The architects of the new Oak Bluffs library at work, and at home, in the woods of Harthaven.

When you spend any time with Oak Bluffs architects Kenneth MacLean Jr. and Stephanie E. Mashek, you wonder why more couples don’t share a profession. If communication is the key to enduring love, then why not also benefit from a complete understanding of the other’s passion?

When Ken mentions that his favorite building is the 2,000-year-old Pantheon in Rome, Stephanie begins to muse, as if it flowed from one thought, about how the colossal dome might be supported by circular compression. And both speak in detail about the need for a central focus in a design – whether it’s how a lawn and garden pull together the elements of a residential compound, or how a town project must fit into and support the best aspects of village life.

Although Ken is older than Stephanie by a few years, their lives have paralleled and echoed one another in important ways. Ken’s American parents raised him in Toronto, where his father taught English literature at the University of Toronto. Stephanie was a baby ex-patriot too, born in Brazil while her
father served in the State Department there. Eventually her family returned to the United States, living in Vienna, Virginia; Ken began to get to know America while staying at his family’s summer house in Cornwall, Connecticut. Ken earned his architectural degree from Yale, Stephanie from Harvard. Most significantly, each had made many trips to Martha’s Vineyard, coming to feel increasingly happy and at home on the Island even before they met.

In 1987 Stephanie, fresh out of grad school, interviewed at several design offices in Boston. Ken, in partnership with two other architects, was wowed by the portfolio, and Stephanie joined the firm for a time before going off on her own. Seven years ago she began working with Ken again. An easy and respectful relationship deepened, and four years ago they married.

They are now principals in the firm Amsler Mashek MacLean Architects Inc. of Boston and Oak Bluffs. They moved to the Vineyard in November of last year, and travel to Boston two days a week, staying at a hotel rather than the apartment they once rented in Cambridge.

They are wildly in love with their new year-round life on the Vineyard. “I didn’t even mind all the snow this past winter,” says Stephanie. “It was just so quiet and so beautiful, I couldn’t get enough of it!”
Amsler Mashek MacLean specializes in municipal buildings and other public structures – golf clubs, private schools, libraries, country clubs, gymnasiums,
dormitories, art and performance centers, and town campuses. On the Island, the architects designed the Vineyard Haven Public Library and the new Oak Bluffs Public Library, now rising out of the ashes of the old school gym. Some townspeople wonder why the sweet and pokey little library they’ve known and loved for so long at the corner of Pennacook and Circuit avenues must now be reconceived in such a palatial way. Stephanie says she and Ken had to fight to keep the square footage as low as it is: “The state has formulas they use for the size of municipal structures. In the case of the Oak Bluffs library, they wanted it to accommodate the summer population. Also, the facility is projected to serve a growing community for the next twenty years.”
For their home, lying on an acre in Harthaven, the architects kept things modest, following the older traditions of Martha’s Vineyard. The home is made up of three structures forming a U around a courtyard – the house, at 1,500 square feet; a 350-square-foot studio; and a 475-square-foot work space and garage. As you approach the property, you’re struck by the confidence and collegiality of color, texture, and design. The dark sides of the buildings blend in naturally to the wooded scenery, but as you get close, you begin to notice assertive details, borrowing from the spirit of the Camp Ground nearby: the fronts of all the buildings are sheathed in black-stained cedar and covered, corner to corner,  in a lattice of cedar battens painted reddish purple. Roses and clematis climb the trellises in summer. The doors and windows are painted in complementary hues of purple and magenta.
Indoors, the studio-style home is finished with tongue-and-groove pine-boarded walls and sloping ceilings. Painted plywood floors in celadon green harmonize with the slate tiles in the baths and kitchen. The center of gravity in the house is the dining room, into which light floods through clerestory windows and a wall of doors facing the courtyard to the south. Two bedrooms, one sleeping loft, and a library nook painted a pale apricot offer privacy for guests and married architectural partners alike.
In the kitchen, there is a long counter, state-of-the-art appliances, and a wall of cookbooks. “Ken loves to cook and I love to sample,” says Stephanie. For her birthday Ken baked a cake from the River Cafe Cookbook called Chocolate Nemesis. “No flour,” says Ken, “Just chocolate, butter, and eggs!” Ken has an athletic side too: he’s an effective defenseman in a men’s hockey league playing Thursdays and Saturdays each winter at the Martha’s Vineyard Arena.
Recently Stephanie planned a surprise trip for her spouse, telling him to go with her to the airport but ask no questions. When their plane landed in Philadelphia, Ken had his doubts about the adventure. But they boarded another flight, which took them to Madrid. Better, thought Ken, though he’d visited Madrid enough so that another visit wasn’t quite enough to bowl him over. But there was yet another plane to catch, this one taking them to Bilbao. For several days the couple rambled and roamed in and out of Frank Gehry’s masterful Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, often standing for hours at a time to take in the changing light and passing clouds over the silvery shape of the building.
It’s a bit hard to imagine Ken and Stephanie standing still in this way. But after a visit to their Oak Bluffs home, it’s easy to see them appreciating the play of light over a structure perfectly designed and proportioned.