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This Architecture Is Why People Covet Martha’s Vineyard Real Estate

by Rick Anderson

Patrick Ahearn established himself as perhaps Martha’s Vineyard’s most prolific architect in a surprising way: In 1994, he began running ads in a local newspaper, the Vineyard Gazette , each featuring a sketch of a speculative “house of the week.” The advertising worked: In his first year, he picked up nearly 30 clients. In the decades since, he has completed some 200 projects on the island, ranging from small renovations to large new houses, as well as the restoration of numerous public and commercial buildings. And he has done well by doing good: His devotion to traditional architecture has helped strengthen the island’s visual identity. (No wonder he is chairman of the board of the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust.)

Once the living room, the large foyer functions as the heart of the home and provides views to the terrace, pool, and new cabana.

Ahearn’s story is told in a new book , Timeless: Classic American Architecture for Contemporary Living , written with Andrew Sessa. It begins when Ahearn, then a recent graduate of architecture school at Syracuse University, went to work for Benjamin Thompson & Associates, the firm responsible for turning Boston‘s Faneuil Hall into a marketplace. In 1978, he started his own practice (with an office in Faneuil Hall), and by the late 1980s he had renovated hundreds of buildings in Boston’s historic neighborhoods.

But after visiting Martha’s Vineyard, the 90-square-mile island off Cape Cod, in 1989, he found his calling. At the time, he says, the main street of Edgartown, a historic whaling community, was disappointing. He writes: “Over the years, aluminum siding, asphalt roof tiles, fluorescent lighting, and windows with plastic frames had come to mar the centuries-old streetscapes.”

Staircases in historic homes can become finely detailed architectural elements to savor, rather than hide away.

Things are very different now. With more than 100 commissions in Edgartown alone, Ahearn has helped restore the town’s historic character. Taken as a whole, he says, the work he has done in Edgartown “constitutes the greatest project of my career.”

Some of the projects are largely restorations—where the architect, he writes, slips in “as the ghost in the night.” But he is often much more than a ghost; one of his specialties is remodeling old houses in ways that make traditional architecture and modern lifestyles compatible. He writes of giving houses spines, “not to be confused with hallways,” that lead to large open kitchens; of turning warrens of small rooms into sprawling master bedroom suites. Writes Ahearn, “There’s nothing about classical architecture that’s inherently at odds with contemporary living.” The book offers his proof.

Finished with six sets of French doors and a beamed ceiling, the breezeway serves as both a dining room and circulation space, connecting the entry and living room in the old wing to the new kitchen and family room.

A set of French doors connects the casual breakfast room, with its comfortable banquette seating, to a covered porch and the pool.

"The homeowners had grown accustomed to 12-foot ceilings in their primary residence, so I incorporated a ten-foot ceiling height while maintaining a historically accurate scale from the streetscape. In the kitchen, the height allows for additional cupboard space."

Open to the kitchen, the dining room sits in a new addition where period-appropriate windows and antique flooring match those in the restored portion of the house.

Following its renovation, this 1930s English-country-manor-style property in Wellesley features a variety of new spaces for alfresco living and entertaining.

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