaces, as south-facing as we could get them. Almost every room in this house has three exposures which is great for both light and ventilation.”

Cappuccino stresses that the collaborative nature of the project, that included Palumbo, Kendall and Welch Construction as well as exteriors designed by Horiuchi and Solien Landscape Architects, was key to the overall success. “What is great when we assemble a team like this is that we are there at every stage, but very importantly from the initial stages of design at the beginning, and we are all helping each other achieve this vision,” Cappuccino notes. “It was a great collaboration from the onset, the success was driven from that interaction.”

Whale Fall

At the other end of the spectrum, not to mention of our little geographic enclave, a Hutker project stands as a testament to the work of some true masters; all in the midst of the uniquely charged energy of the western tip of Martha’s Vineyard. There is something about the town of Aquinnah on the Vineyard that is different. It is rooted in the connection between earth, sea and sky, and it seems easily understandable that the Wampanoag people of the Vineyard consider this area to be their home.

Perched on this shoreline was a structure conceived by one of the preeminent respected authorities on architecture and design, architect Steven Holl. His award-winning project, the Berkowitz Odgis House was inspired by a passage in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” in which the Native Americans are described as stretching animal hides over the beached bones of whales. Unfortunately, the choices of materials in the 1980’s for the construction of Holl’s unique incarnation were not of archival quality that would stand the test of time, particularly on the Vineyard Sound side of the Vineyard.

A new owner who wanted to honor Holl’s original design masterpiece approached Hutker Architects to discuss how the original vision of the project could evolve and still be integrated into a new structure. Greg Ehrman, partner in the Vineyard Haven office, led the project team. “Everyone who studies architecture, not only studies Steven Holl, but studies this project,” Ehrman explained. “The project was notable and nationally recognized for the story behind the design, something that we bring to each of our projects: a narrative. It was considered progressive for the theory behind the building and how it was executed artfully. It was incredibly important to us to honor that initial work and we were fortunate that our client also appreciated the history of the building. We would not have gotten involved with the project if the owner had more significant alterations in mind.”

Ehrman and his team spent an exorbitant amount of time documenting how the building had been put together, the different pieces, the structural strategy for how it was built and reproduced all of those proportions and material dimensions, only this time with more durable materials and better building systems.

Melville’s excerpt talks about the whale bones providing structure for the Native Americans. In parallel, Ehrman talks about the supportive bones of the original structure as essentially functioning as stilts that went directly into the ground. Unfortunately, that practice created several durability and maintenance issues. “When we took the project on, we wanted to create the effect of the structural bones of the building touching the ground, but we gave it a foundation that will allow the building to live well for 100 years more,” Ehrman explains. “In that foundation we were able to accommodate a mechanical room, a family room and three bedrooms. In doing so we transformed the functionality of the building without fundamentally changing the visible form of the structure.”

Perched on the forward part of the house, looking out to Dogfish Bar, there are no signs of civilization or development to the east or the west, with nothing but water to the north, almost as it might have been during Melville’s era. Fenestration was one of the biggest changes for the new structure, as the original included fixed, non-operable units. Imitating the figure of a beached whale, the long narrow shape of the building runs perpendicular to the view leaving the narrow end of the building acutely focused on the view beyond. In the triangular space, a hanging swing now provides a spot to float above the dunes, the beach and the waves of the Atlantic.

A rooftop deck and a green living roof beyond is the place to lounge and watch for passing vessels, as though one might be on the quarterdeck of the Pequod, and thinking of those that may have passed this way before. The past is present in this home and as Ehrman reflects, “I think the home is rooted in a story, and the story is timeless, it has withstood generations. It is not a stylized building; it is designed to weather and recess into the natural landscape. I think over time as it grays, as the landscape grows back in, as that green roof takes hold and flourishes; I believe the building will continue to become one with the natural landscape within which it sits.”

A whale fall is defined as the final chapter of a whale’s life when the carcass falls to the depths of the ocean floor. During the descent, the process of decay provides nutrients and sustenance for much of the vital living organisms of the ocean, thus providing a future from something that had ended. Greg Ehrman and his team certainly found new life in the magnificent spark of creativity Holl imagined in his original structure. Mark Hutker’s philosophy might be, “Build once, well,” and in the case of Whale Fall, this do-over may be the one exception.

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