Hutker Architects, with offices across the Lagoon, looked to the lovely, natural vistas when designing this home.

Brian Vanden Brink


A Sense of Belonging

After creating a neighborhood home on Lagoon Pond, new Vineyard homeowners found the Island lifestyle enveloped both them and their children.

Amy and Cliff Aronson became Vineyard homeowners practically overnight. In the fall of 2006, they got a call at their home in Rye, New York, about a property on Lagoon Pond in Vineyard Haven, but the catch was they’d have to drop everything they were doing to get to the Island the next morning to see the place. “We both had incredibly important business days the next day,” Amy says. “But we looked at each other and said, ‘Yes, we’ll come.’ We got up at five and drove to the Vineyard. It was right on the water – gorgeous. It was perfect. By ten o’clock we had a home.”

They closed the deal in January of 2007, broke ground on the half-acre lot that fall, and moved in the following fall. Though each had their own history of coming to the Vineyard – Amy since she was in her teens and Cliff starting as a young man in his twenties – the dream of owning a home on the Island was Cliff’s, as Amy is a self-professed “mountain girl.” Even so, at Cliff’s prompting, she had warmed to the idea of owning a home here during a visit to the Island in the summer of 2006.

Amy recalls, “I had a flash of pictures. And they were fishing, water-skiing, being involved with food – fishing and local farm stands....I could see for myself instantly: There was really something in it for me personally.”

She could also see how a Vineyard lifestyle would be great for their three children. Despite busy lives in Rye – Amy is a yoga instructor who works primarily with competitive rowers and Cliff is a federal antitrust lawyer – they plan to spend increasingly more time at their new home in the rustic Hines Point/Cedar Neck neighborhood throughout the year. That desire to really meld into Island life was one of driving forces from the onset, “which is why we chose to live in a community and not out in the boondocks,” Amy says.

Designing a neighborhood home

Their vision of belonging to the neighborhood was integral to designing the home. It influenced everything from the first sketches by the design team at Vineyard Haven–based Hutker Architects, through the choice of materials such as reclaimed lumber the builder would work with, to the decorator’s use of the rustic setting as a palette base for the interior. The Aronsons already had a great rapport with Hutker principal architect Phil Regan, who was the guy who’d called them to come see the property in the first place, so they had complete trust in him, Amy says.

“Once the deal closed, Phil told us pretty quickly that working with the house that was there would be an uphill battle. Basically every system had to be ripped out and rebuilt,” she recalls. “So it was pretty easy to make the decision to tear it down. Once we had a clean slate, we sailed right through all the different processes.” And though a grandfather clause would have allowed them to increase the size of the new home, they decided to stick to the original zoning allowance, which already gave them 3,500 square feet of living space to work with. “We wanted it to be really functional and just wanted to move forward. There was no resistance on our part and no resistance on the town’s part,” Amy explains. That path-of-least-resistance and moving-forward momentum was maintained throughout.

“It was a real creative tour de force for me; I really took it on as a full-time project,” Amy says. She knew she would work well with Marti Sagar, the interior decorator she brought into the project from New York. “And it was a wonderful, enjoyable process working with Phil and his team, bringing my husband’s dream to reality.” The Aronsons’ dynamic with Phil seemed to filter through to the rest of the key players, which included builders Bob Stafford and Mark Ellis of Carpenters & Company in West Tisbury, who’ve worked with Hutker on various projects for almost twenty years, as well as Hutker landscape architect Annie Fischer and senior designer James Moffat.

The time frame for completion was rather tight, so it helped that the Aronsons were involved right from the start and knew what they wanted, says James, who was also the project manager. A design came together quickly. “That doesn’t always happen,” James points out. “And it had to do with their decision making. They were very clear at the beginning, which makes it much easier for us.”

That Cliff and Amy seemed to fall naturally into two different areas of concentration also kept the project moving. While Cliff was “focused on the more programmatic processes – the size of the rooms, wanting a study for when he works up here, managing the audio-visual aspects of the house,” James says, “Amy was more into the design – the colors, the textures, and picking out some of the materials. They worked well together that way.”

One of the most significant design aspects and challenges, James muses, was integrating what might be construed as two conflicting concepts – an agrarian architecture form with a very clean, modern aesthetic – both of which were important to Amy. He explains, “We wanted a combination, sort of a contemporary barn feel. On the outside, there’s more of a traditional agrarian sense, and the inside has a more modern feel.”

The setting itself enabled them to home in on how to make the two design elements work. “Definitely because of the views of the Lagoon, there’s a lot of glass,” he says. “And the kitchen has a very clean, contemporary look. The white counter tops and black cabinetry, very modern. And the appliances and plumbing fixtures are all very sleek and modern, but all kind of set in a barn frame inside the room, with the rustic timbers and rafters. That’s the juxtaposition between the two concepts that really comes out in that room.”

The location also helped them decide that the outside of the home would lean toward bucolic, while the interior could reflect more of the modern elements the Aronsons favor. “A lot of the conversations early on talked about a very quaint house from the road. Amy really wanted to sit out on a rocking chair on the porch and feel like she was part of the neighborhood,” James recalls. “And I think that was the most successful part of the project. From the road, that’s really how it feels, like it’s part of the area.”

Builder Bob Stafford says the attention to detail by everyone ultimately helped create that been-here-in-the-neighborhood-all-along feeling the home now exudes. He says one part of the project he and his partner Mark Ellis were excited about was the solar electric system they put in. Bob cites the location, with the south-facing roof, as being perfect for utilizing that natural energy source. He also points to the use of elemental materials such as stainless steel, stone, and reclaimed lumber. Interior designer Marti Sagar, of Tribeca, New York, says mixing up materials not only proved a perfect solution for balancing the two design concepts but to creating an overall flow.

“Part of the architectural concept was this barn on the ocean,” she says, and the other part was to have a “modern, clean element.” One of the ways to achieve that was by mixing textures and colors. The sofas, for example, are primarily muted sand and stone colors complemented with bright, cobalt blue, velvet pillows. “So we end up with a sand and sea feel,” Marti explains. “A lot of where the material and the palette came from was really wanting it to be congruous with the architecture and the environment of the Vineyard – with so much sky and clouds, all the crisp whites and charcoal colors.”

In keeping with that vision, all of the finishes inside the house have natural elements. The master bathroom projects the essence of the seaside: the sand-and-pebble-like effect of stone counters, the cement sink, the mix of concrete and limestone, with the jeweled tones of beach glass. “So you get this earthy feel, which starts to weave nature through this very modern aesthetic,” Marti says. “The house allows you to be outside and inside with a very seamless feeling.”

Family life on the Lagoon

The Aronsons’ home was finished in September 2008. Though they’d hoped to be in that summer, Amy says the timing turned out to be perfect. “Moving in at the end of September was the best thing we ever did – because we began as homeowners on the Vineyard in the fall, which was magical, and then had the winter, which was even more magical.” Amy says being here in the off-season let them discover another side of Island life: “The Lagoon is half frozen, the streets are empty, life is at [Oak Bluffs’ Offshore Ale] after dark when you can get a good beer and some really fresh fish and chips.”

Having those kinds of experiences – taking Amy’s mother to Larsen’s in Menemsha and eating raw clams while wearing winter coats – helped them slowly establish that sense of belonging that had been so important to them, before kicking into high gear for their first summer in the new home. Amy exclaims, “It’s like being a kid in a candy shop. Do we bike, do we hike, do we fish, do we kayak? There’s so much to do on the Lagoon.”

Being part of the community is everything she had hoped. “Our neighbors are so gracious, we really enjoy being part of the community on the street.” And it has already enriched their lives in ways she never anticipated. “My neighbor, everybody in the neighborhood, brings me scallops, because scalloping happens in the fall right outside our door,” Amy says with uncontained joy. “So I was eating scallops for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And this year, my friend is going to take me in the fall.” Another of Amy’s discoveries came in the spring, she says, “when I started hiking and fell in love with my camera again – photographing those trees in May that look kind of Asian.”

And, just as she’d anticipated, there’s something in it for everyone. Eighteen-year-old Carter is a freshman at Brown University and a serious collegiate rower. He also loves to water-ski. “But,” Amy says, “his great interest is fishing – he loves fly-fishing.” That her brother Jim Benenson, who lives in Santa Fe, is a custom fly-rod maker helps fuel that passion. Eleven-year-old Fiona – the youngest Aronson, not counting the family’s one-year old puppy – has made Island friends at theater camp and likes to bike and kayak. The elder daughter, Chloe, who is a junior at Trinity College, is also a collegiate rower. “So that’s a big part of her life, and a lot of her friends are rowers and sailors,” Amy says. That being the case, Amy and Cliff planned her twenty-first birthday celebration last summer on the Vineyard. “We took her and fifteen of her friends kayaking at Cape Pogue,” Amy recalls. “This was the kind of experiences we were having, taking her and her friends out to kayak, then the clambake [at home] by the water. We had to pinch ourselves to see if it was real. The only way we could tell it was real was by all the laundry.”

Amy confesses they might have overdone it with the number of guests they had their first summer. But that’s probably common for new Vineyard homeowners, she muses. “We overdid the sharing. Our overwhelming excitement turns into overwhelming exhaustion. I have never cooked so much, done so much laundry. The two of us were completely overwhelmed. And we had a blast.” That said, Amy notes, they might scale it back a little this summer.

“The greatest pleasure for me,” Amy reflects, “is seeing how happy my husband is, how relaxed the minute he steps off the ferry. That has surpassed all my expectations of what this would be.”