A young family strikes a chord for the next generation of memories on Martha’s Vineyard
Online only: See more photos of this Vineyard home
Creating beautiful music is a thoughtful and personal process, be it a complex symphony or a stripped bare acoustical arrangement. It is no wonder, that a relationship started from a shared love of singing as enthusiastic members of an all-male a capella group, has found a comfortable and familiar rhythm, like that of the songs of summer. Such is the case with Kyle Sheffield, AIA, principal at LDa Architecture & Interiors of Osterville, and Clay Rives. The two met and sang together at Connecticut College and then re-connected on the Vineyard as alumni of the tight-knit and perennially popular Vineyard Sound one summer.
That’s how connections and friendships seem to evolve in a special place like Martha’s Vineyard in the summer. So it was only natural that, while on a beach one summer a few years ago, Emily, Clay’s wife, casually asked how Kyle might interpret and envision her childhood home in Vineyard Haven. As Emily explained she had recently acquired the house that was currently serving as an active year-round rental, Kyle began to sketch in the sand his vision that the waves threatened to erase forever. Thankfully, the conversation sparked enough interest and inspiration; the trio soon found themselves reviewing design plans.
Built around the end of the 19th century, the house is a modest structure and somehow, despite its 1,200 square feet, previous owners had carved out a second story apartment to capitalize on the busy rental market. Emily and Clay’s initial desire was to simply update the kitchen and baths so that they could enjoy the house themselves. What resulted was a full house renovation that honors and acknowledges the simple New England architecture from a very modest period in our history.
“We didn’t have grandiose ideas of what could be, and our tastes are pretty simple,” Emily reflects, “but Kyle is so great to work with; he presented options along the way, and the vision he and I shared became very compelling.”
Working with an architect might be daunting for some, but the happenstance of landing on the right relationship between an architect and a client can be invaluable. Sheffield systematically presented the Rives with three options as they moved through the design decisions of their renovation. At every turn, he proposed solutions within three different budget points. Allowing for decisions that would determine future phases of renovation, the trio chose their options carefully and thoughtfully, but usually with a clear vision of the possibilities the home possessed.
The initial goal of new bathrooms and the kitchen revealed a host of structural demands that needed to be addressed as well as prudent decisions to update mechanicals and replace original windows with more efficient solutions. So much of the home’s personality is informed by the simple farmhouse two-over-two windows that the choice to replace them with Marvin Window’s same style was an easy decision. But Emily, who has a very classic yet refined design sense, asked that the original windows be preserved and utilized between the front porch and the living room, thus allowing extra light into the house through their 100-year-old wavy glass. Their contractor, Geoff Kontje, of 41 ° North Construction, Inc., was more than willing to oblige, even refurbishing the sash weights, cords and pulleys, and constructing new jambs and frames to accommodate the 100-year-old windows.
Sheffield says one of the goals in the new design program was to positively impact the compartmentalization older homes often experience with multiple smaller rooms, particularly on the first floor. “Simply by opening up the connections between the rooms and widening doorways, we created a stronger access between the front of the home and the back of the home. So now, when you enter the home, your sight line extends to and through the other living spaces and draws you in. You have a feeling that the house is larger than it actually is, and it encourages you to navigate through the space to explore what comes next.”
Sheffield also discusses the elements that subtly allow you to relate easily to the style and design of the home, particularly the choice to incorporate shiplap in various ways throughout the home. “The cohesion of the program was expressed through the simple color palette, and use of shiplap in different ways. It was used as wainscoting as well as paneling in the bathroom. Since we couldn’t really modify the original staircase, we introduced that traditional material there, so it stops you and creates a moment. All of those moments are really what that material lends throughout the house.”
Despite the soft hues of white that make up the background of the overall design story, Sheffield convinced Emily to introduce pops of a classic marine-navy blue, which greets visitors on the sturdy front door. The blue appears again as backsplash to a modest yet efficient built-in bar in the dining room and the back of an original built-in china cupboard that Kontje also painstakingly restored. And perhaps the crowning touch of this perfect maritime blue is found on the base of the oversized island in the kitchen.
The kitchen is not large, yet does not suffer from inefficiency. Shiplap makes an appearance again on the ceiling and on one wall that serves as a pot rack. The modest kitchen accommodates a Wolf range, a Bosch refrigerator, and other high-end appliances including a wine cooler tucked into the island, while still leaving plenty of storage in the tall Crown Point cabinetry.
Emily was reluctant to lose the original pantry in the home during the renovation process. For her, it was a unique throwback detail not found in other homes and full of memories growing up. Sheffield was successful in convincing her that by removing the pantry, the orientation of the kitchen could pivot to naturally communicate with 300 square feet of space that was gained by adding a porch, accessed via a Marvin Ultimate Bi-Fold Door.
“This outdoor room stitches the house together, and it was one of the only ways we could make the 1,200 square feet feel and live larger without changing the footprint of the home,” Sheffield says. Protected from the elements, tucked into the corner of the exterior of the home, and benefitting from a shiplap ceiling, the porch serves as an extra dining room/office/reading nook, complete with speakers from the whole-house sound system. The bi-fold door is a true marvel that offers countless variations of how much of a wall you want, or don’t want. Sheffield also specifically called for a retractable screen system by Centor that differentiates itself by working horizontally instead of vertically like most retractable screen systems. The horizontal system works quickly and easily, and “parks” itself anywhere mid track, allowing endless flexibility of use for busy homeowners. Sheffield sums it up, “Effectively the outdoor porch, coupled with the kitchen and the bi-fold door system, became their outdoor room. They use this one big space three seasons of the year, and it has increased the living space by a fourth.”
The second story, with four newly incorporated dormers, has transformed the tiny upstairs apartment into three comfortable bedrooms. In small spaces, inches matter, and details like the built-in bureaus that Kontje designed and installed provide plenty of storage while keeping the floor area clutter free. Light pours in through the large, new farmhouse windows, making the spaces feel bigger as well as encouraging guests to get up and get out to enjoy the Vineyard lifestyle.
Sheffield and the considerable craftsmanship contributed by Kontje rendered an impressive spa-like master bath in an astonishingly small amount of space. An oversized shower enclosure is tucked into the gable of one of the eaves, and the classic marble tile reinforces the understanding that every choice in this home was considered and deliberate.
Emily possesses a highly curated sense of style; her taste is very simple, but very specific. Perhaps it is the influence of growing up in a special community like Martha’s Vineyard. Maybe it is that she is an artist at heart (she majored in glassblowing at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.) Maybe it is just her thoughtful nature. Throughout the house, her choices and touches continually prompt a reason to pause, particularly her creative and unique lighting choices. When asked about the source of various pieces, the acquisition usually involves a charming story.
Outside, steps down from the porch to the backyard, designed by landscape designer Mary Wirtz of Vineyard-based company Wild Violets, the Rives enjoy exactly the kind of maintenance-free environment owners of a seasonal home want, especially now that the family has expanded to include an inquisitive six-month-old. A small patch of lawn features plenty of hydrangeas and a small rock wall, wrapping around a low-maintenance flower bed, punctuated by a profusion of perennial bloomers like rudbeckia, echinecea and Shasta daisies. A spacious outdoor shower provides a kind of simple luxury after a day at the beach. The shiplap detail makes a cameo appearance, this time cladding the shower enclosure and a sliding barn door in weather-friendly cedar.
Sheffield is quick to acknowledge the incredible job Kontje and his company 41 ° North contributed to make the project successful. “We had to replace some of the original heart pine flooring on the first floor, and it is very hard to come by,” Sheffield says. “Geoff removed pieces from the second floor and made them seamlessly work downstairs. Those are the efforts that brought back the original character of the house.” The floors are also remarkable due to the unique stain concoction Kontje developed and applied to the quarter-sawn planks, which give the heart pine a deeper, more defined glow than often seen. Konjte also talks about the flooring challenges when he discusses the invaluable resource of Cataumet Saw Mill as they sourced those rare and obscure resources his company often needs. “With a new house, it is a blank slate,” he says. “An existing house can be much more challenging, an architect understands what can happen with an existing house. The collaboration with Kyle, right from the beginning, was very rewarding.”
The Rives’ home exudes a special vibe. It doesn’t shout, rather it seems to hum a familiar tune from somewhere in the past. The homeowners and teams at LDa and 41 ° North found a rhythm to compose a classic structure. Like a moving a capella performance, countless scales and keys can be utilized, but only when informed and restrained choices are selected does a perfect harmony emerge.