A Home that Inspires

The Muneys responded to the palette of a waterside setting on Edgartown Great Pond when planning their vacation house. Now the finished home inspires the family’s Vineyard lifestyle.

The drive through Kanomika Neck at Edgartown Great Pond takes you down a mile and a half of dirt road, through sand-plain grasslands framed by oak and pine trees. By the time you reach the home of Karen and Alan Muney, you’re surrounded by nature in a setting that feels remote, although the comparative bustle of downtown Edgartown is only a ten-minute drive away.

The Muneys’ 5,300-square-foot modern American Craftsman–style house is set within its seven-acre property like a perfectly cropped photograph. Its colors – gray fieldstone, beige cedar shingles, meadow-green trim, and a forest-green roof – blend into the setting, replicating the hues of the natural surroundings.

Beyond the green front door, the flow of natural colors continues, interspersed with reds, greens, and blues in shades that range from bold to subtle. The open layout of the house allows natural light to filter in, while the massive fireplace that anchors the great room replicates the fieldstone exterior. Wide-planked, Brazilian cherry flooring extends through the common areas of the main level. Past a multitude of glass doors and countless windows, the color scheme flows on – with the greens of the trees and grasses as well as the blues that define Edgartown Great Pond and the sky, viewed through the house’s skylights.

While the Muneys’ primary residence is in Darien, Connecticut, they spend about six weeks of the summer on the Vineyard, plus every long weekend from Labor Day through Memorial Day. Karen, with a master’s degree in social work, is president of the board for the teen center in Darien and works with various community-service nonprofits; Alan, who has degrees as a medical doctor and health-care administrator, is an executive director and CEO of Blackstone Group’s Equity Healthcare in New York City. The couple hopes to up their time here to eight months a year within five years, when their youngest child will be in college.

Buying and building on the Vineyard

Alan Muney’s first visit to Martha’s Vineyard was a bike trip from New Rochelle, New York, when he was sixteen. The Vineyard provided an unprecedented venue for the budding photographer’s creative spirit. Over the next two decades, college, medical school, his internship and residency, and moves to St. Louis and Huntington Beach, California, kept Alan from pursuing photography and from returning to the Vineyard. But the place had left an indelible impression on him, etched on his mind like a negative print; the belief that he would someday return to the Vineyard was a certainty.

Finally, in 1996, Alan returned – this time with his wife, Karen. He brought with him negatives and prints from the photos he had taken on that first trip, twenty-seven years before. Retracing his steps, he reshot the places he’d photographed at sixteen. The dream of owning a home on the Vineyard developed as Alan and Karen spent three weeks of each of the next three summers here with their four children. “With house rentals so high, it made sense to buy a home of our own,” says Alan.

Over the years, before they bought their first Vineyard home in 2000, Karen had looked at houses on the Island, including one on Lake Tashmoo in Vineyard Haven. “Although it wasn’t the right location for us, we loved the way it was decorated,” she says. “We were told that local designer Pat Banfield [of Banfield Interiors in Vineyard Haven] had done the interior. I arranged to meet Pat and told her that, although we hadn’t yet chosen our home, I wanted her to be the one to decorate it.” But the relationship with Pat didn’t stop after she finished decorating that first Island home.

“We had always wanted a house on the water,” Karen says. “That dream began to evolve into a reality in October 2004 when we purchased a seven-acre plot on Edgartown Great Pond.” To help them design and build their house, the couple commissioned contractor Connie O’Doherty, owner of Butterwood Properties in Edgartown, and home designer Doug Pike, of DJP Home Design Service in Windsor, Connecticut – the two have been working together for more than twenty-five years.

Alan sought out a floor plan on the Internet and expanded on it. Working with a friend, he designed the back wing that overlooks Edgartown Great Pond. It includes expansive decking and a large in-ground pool. Alan’s friend provided planning for the bathrooms. “I wanted the house to have a continuous flow from outside,” Alan says. “Also important was that the interior be open and spacious, replete with sliding glass doors, windows, and skylights to let in the incredible natural light found on the Vineyard.”

Connie and Doug expanded upon the layout Alan had mapped out. “Planning and building a custom home from scratch can be a daunting experience, but Alan and Karen were up to the challenge,” says Connie. “The lot they selected has a jog out into the Edgartown Great Pond and they were able to site the house to take advantage of two different water views. The master suite and deck have a tranquil view over Mashacket Cove, while the dining area and extended deck have a view to the south-shore sand dunes. The home blends into the site and offers almost no visible profile from across the water. My favorite area of the home is the kitchen with a conservatory-like dining area projecting into the surrounding deck.”

Alan was a driving force in the design and décor of the house, starting with the contemporary American Craftsman–style architecture with its emphasis on hand-hewn workmanship. “I liked the design because it offered a lot of open interior space without becoming an imposing structure on the outside,” he says. “I loved the use of architectural details that unified the house, such as using structural columns as design details on the inside that matched the outside, and carrying the column design through to smaller details such as the choice of bathroom hardware.”

Design and décor

It was time to reengage Pat Banfield, who by this time had also done the interior design work on the couple’s West Coast home. “Pat’s taste and talent as a designer were so perfect for us that we had also commissioned her to design the interior of our home in California,” says Karen, a native of that state, who was not ready to let go of the Huntington Beach townhouse when the family moved to Darien in 1996. A meticulous designer, Pat had handled the entire California project remotely, decorating the home using only photographs, floor plans, and measurements to guide her. She would complete the team of professionals for the Kanomika Neck project.

“Because it was new construction, the Muneys’ house was a vast empty palette on which we would create every facet of the interior from flooring to furnishings to window treatments and artwork,” Pat says. “It was a dream project.”

Pat began the design process by meeting with her clients to discuss their likes and dislikes in everything from wall paint to hobbies. Such interviews are essential for both the designer and homeowners to establish a framework for creating a home that reflects the owners’ personal style.

“Although I had worked with the Muneys before, every home is unique. A client’s choices might vary with the location and style of the house, the sort of space they’re trying to create, or simply changing of tastes over time,” Pat says.

Next, Pat asked the Muneys to go through the things they owned and look for anything they might be able to use in the new house. Among the items they chose were a couch and a chandelier made of glass shells.

“The couch was something we felt we’d never be able to use when we moved our primary residence from California to Darien,” Karen says. “But Pat helped me select slipcovers that made the couch look custom-made for our media room off the entry foyer. And the shell chandelier was a natural for a waterfront home.”

The Muneys chose white for most of the common-area walls on the main floor. White provides a brilliant contrast to the bright primary and secondary colors in the furnishings and window treatments. It is also the optimum background color for setting off displays of their vast collection of artwork. Vivid Vineyard colors have inspired many an artist.

All the drapes, upholstery, and slipcovers were sewn by seamstress Audrey Morgan, who has worked with Pat Banfield for more than thirty years. “Audrey comes to the Vineyard from her home in Newfield, New York, for weeks at a time to do my fabricating,” Pat says. “By now, she can read my mind when we do a job. Her work is impeccable, and she’s a genius when it comes to transforming my design ideas into reality.”

Pat is known for her subtle use of black and white. “I love to use black and white as an accent in a project,” she says. In the Muneys’ home, touches of black and white are found in portions of the upholstery, china, and a kitchen back-splash painted by artist Linda Carnegie, of Cleveland, Ohio. She replicated the backsplash she painted in their first Vineyard home, and handmade the tiles she used, filling the squares with images of the Muneys’ favorite places, hobbies, sports, and animals. “Not only does it give a design statement, but black and white brings out the other colors,” Pat says. “Generally I use it sparingly – perhaps in checks, stripes, or even a zebra pattern. It could be in a mural, pillows, a rug, or a china pattern from Droll [Designs] or McKenzie-Childs.”

The use of bead board is a common theme on many of the walls. “I was at a loss for what material I wanted to use for the ceiling on the screen porch,” Alan says. “When Pat suggested extending the flow of the bead board to that ceiling, the result was perfection.”

Although the home has a vast, open floor plan, there are constant reminders that this home emulates the Arts and Crafts period at the turn of the twentieth century. Window seats and surprise alcoves abound, and traditional furnishings are ingeniously decorated with the nautical motif that living on the water calls for.

“The open flow of the house lends itself to entertaining,” Karen says. “Because we’ve lived in many parts of the country, our friends and family are scattered. We have made our home a gathering place and vacation destination for friends from the South, the Midwest, and California, all of whom feel that the Vineyard gives them the best that an East Coast vacation can offer.”

Moving and settling in

The home was complete, including its interior design, in January 2006. The family spent their first weekend in it at the end of January. “The first thing we did when we moved in was hang an oil painting in the entry hall.” Alan says. “It was a scene of beach cottages and sky bathed in a brilliant sunset, which we found at a gallery on the Island. That was followed by the rest of the art we had, which made the first few days seem much more comfortable in our new home.”

Alan had been away from the camera since his days as a photographer for his high school newspaper and yearbook. But since he started coming to Martha’s Vineyard on a regular basis, his photography has become more of a passion than a hobby. “It was really the house, its setting on Edgartown Great Pond, and the nautical nature of the Vineyard that reignited my passion for photography,” he says. His work is at the Dragonfly Gallery in Oak Bluffs and the Shaw Cramer Gallery in Vineyard Haven, as well as at galleries in the Berkshires and Long Beach, California.

A plan to add two additional garages as a studio is in the works. There, Alan will be able to use a gigantic printer to reproduce high-end prints on canvas and stretch the material on wooden stretchers to create numbered and signed giclée prints. (He currently does that work at a studio in the family’s Darien home.)

Alan plans to get more serious about his photography when he is able to spend more time on-Island. “I’m never bored by it – more like obsessed,” he says. “Karen and I see a whole new phase of our lives opening up, and it’s a direct result of the inspiration this unmatched setting provided to the dormant photographer in me....We’re both looking forward to making this artistic phase a bigger part of our lives.”