The Fun House

He’s a professional chef. She’s a natural host. Together, they’ve built a house tailored to the art of living and entertaining well.

“Welcome to Happy Days!” is how Erica and Jon Ashton greet guests to their Edgartown home. While it is a simple salutation, Jon’s thick Scouse accent – perhaps better known stateside as a Liverpool lilt – has a disarming and friendly charm matched by his wife’s wide smile. 

The Ashtons’ classic Cape Cod home is situated in Country Acres, the 1980s subdivision that abuts Dodger’s Hole between the Edgartown–West Tisbury and Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Roads. Though many of the houses in this quiet community have updated façades and additions, the Happy Days cottage stands out. The carefully tended lawn, bluestone pathway, manicured evergreens, and colorful window boxes are a testament to their pride of ownership, making it clear to first-time visitors that their hosts take a special approach to the art of living. Once guests are in the door, it’s equally clear that includes the art of entertaining.

This should come as no surprise. Jon is a chef and media personality with nearly 175,000 Instagram followers, a YouTube channel stocked with culinary content, and a Facebook video series with tips and inspiration for the home cook. He’s conducted cooking demonstrations across a variety of national platforms, including The Today Show on NBC. Erica – or “Mrs. Spielberg,” as Jon calls her – often wields the camera and brings her keen eye as a lifestyle publishing executive to create a media-savvy dynamic duo. In other words, lucky are the guests who are invited to the Ashtons’ to enjoy Jon’s international-inspired menus presented on Erica’s beautifully styled table.

Pops of color brighten the well-tended exterior of the cottage.
Randi Baird

“We connect with guests, sharing food, drink, kinship, and meaningful conversation,” Erica explains. “But you can always count on Jon to provide the culinary entertainment!” On such evenings, laughter is a key ingredient.

Of course, before the laughter and the cooktops could be fired up at Happy Days cottage, before Happy Days cottage even existed, there was a lot of work to be done – and some convincing to get Jon to visit Martha’s Vineyard. Erica had been coming to the Island since she was a child and was eager to share her memories of those visits with Jon. After a few trips and hotel stays, Jon understood the appeal. They began searching for property of their own.

When the couple bought the house in 2015, their professional lives kept them in Chicago. The small Cape Cod home was conceived as a seasonal getaway that had to at least partly pay its own way as a rental.

Like many who make a first-time Vineyard real estate play, a deadline loomed to get their home rental ready by that first summer. They were on a budget and in a hurry, so Jon called upon his brother Derrick, who was living in their hometown of Liverpool, England, to help with the renovation. “Derrick flew to Chicago and within hours we were in a U-Haul driving overnight to meet the first ferry. Our only tool was a handsaw,” Jon recalls. When the brothers set foot on the Island, they began their marathon do-it-yourself renovation. “Honestly, we didn’t know what we were doing,” he says. “We had a lot of failures and a lot of miss-cut wainscot, but two brothers never had more fun!”

The interior features a classic, clean aesthetic.
Randi Baird

They approached the kitchen and the downstairs living areas with the same design, borrowing an idea Erica found on Pinterest. “Since the rooms are so close together, it made sense to be uniform,” she says. Soon, the kitchen and dining area were trimmed with wainscot – those pieces that Jon and his brother cut correctly. Louvered interior shutters were installed for a timeless, clean window treatment, and new appliances and countertops were framed with a white subway tile backsplash. A beach-wash dining set, seating six in wicker-backed chairs, filled the eat-in kitchen.

To complement the cottage aesthetic, Erica painted the long wall in the living room navy and used alternating cool blues for the center stair risers. A rope balustrade enhanced the maritime feel, leading to bedrooms with beach-chic accessories. The couple’s hard work and attention to detail aside, Erica attributes the pleasing results to “an indescribable pixie dust completing our modest three-bedroom home.”

While the interior improvements were planned with “YouTube as our coach,” when it came to the outdoors, the couple had a clear vision. The plan was to divide the half-acre lot into a series of distinct outdoor spaces separated by arborvitae for “good conversation, contemplation, and competitive merriment.”

The first of those spaces to be completed, with the help of Derrick, was a regulation bocce court. While the brothers had never played the game in their native England, Jon had been intrigued watching the European men playing bocce in the park in Chicago. “It would be a wonderful game to age into,” he thought. Before Derrick’s return to Liverpool, the brothers tossed the weighted balls and spirited insults across the smooth oyster shell surface and celebrated the success of the project.

Randi Baird

Bordering the court, a line of shrubs leads to another outdoor space: a peaceful vegetable garden. For Erica, it is the most special of the outdoor “rooms.”

“Both of us lost our mothers before their time and the garden is dedicated to them and my grandmother,” she says. A Walpole trellis arch leads to “Patty and Vicky’s Herb Garden” where vegetables thrive in raised stonewall beds replanted throughout the season with seedlings from the oval hoop house. The gravel pathway is centered with a tiered fountain and a line of mosaic stepping stones crafted by artist Jenifer Strachan using porcelain from Erica’s family.

“I never could enjoy those inherited fine table settings stored away in boxes,” Erica explains. “Jenifer took her time and talent in transforming those memories from pretty place settings into garden stepping stones – a reminder that our loved ones live on forever in our hearts.”

At evening’s end, invitees typically pass under another flowering trellis to a bluestone fire pit area where arborvitae are being trained to grow into a circular evergreen observatory for gazing into the Vineyard night sky.

The distinct backyard “rooms” include a dining area that overlooks a vegetable garden with sentimental value.
Randi Baird

In 2018, after two years of balancing the practicalities and emotions of renting Happy Days and only enjoying the house during their late-season weeks, the Ashtons moved from Chicago to the Island full-time. While Erica transferred her longtime office career as a publishing executive into working remotely at the cottage kitchen table, Jon’s growing professional culinary relationships and a travel production company needed its own space. They decided to finish the remaining parcel on the property with a stand-alone chef’s test kitchen and filming studio.

This time, Jon enlisted the help of Island professionals, including Mid-Cape Home Centers’s “brilliant designer” Lisa Steers. Together, they built custom pantry shelving to meet the demands of Jon’s rigorous recipe testing. They also added a “camera-ready” kitchen backdrop and marble island as Jon’s center stage for his video productions. Tiered decking connects the cottage and studio kitchen.

Outside, large, ceramic containers and window boxes burst with seasonal plantings alongside oversized outdoor sofas and a large dining table. On English soccer – or, as Jon calls it, “football” – days, the big screen TV is the focus for a regular group of zealous, hungry Liverpool fans who are served Jon’s game day fare of breakfast from around the world. A regular guest, Matthew Dix, while a supporter of a rival team, is always welcome.

A circular fire pit surrounded by arborvitae.
Randi Baird

“It’s an impressive feat watching Jon in his Liverpool jersey preparing multiple dishes while fully engaged in the game and all the conversations. It’s almost hard to put into words,” he says. “But on game day the word ‘guilt’ does come to mind. The setting is so perfect, the food so good, you almost feel like you should be paying for it.”

The only show of gratitude chef Jon requires is that his guests take part in an always competitive post-game round of bocce. “Jon is a very astute player,” says Dix, “and no [amount of] fine food and drink clouds his judgment!”

Erica and Jon believe the life they have created for themselves and their friends on-Island “brings a great responsibility,” and they regularly offer local charities a chef’s tasting menu at Happy Days. Winning bidders are seated at the kitchen studio’s outdoor granite countertop – the perfect perch from which to be fêted and fed by Jon in his best chef’s apron. Erica plays the effusive host, passing guests seven courses plated from her curated serving pieces.

Last fall, bidders Jennifer Blum and her husband, Jonathan, supported Chappaquiddick Community Center and won a dinner at the Ashtons’, which she described as “a joyous evening in an entertaining oasis with laughs and an incredible dinner, which was so impressive yet so inviting and comfortable. By the end of the evening, we felt like old friends.”

Jon Ashton’s test kitchen features custom shelving, a marble island, and a camera-ready backdrop.
Randi Baird

But the most perfect of days at the cottage are when Jon’s teenage daughter, Mei, visits from Florida. With a Beatles vinyl spinning on the record player, the two share precious time folding dumplings and seasoning aromatic curries in the kitchen studio. While their aptly named labradoodle, Eleanor Rigby, sniffs for counter castoffs, Erica pours a Sancerre to complement the freshly shucked local oysters – usually harvested and delivered by a friend.

Perhaps the words embroidered on Jon’s chef whites best express their philosophy of entertaining and living: “Life isn’t short. It’s the longest thing you’ll ever do. Get out and enjoy it.”

The Ashtons certainly are.

Comments (7)

Susan Lance
Stratford Connecticut
An incredible article. I grew up with Erica's mom since elementary school and have known Erica since she was born Patty would be so proud of both of them. The love of the land and the jobs they have are very evident. Keep up the good work!!
March 7, 2023 - 7:17pm
Kelly McCarthy
Golden Oak Florida
I have had the pleasure of dining with The Ashtons. The food experience is certainly extraordinary. Jon takes you on a culinary journey and infuses his passion for living a life of joy & gratitude into every dish. Add to that his incredibly talented & brilliant wife and partner Erica who gracefully converses and entertains while seamlessly being sous chef, hostess, server, busser and the chemistry between the two of them leaves you longing for love & laughter in your own home. Happy Days is a magical place where these two move about in perfect harmony. The gardens carry stories and memories, and the cottage has been transformed. A meal here is once in a lifetime.
March 7, 2023 - 8:54pm
Karen Driscoll
Stratford, CT
How wonderful! I’ll have to visit the Island and Patty and Vicki’s special garden! The whole place sounds incredible! Much love!!!
March 7, 2023 - 8:56pm
Oak Bluffs
Such a lovely couple :-) Glad they have made such a great life on Martha's Vineyard!
March 8, 2023 - 9:45am
Jane DelVecchio
Alexandria, VA
Erica’s mother, Patty, was one of my closest friends for 40 years and was also a fabulous hostess, cook, and decorator. Erica has taken Patty’s gift to the next level! I can only imagine the joy Erica, Jon, and their lovely home (especially the gardens) would bring her if she were still with us.
March 8, 2023 - 12:22pm
Richard OConnor
Falmouth Ma
One of if not the funniest guys I have ever know. Erica Interior Designer extrodinaire John cooking is exquisite and home is beautiful and has so many quadrants for living life to the max creatively. Look forward to seeing them soon
March 9, 2023 - 6:20pm
Valerie Gammon
Miami, Florida
What a sweet article. I'm on the island in August and would love the opportunity to dine there.
April 14, 2023 - 11:34am