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10.1.07

From Summer House to Year-round Home

When a family with triplets decided to move full-time to the Vineyard, they had to make some changes to the vacation house they had recently built.

Five years ago Stephen and Kathy Pogue, a San Francisco–based architect and a marketer for architectural firms, respectively, looked at their lovely newborn triplets and did some math. “The calculus of triplets is crippling,” says Stephen. “Even the diapers weren’t cheap,” adds Kathy with a plaintive sigh.

So they began what they called “a wide-area search” for a new place to live. Both had previously turned independent operators; they could accomplish their work from offices anywhere. Using Realtor.com and their own contacts, they agreed to consider any location in the country that might fit their new criteria: quality public schools, an affordable house of the size they now would require, a neighborhood with charming architecture, a stimulating community for themselves and their children – this was just the start of their not-so-simple checklist.

And suddenly it dawned on them they already had their new home. The choice was not, surprisingly, all that obvious to them. They did have a nice place on Martha’s Vineyard. But the happy city couple had never considered it as anything but a vacation house.

On a sunny September day in that home, between responding to their three eager new kindergartners’ requests for marshmallows or permission to go outside, the Pogues explained the back story. Stephen, an Ohio native, and Kathy, from central Massachusetts, each had grown up taking regular summer holidays on Martha’s Vineyard (although they met in Cambridge). Together now seventeen years, early on in their relationship they had decided they wanted a place on the Island. First they bought an old whaling captain’s house on Morse Street in Edgartown. “We owned that for about two years,” recalls Stephen with a wry smile. “And we realized what a lot of work it was to own an antique house.” The words “money pit” may have been uttered.

So, about eight years ago, they flipped that place and bought one of the last remaining vacant plots of land in the village of Edgartown. They had no trouble finding an architect; it is Stephen’s design work from top (a widow’s walk) to bottom (a basement that is about to change dramatically).

The lot is about 5,000 square feet on the corner of Morse Street and Pease’s Point Way. The couple decided the new construction should serve as a transition from the stately whaling captains’ homes on Morse Street to the shingled cottages that line Pease’s Point Way. “I wanted it to feel like it had been here a long time,” says Stephen, “not like it was an intervention.”

They also wanted to have some fun with it – for once, having the ideal client in themselves. Well, at least half an ideal client. Stephen’s design incorporated an octagonal tower onto the house that recalls, they say variously, an old lighthouse or an old mill. “We wanted it to be part of a narrative,” suggests Stephen. “We wanted people to wonder what it was.” He even wanted to hang a davit from the top of it, a sort of mechanical instrument used to haul boats. “I had all sorts of fun, maybe crazy, ideas,” he says. “But Kathy toned me down.”

The tone both halves of the couple accomplished seems to have set a standard for the neighborhood. “This area has gotten quite a bit of development – on two sides we’ve seen major development of larger houses since we put our house up,” says Stephen. Finished in 2000, their place is about 2,400 square feet, with a footprint of 1,000. “The whole neighborhood was very cottagey…but all the [new] houses have done sort of the same thing we did, which is try and make it look like the place had been there before.”

 The Pogues’ tone also appealed to Island visitors. The house on the corner became a summer house not only for them but also for regular summer renters. The Edgartown Yacht Club’s tennis courts are just a stone’s throw away, and it is not much farther to a gorgeous Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation nature walk, or to Fuller Street Beach with its sparkling golden shells and gentle swimming area around the bend from the lighthouse.

Kathy and Stephen were well pleased with their investment. And then along came Molly, Paige, and Spencer, a new investment, on a scale of a different quantum.

 Many summer Vineyarders dream of settling here. But it had not occurred to the Pogues.

Kathy: “We were city folk.”

Stephen: “We were in San Francisco.”

Kathy: “San Francisco is pretty beautiful.”

Stephen: “There was nothing wrong with San Francisco.”

Stephen’s adult daughter, Alex, had gone to private schools in the Bay Area. But paying similar fees for three, all at once, was not going to work. Plus, Stephen had been working “around the clock,” as Kathy puts it. There had to be a better way to afford their three new children, not to mention enjoy them.

When the Pogues first thought about Martha’s Vineyard as a new place to live, the couple was not so sure. But it seemed a clear starting option, so they took the plunge to move their lives into their summer home.

“We were afraid when we first moved here that it was going to be just dead,” Stephen admits.

 “Dreadful,” chimes Kathy.

Now nearly two years into (almost) full-time residency, she says enthusiastically, the Island offers more for the triplets than she can accommodate in the family schedule; they all are thriving. Stephen confesses the travel wears on him; his residential clientele is largely based in Palo Alto and surrounds. But he only has to visit sites out West every month or so. And he is interested in working more on the Vineyard. For Kathy, “I’m like, okay, nothing’s really changed...maybe the shopping.”

 That’s not exactly true. The house, for one, has experienced a remarkable transformation. First, they realized it was designed as a vacation house. To get what they would need out of it as the family home, “it was a matter of taking a cottage and feeding it steroids,” says Stephen.

 “We came with a long list of things that would have to change,” Kathy says with a laugh. “And then the list got longer and longer.” The first thing to change was the room in which they now sit, relaxed on an overstuffed white brocade sofa, his Crocs on the coffee table, her flip-flops resting on the wide pine floorboards – the one thing they adored in the old Morse Street captain’s house. This particular room had been the garage. “Oh yeah, it had the car, the boat, whatever,” says Kathy. Now it is their favorite room, the one they spend the most time in, the one they could not imagine not being part of the house.

Its name is still under construction.

 “The family room,” Kathy says without conviction. “She wants to call it the music room,” adds

Stephen. Indeed, it has a black Baldwin baby grand in one corner, on which Spencer tinkers with some promise; it goes back a couple of generations in Stephen’s family. In another corner sits a polished wood table decorated with a laptop and little else: Kathy’s office, the most streamlined, wireless, computerized work system imaginable. Piano playing takes precedence, then Mommy’s work. If neither music nor marketing are in process, the armoire can open up for a bit of television.

 Outside this room, the Pogues added bookshelves in the hallway (“We had way too many books for the house,” Kathy laments, as Stephen mentions his far-off hope of having a two-story library in his home someday). Also off the room is a bathroom, where they have lately added a shower. Now the entire suite can be closed off for guests. “Well, once we get a pull-out sofa,” says Kathy.

Already so much furniture has changed. “It was renters’ furniture,” Stephen says. “Stuff we got at the Boys and Girls’ Club, stuff that didn’t matter for a few weeks.” It was about a year after moving to Edgartown before the Pogues gave the green light to the moving truck hauling their West Coast belongings. “When we schlepped all that,” smiles Stephen, “we knew we had committed.”

Mostly New England in d├ęcor, the home has exposed Douglas fir beams and two working fireplaces. And little in the Pogues’ Edgartown home reflects their former abode, they say. They did bring in grass-cloth walls to their master bedroom; in the California marina home it lined their hallway.

For more practical reasons, they planted tall evergreens as the neighborhood developed, and added shutters when other homes were built up to take advantage of the views of the Old Whaling Church steeple.

 For now, the children prefer to share a bedroom (and they’ve requested new carpeting in it to replace the rough-on-tender-feet sisal). When the home was still only their vacation house, Molly, Paige, and Spencer were too young even for a bedroom. Three cribs lined Kathy and Stephen’s master bedroom one summer; the next the triplets could crawl out of cribs, so their parents erected three pup tents in the spacious master bedroom instead.

The toddlers were told never to climb the steep wooden ladder that leads from there to Stephen’s top-floor office, and to the widow’s walk he hopes to turn into an observatory, as soon as he gets a telescope. Amazingly, the children, now five, still do not venture up the ladder. “I can hear them coming and I growl,” Stephen says, amused. “But they also do a fair bit of self-policing among the three of them.”

The master closet always was big, but the door into it was not. The Pogues doubled the width of the doorway now that they have more than summer clothes to dig out of there. Likewise, in the upstairs bathroom, the pedestal sink gave way to one that provided storage underneath. The finishes, trim, and wainscoting all have been upgraded to residence, rather than vacation, standards, they say.

The hallway upstairs is anchored by a huge frame with black-and-white close-ups of the children back before this was their home. The intimate and sweetly revealing portraits are taken down each July, however, and changed to something “more hotel-ish,” just like the bedding, explains Kathy.

Two longtime renters, one family that takes the house for six weeks, another for two or three, still get the high-summer run of the “steroid-boosted” house – now “reprogrammed,” as Stephen puts it, with a new, larger distressed kitchen table Vineyard decorator Julie Robinson helped to find; the octagonal conversation room wicker replaced with an intimate dining table for six; a more complete window seat for cuddled-up reading; and a new front porch swing for conversation.

The Pogues are planning to fully finish the basement, too, as a rec room for the children. “As they get older, they will test the limits of the house in terms of space,” says Stephen. “So that will provide us a little more room to grow, some more space to spread out.”

Meanwhile, the Pogues schlep their personal belongings into the ex-garage-family-music-room-guest-suite and close it off. They lock up the office and widow’s walk. And they head off for an enforced holiday – most recently to Europe and Ohio. Kathy says the children are already good at geography and are trying to influence next summer’s trip. Stephen says traveling is not his idea of fun.

“I find it tedious,” he says about taking his T-rule (he does not design on computer) on the road. But again the choice comes down to doing the math. “It’s really good for us. Not to rent it out would make this [in terms of income foregone] the most expensive place in the world to stay during July and August.
So we go someplace different. And it’s wonderful to come back.”