Design Secrets of Martha’s Vineyard’s Top Architect Patrick Ahearn


Architect Spotlight with Patrick Ahearn FAIA

Owner of Patrick Ahearn Architect LLC, Boston and Edgartown, Massachusetts

Patrick Ahearn needs no introduction if you live on Martha’s Vineyard or anywhere else in the world where they love classic New England architecture that has been updated for modern lifestyles. Patrick’s portfolio of exquisite award-winning homes is endless. His impact on Martha’s Vineyard has been profound with hundreds of beautifully designed homes and his enthusiastic engagement with the island’s community. Patrick has won multiple Bulfinch and PRISM Awards, last year he was the selected architect for HGTV’s Dream Home 2015, and is shortlisted for six International Design & Architecture 2016 Awards

Join me as Patrick shares insights on designing numerous Bulfinch Award and PRISM Award winning houses in Martha’s Vineyard and takes us on a tour of one of his recent favorite houses… 

What’s Unique About Working on Martha’s Vineyard?

“First of all it’s an island and it takes a little bit to get there. People generally are on their best behavior because it takes the extra effort to arrive on island. There is a sense of community that permeates the entire island. Each of the seven towns has it’s own character, theme, and personality which translates to a strong sense of place among the people who live there. This sense of place fosters an extremely positive relationship between the client and their home.”




How Has Your Architecture Reshaped Martha’s Vineyard?

“In Edgartown village alone I’ve completed over 157 projects in twelve blocks. I designed the Boathouse and Atlantic Restaurant which acted as a catalyst in the revitalization of Main Street, the harbor front and the Edgartown commercial district. Sidewalks were widened, tree and lightscapes created, street furniture installed and new public access to the water front and docks was created. Additional outdoor dining at the water’s edge followed, all breathing vitality into the town and creating a sense of place where one did not exist previously. The Boathouse was awarded the 2012 Bulfinch Award in the Commercial category. Additional commercial projects that assisted in the revitalization of the village’s urban core include the Edgartown Yacht Club, Edgartown Tennis Club and numerous retail shops. I also have created a significant amount of work in other parts of the island, but certainly my contribution in Edgartown village is significant.”




How Has “Designing for the Greater Good” Benefited Martha’s Vineyard?

“My practice celebrates the human condition in terms of scale. The scale of the building and the spaces between the buildings becomes as important as the buildings themselves. I don’t have a signature style, it’s really about practicing the greater good theory—when you think about the context and what is around you. If it’s a more urban island context in a village setting, you really need to understand the architecture around you and develop a design that fits the character and scale of the streetscape. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same but certainly something that is appropriate for its setting. As I said, the spaces between the buildings become important to how you create a celebration of the public realm—what you see from the street or from the sidewalk. These are things I try and educate my clients about. When you buy a property in a historic village you really need to recognize that your responsibility is not just about what you want to do but it is also about the greater good of the community.”







How Many of Your Clients Are New to Martha’s Vineyard?

“It’s always been a mix. I’d say probably fifty percent of my clients have already had a relationship with the island and for the other fifty percent it’s all new to them. For the new clients that come to the island, it’s an education process. I explain the rules and regulations and how each town is different about what is permitted. They all have their own planning and zoning boards, conservation commissions, and they have different priorities depending on their location. Often times I’ll be one among other architects being interviewed for the job and I try to use the same philosophy. It’s about fit, it’s about personality—are we going to like working together for a year or two? Basically you’re going to share with them your laundry list and you really need to expose yourself and trust each other to understand how they want to live. What are their family dynamics and relationships? Right down to what side of the bed do they sleep on. So it becomes a very intimate process when done well. It’s about trust, and understanding how they want to live.”




Are You Dissatisfied with Any of the New Houses in Edgartown?

“Yes. I supported the recent expansion of the town’s historic district. It just passed at the town meeting a few weeks ago. There are some houses that have been built outside the former historic district that have been inappropriate. One is a giant box that has nothing to do with character, scale, and streetscape, and the other lacks clarity of expression in its exterior appearance.”




Tell us About a Recent Favorite House

“Last week we won a Bulfinch Award from the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art presented at the Harvard Club in Boston for best ‘Residential Restoration, Renovation, or Addition’ of an 1836 house called Morse Street Compound. It’s a Greek Revival cottage in Edgartown village.” 




 “It fits very well within the context of the neighborhood if you were to drive, walk, or bicycle by. It is a corner house so it has a strong public expression that looks like it was there forever. It’s a 12,000 square foot family homestead that celebrates the best of village lifestyle.”




“It was a major project that included the house, carriage house, guest house, pool, etc.”






Why Did You Agree to Do HGTV’s Dream Home 2015?

“The producers said they spoke with a number of people on the island and my name kept coming up as the number one choice. I said, let me share with you my perspective. There’s never been a licensed professional architect featured in any of the shelter programs on HGTV, and the processes that shows how these houses are getting built is not realistic. It doesn’t accurately portray the role of the architect in the design process. I said, if you want me to be involved, it’s not about me personally, but it’s about my profession. For the first time in the history of eighteen HGTV dream homes, I asked that the role of the architect, what the architect does, how it works, and what the architect brings to the process would be featured. If they were willing to go along with that, then I was willing to help. They agreed, and we did a lot of filming during the construction and the architect’s role was featured. They also filmed a separate piece ‘Inside the HGTV Dream Home’ for AT&T U-Verse Buzz by following me and my team around. It was the first time in the history of HGTV that any of their shows featured the role of a licensed professional architect which I believe was extremely positive.”






Why is it Considered the Most Successful HGTV Dream House?

“The house was extremely well received. It was the most successful HGTV Dream House for the network—94 million entries were submitted; a 50% increase over any of the past dream houses. The network loved it and it worked out perfectly. The architect’s role was clear and the house is timeless in its appeal. Last week the house also won a Bulfinch Award for the best ‘New Construction under 5,000 SF’ awarded by the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.”



Do You Ever See the Winner of the Dream House in Edgartown?

“The way it works is, the winner of the dream house, in this case it was a woman from Alabama, can either take the home or opt to take the cash prize. She elected to take the cash prize and the home was subsequently sold to one of my client’s sister.”




Which Are Your Favorite Design Publications?

“I get a couple of cottage style magazines from England. In New England we have a local magazine called New England Home Magazine that does a very nice job in terms of the quality of their editorials, photography, and the articles they produce.”

Do You See the Industry Changing?

“The advent of social media with FacebookInstagram, Pinterest, and Houzz. The world of shelter either in magazines or on the internet has changed significantly in the last few years. It will continue to grow in that direction. Magazines in general are really suffering unless they can join the world of social media. Blogs are another good example of how people communicate and gather information. So much of what we see in terms of new clients are coming from social media. We still have articles written about us in print magazines but I think a great portion of our new clients are coming from social media.”


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