Made to Move

On a bluff overlooking Stonewall Beach in Chilmark, architect Peter Rose has designed a remarkable home for the age of erosion.

With the coastal bluff eroding, two things were obvious. The old house near the edge of the scarp was doomed, and any new structure built there had to be easily movable. Working with clients whose family have owned the land for decades, architect Peter Rose came up with the idea of little boxes made not of ticky-tacky but of ten-inch-thick concrete. We caught up with him recently at the property.

MVM: Why concrete?

Peter Rose: I’m a bit of a sucker for concrete. I think it’s the great twentieth-century material. If you play it right, it has the magic of stone, but it’s plastic. Most people think, “oh, concrete is for the foundation and the back.” But if we were going to do this thing so that the individual boxes that make up the house could be lifted to another foundation when the bluff collapses – and everyone thought that was a good idea – concrete was the way to go.

MVM: Compared to many, shall we say, expensive Island homes, this one seems to disappear into the landscape.

Peter Rose: It’s invisible. I believe in that. I believe you come to the Vineyard because the Island is the thing that you live and breathe for. So why not just try to be respectful and mindful of how the Island is not only beautiful physically, it’s transcendent in terms of feeling infinite, because you can’t tell how big or far away anything is. But if you stick a [big] house right there on the summit, suddenly everything is measurable....

Sliding glass pocket doors built by William Parry of Chilmark allow many rooms to be converted into semi-exterior spaces.
Matthew Snyder

It wasn’t obvious how to build a house oriented this way and imagine that you could still make the various parts of it feel as if they partook of the ocean. But we kept shifting things, and now people back in the depths of the house have clear views of the ocean. It’s subtle: a couple of degrees here, a little displacement there and things open up.

MVM: When and if you pull apart the house and move it, how does it work?

Peter Rose: There will be damage to some parts of the corridors [connecting the boxes] and not others. But by and large, all the finishes and all the fixtures – the light fixtures and the plumbing fixtures and the structural elements – have disconnects in the basement.

MVM: This is your third house on the Island. Would you say there is a Peter Rose & Partners look?

Peter Rose: If you saw the other one we did nearby, you wouldn’t say, “well, that’s that same brand as this one.” And if you saw the one over on Chappaquiddick, you probably wouldn’t say it either. We’ve always done site-specific and problem-specific and people-specific stuff.

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