A Student and Teacher Team Up on a Multi-Generational Martha’s Vineyard Abode

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By Michele Koh Morollo
A designer enlists his former Yale professor to help build Chilmark House, a family retreat awash in ocean views that references the area’s agrarian past.

Aaron Schiller approached his former Yale professor, architect Alan Organschi of Gray Organschi Architecture, for mentorship and collaboration on the design and construction of a multigenerational residence for his family in Chilmark, Martha’s Vineyard, where they’ve lived since the 1950s. The resulting Chilmark House respects the town’s long agrarian heritage, and provides plenty of social and private spaces across 6,200 square feet for three generations of Schillers. 

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The Chilmark House exterior is clad in shou sugi ban siding and roofed with zinc. 

The Chilmark House exterior is clad in shou sugi ban siding and roofed with zinc. 

"The house features two distinct approaches," says Schiller. "The family arrives via a long dirt road to the back side of the house, shaped as a single-story barn. Below the house, guests park in a dirt pull-off and arrive via a long grass path through meadow grasses, entering the house from the south via a wide, glue-laminated exterior stair."

"The house features two distinct approaches," says Schiller. "The family arrives via a long dirt road to the back side of the house, shaped as a single-story barn. Below the house, guests park in a dirt pull-off and arrive via a long grass path through meadow grasses, entering the house from the south via a wide, glue-laminated exterior stair."

Located on a former sheep-grazing meadow, the house overlooks Chilmark pond, spectacular views of the Atlantic to the south, and is fringed by a series of iconic, meandering Chilmark stone fences.   

Aaron Schiller provided the shou sugi ban louvers that enclose the dining space and create privacy from the entry path.

Aaron Schiller provided the shou sugi ban louvers that enclose the dining space and create privacy from the entry path.

The ceiling of the lower level is shou sugi ban cedar siding to match the exteriors.

The ceiling of the lower level is shou sugi ban cedar siding to match the exteriors.

In deference to the site’s farming past, and to the area’s simple New England architectural heritage, Gray Organschi Architecture developed the residence as a pair of barns with low-pitched roofs—one containing the main house, and the other a studio—that sit quietly in the landscape.

In reference to the dense aggregation of New England’s farm complexes, the architects placed the studio and the house barns close together, creating an outdoor space between the two structures that one approaches before arriving at the entrance to the house. 

In reference to the dense aggregation of New England’s farm complexes, the architects placed the studio and the house barns close together, creating an outdoor space between the two structures that one approaches before arriving at the entrance to the house. 

The interiors of the upper level and annex building, which includes a garage below and office-bedroom above, are lined with bleached ash. 

The interiors of the upper level and annex building, which includes a garage below and office-bedroom above, are lined with bleached ash. 

"The two buildings form a series of courtyards and outdoor spaces, with varying degrees of privacy and views," says Organschi. "In a nod to New England’s bank barns, the long barn is set into the hillside, diminishing its scale from the north and creating direct connections to the outside from both upper and lower levels."

On the entry side, the house is a single-story long gable structure.

On the entry side, the house is a single-story long gable structure.

The shou sugi ban louvers were designed and made by Schiller.

The shou sugi ban louvers were designed and made by Schiller.

The form of the house resulted from a close study of Chilmark’s historic barns and from careful manipulation of those forms within the strictures of the area's zoning code. A long, canted gable creates a series of taller and lower spaces within the large barn.

Glass sliding doors by Bayerwald Fenster Hausturen offer a portal to the outdoors.

Glass sliding doors by Bayerwald Fenster Hausturen offer a portal to the outdoors.

"The sweeping Atlantic views are only experienced after a visitor enters the house; the northwest entry courtyard is edged by a mute, charred cedar wall with screened apertures, creating a private courtyard with views west over the rolling fields and stone fence," says Organschi.

A sofa from B&B Italia rests under a pendant lamp from Pletz Made. The rugs are from Nani Marquina, with lounge chairs from De La Espada.

A sofa from B&B Italia rests under a pendant lamp from Pletz Made. The rugs are from Nani Marquina, with lounge chairs from De La Espada.

Within, expanses of light wood create the base for the application of rich, colored textiles. These rugs were selected for their strict geometries that helped create clear definition of spaces, and a sense of welcoming warmth.

The lower spaces of the house give onto the meadow and its private world, while the upper spaces open to the long views across Chilmark’s fields, ponds, and the Atlantic. 

The lower spaces of the house give onto the meadow and its private world, while the upper spaces open to the long views across Chilmark’s fields, ponds, and the Atlantic. 

The high ceilings in the public areas drop to create a children’s sleeping loft high in the roof. In the lower level are a series of bedrooms with shared spaces that look into light wells landscaped with rocks and moss.

Aaron Schiller provided the interior furnishings for the house, and designed and fabricated several important pieces, including the 12-foot-long dining table made of stack-laminated, hand-carved walnut. The table’s bases were roughly shaped with a chain saw, then sanded in swooping curves reminiscent of boats one sees on the Atlantic beyond.

Aaron Schiller provided the interior furnishings for the house, and designed and fabricated several important pieces, including the 12-foot-long dining table made of stack-laminated, hand-carved walnut. The table’s bases were roughly shaped with a chain saw, then sanded in swooping curves reminiscent of boats one sees on the Atlantic beyond.

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On the upper floor are a series of open spaces for living, dining, and cooking, with a private master suite at the end. The lower floor contains several guest rooms that are all similar in size and layout.

A quiet reading nook.

A quiet reading nook.

A gym and family room provide casual social space that opens onto a covered outdoor space with hot tub and fireplace.

The gym features concrete, three-dimensional tile in the steam room and shower, and cedar in the sauna. 

The gym features concrete, three-dimensional tile in the steam room and shower, and cedar in the sauna. 

The ample built-in storage spaces are discreet and appear minimal. The lower hallway is lined with floor-to-ceiling closets for the family’s clothes. The armoires in the bedrooms, wrapped in Maharam fabric, provide storage that is both softly curving and functional, diminishing the bulk too often found in storage units within bedrooms.

The house’s bright interiors are a surprising counterpoint to the dark facade of the house.

The house’s bright interiors are a surprising counterpoint to the dark facade of the house.

Beneath the entry walkway, the architects carved out two deep, open-air gardens.

Inspired by Japanese pocket gardens, the gardens are flanked on three sides by concrete and one wall of full glass that lights sitting areas adjacent to the lower level bedrooms. 

Inspired by Japanese pocket gardens, the gardens are flanked on three sides by concrete and one wall of full glass that lights sitting areas adjacent to the lower level bedrooms. 

Planted with Japanese maples, visitors notice these sunken gardens while walking across glass plank walkways en route to the front door.

Planted with Japanese maples, visitors notice these sunken gardens while walking across glass plank walkways en route to the front door.

"We worked together to forge a design approach that is simultaneously modern—with large windows, natural ventilation, overlapping interior and exterior spaces—and respectful of the landscape's agrarian past," says Organschi. "Crafting our collaboration was both challenging and very rewarding."

The rolling, meadow site provides the house with a variety of different perspectives.  

The rolling, meadow site provides the house with a variety of different perspectives.  


Project Credits: 

Architecture: Gray Organschi Architecture / @grayorganschi, Aaron Schiller

Builder: Rosbeck Builders 

Structural engineering: Jacobson Structures 

Civil engineering: Schofield Barbini & Hoen 

Landscape design: Contemporary Landscapes 

Lighting design: Atelier Ten 

Interior design: Schiller Projects 

Cabinetry design: Dillon Creations 

Carpentry: Richard Cantwell Woodworking