Office Romance

Successful single architect meets eligible interior designer on a blind date...bada bing, bada boom!

Mary Rentschler and John Fuller lived parallel lives, mirroring each other until suddenly one day they met. Both had been visiting the Vineyard since childhood. His step-grandfather was the patriarch of Pohogonot Farm in Edgartown; through family friends, she also had spent significant time on that sprawling stretch of private property. They both took classes at the Rhode Island School of Design and Harvard. Both studied in Italy, he in Rome and she in Florence.

It was thanks to an online dating service that they ended up at State Road Restaurant one night four years ago where a toothy grin, a spilled glass of wine, and a shared plate of fries led to an elopement in Italy and a new partnership on the Vineyard.

“Bada bing, bada boom,” Fuller said.     

Soon enough, he moved into her Vineyard Haven home and the two became a team both personally and professionally. Rentschler has had an interior design business based on the Island for many years; Fuller is an architect who practiced with The Stubbins Associates in Cambridge. At first, she worked out of a guest room-turned-office in the house, while he rented an office space in town near the harbor. But having spent so much of their lives apart – both are in their sixties – they wanted to spend this next portion together. They started planning for a shared office.

Nina Bramhall

Meanwhile, a West Chop writer’s cabin was about to get a new chapter of its own. The one-room shingled cottage had lived its life on Harbor View Road as the workshop of historian and activist William Payne Thompson Preston Jr., who would write looking out through a long horizontal window toward the sea. Preston died in 2010, and when the new owners wanted to expand the main house last spring they needed to get rid of the cottage. They lifted it up by crane, dropped it on the back of a flatbed truck, slapped on a “for sale” sign, and sent the cottage up the road.

A friend spotted the itinerant building, took a picture, and sent it to Rentschler and Fuller. Bada bing, bada boom, as quickly as they found each other, they found their studio office. Located exactly twenty-five steps (measuring by Rentschler’s stride) from the main house, the 384-square-foot cottage is now outfitted with an amply-sized basement, dressed with new shingling and trim, and is heated, air-conditioned, and ready for work.

“This is the quintessential cottage, and our intent from the get-go was to maintain the integrity of the cottage look and feel on the inside,” said Fuller. Their goal, both said, was to let the building dictate the design, taking their cues from its structure. They painted the floors, left studs exposed, and removed the boards of wood that created the visual of a flat ceiling, replacing them instead with iron tie rods. China-white walls accented with raw wood opened up the small space, reflecting light from the thirteen windows and two French doors.

Since Fuller specializes in green design, he added passive solar elements: all the major windows face south to maximize heating and cooling efficiency, for instance. He and Rentschler also used plenty of recycled materials, from a hanging plate rack from her family house, to counters built from random planks saved from a lot she sold on Fuller Street. Floorboards taken from the main house’s deck were wire brushed and clear coated to become the ceiling of the bathroom. Fuller designed the kitchen cabinets using two-by-fours for framing and faced with salvaged fir and Rentschler selected ice-chest latch hardware for the doors. “It’s a little bit crisp from the outside, but it’s a little bit funky once you’re in here,” she said. “There’s a sense of history.”

A gas fireplace serves as a focal point in the room. It’s framed by barn boards from the 1800s, which draw the eye up to a square window that fills the room with light. Though the cottage originally had a brick wood-burning fireplace, they opted to replace it with a gas one to better suit the compact space. “We decided in a small space we didn’t need the mess nor the fumes nor the anything, but we loved the ambiance and the warmth,” she said.

Nina Bramhall

Next to the fireplace is their workspace. Swivel chairs are tucked into facing desks that allow the couple to work in close proximity and catch each other’s eye – which, after all, was the point of the shared office. But they also added features that would allow them to change the space into, say, a guest house or even a permanent residence. “We spent one week with a blow-up mattress right where one day we could imagine a bed,” said Rentschler. “If we ease up on our work schedule, maybe move one work station out, and we lived in here just with a bed, we’d wake up in the morning and go, ‘Wow, we’re here.’” The simplicity is tempting, especially if any of their kids want to take over the main house. To that end, the cottage contains a full bathroom complete with a clawfoot tub and a kitchenette with bite-sized appliances. “It’s like Barbie gets a dishwasher,” she said.

Throughout his career, Fuller has built sets for Jaws, helped create skyscrapers, restored historic wooden ships, and designed homes. On the Vineyard he’s settled into working on smaller projects akin to the cottage. Rentschler began as a graphic artist and found her way into interior design. When she works for a client, she tries to find treasures within their world to shape the designs.

Naturally, she did the same for their own cottage. There’s an intricate wooden ship model of Fuller’s sitting on the mantel, mismatched wooden chairs Rentschler found in her family’s old house, curious pigeons peering down from the top of the bathroom, industrial lights selected from the three-mile-long antique flea market at Brimfield, Massachusetts – mementoes from their past and present, now at home in a cottage with a past of its own.

“This is where I should have started,” said Rentschler. “But this is where I ended up.”