Rising to the Challenge

A dream team of design, construction, and landscape professionals create a distinctive hillside home with expansive views and plenty of room for family and friends.

The owners: Ken and Dede Feinberg

Ken, founder and managing partner of a thriving legal and mediation practice, is considered a modern-day King Solomon for his role as the pragmatic, sensitive strategist tasked with distributing funds to the victims of crises such as the September 11 terrorist attacks, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Dede, a skillful communicator with a strong humanitarian bent, has emerged as an international leader in addressing Jewish social welfare and educational needs through her high-level philanthropic work at The Jewish Federations of North America and other organizations.

With a home base near Washington, DC, the Feinbergs decided to build a house on the Vineyard to create a gathering place for their three adult children and their growing families, and the couple’s closest friends.

The designers: Philip Regan, Sean Dougherty, and Jim Cappuccino, Hutker Architects

As a principal at Hutker Architects in Vineyard Haven, Phil knew he was facing a unique opportunity some seven years ago when he first set foot on the five-and-a-half-acre West Tisbury lot that Ken and Dede had purchased as a portfolio investment. Though he could imagine sweeping views with some judicious tree clearing, he also realized that a large amount of site work would be required to create a proper vantage point, because the lot was situated on a steep hill. His first task: to develop initial concepts for the Feinbergs that could make the site come to life.

The builder: Dan Perry, principal, Perry Construction Company

Dan grew up spending summers on the Vineyard, moving from house to house as his father, a builder, finished each venture. Now based in Oak Bluffs, Dan started his own construction firm in 1986, specializing in building custom homes, giving each his full attention from start to finish. In the past several years, he has worked closely on a number of projects with Hutker Architects, enjoying their close collaboration, creativity, and professionalism. When he stopped by Phil’s office one day and saw the scale model the designers had created for the Feinberg presentation, Dan pronounced, “I’m going to build this house!”

feinberg sitting room
The spacious screened porch offers expansive views toward the west over Vineyard Sound and the Elizabeth Islands.

The interior designer: Jerry Copeland, partner, CopelandDougan Interiors

It’s been more than thirty years since Jerry met Dede and Ken, signing on to decorate their 1923 Georgian colonial near Washington, DC. Over the years, the DC-based designer has become a devoted and trusted friend, expertly advising them along the way about additions and renovations as their family grew and needs changed. When the Feinbergs decided to build their Island home, there was never any doubt he would oversee the interiors.

The landscape architect: Kris Horiuchi, principal, Horiuchi Solien Landscape Architects

Hutker Architects and Horiuchi Solien of Falmouth have worked together on Vineyard and Cape Cod projects for more than twenty-five years. They share each other’s understanding of how a building should relate to its surrounding landscape, Phil says; that’s why he planned to recommend Kris to develop a comprehensive plan for the Feinbergs’ complex hillside setting. Meanwhile, Dede had been snipping photographs from Island magazines of landscape designs she loved. Each time she read the accompanying captions she noted that Kris’s firm had done the work. There was no doubt – Kris was on board.

The challenge

Back in the late 1990s, after more than a decade vacationing on the Island with Dede, Ken purchased a lot in West Tisbury, high on a hill overlooking the north shore. While they had no immediate plans to build, Ken thought it would be a sound investment. But the lot’s steep slope and dense woods obscured the property’s potential views, and not long after the initial purchase, they put the parcel back on the market. As years passed with no prospective buyers, the couple invited ideas from an architect or two. Nothing clicked. They began to think that maybe the lot was unbuildable. Dede contacted Phil Regan, hoping he could come up with a viable solution. She thought the property might be more marketable with a house on it. Or maybe, just maybe, once they’d designed the right home, she and Ken would fall in love with it.

feinberg kitchen
The bright, airy kitchen - open to the dining and living areas - makes for easy socializing when entertaining family and friends.

The process

Dede Feinberg says she knew what she wanted in her Vineyard home, and gave Phil Regan the rundown when he first visited the site with her:

“Nothing pretentious. A house full of surprises. Cross-ventilation so we don’t have to use the air conditioning. Lots of light. An adult home. Privacy for ourselves and our guests. Not a typical Cape Cod.”

And while their primary home is very traditional, the Feinbergs said they were open to something different on this small Island five hundred miles north of their busy lives in the nation’s capital. “We didn’t want a beach house,” Dede points out. “It’s a second home. We wanted it to be warm, welcoming, and one with nature.”

Phil went to the highest point he could reach on the site, one hundred and twelve feet above sea level. He considered all possible views before taking pencil to paper. Then he sketched out a concept – the one that made immediate sense to him as he stood atop the land. He drew a circular structure with wings radiating from the center, sited near the top of the hill. It would take advantage of light, fresh air, and views. It was unique. It fit the intricate demands of the lot and the Feinbergs’ vision.

“I don’t usually put all my eggs in one basket with a concept,” Phil explains. “I usually develop two or three. But this one just felt right.”

He asked Sean Dougherty to use his sophisticated computer skills to create a realistic model of the design for their next meeting with Dede. Several weeks later, sitting in a darkened studio watching the presentation on a big screen, Phil could barely make out Dede’s face in the dim light.

“I was sweating it out,” he says. “I knew it wasn’t what Dede expected. But when we turned the lights back on, I could see that she looked surprised and excited. And maybe a little scared.”

Dede was in love with the design, but the couple wasn’t certain that they wanted to build. Almost a year passed before she brought her husband to the Hutker offices. “I asked Phil to boil the presentation down to four minutes to share with Ken,” Dede says. “I had no idea how he’d react. [Afterward] there was a pregnant pause. Then Ken said, ‘It’s like something out of Architectural Digest.’”

curve room

The Feinbergs were sold on the concept, but did they need the second home? While they pondered, their children were beginning to start their own families, and Dede realized that they wanted a place where everyone could be together, with enough room for privacy. The time had come to give Hutker Architects the go-ahead.

Phil, Sean, and their associate Jim Cappuccino moved into the design development phase. Putting their complementary skills to work, the team refined the plans, conceptualizing a three-level, 4,800-square-foot home with four en-suite bedrooms and a den, along with a detached one-bedroom guesthouse, swimming pool, and garage.

While strikingly contemporary in form, the house reflects what Phil refers to as Hutker Architects’ “new regional vernacular” style, using building materials and design elements common to the Island: shingles, cedar trim, organic color schemes, and gables, but updating traditional design to fit with the modern lifestyle and melding home with natural landscape.

“We like to work with a collection of smaller pieces when designing larger homes,” Phil explains. “It’s more in keeping with the local vernacular.” In fact, Phil points out, Hutker Architects has walked away from potential clients whose dream home concepts consist of one thought only – the bigger, the better.

“Big becomes objectionable, imposing, inappropriate,” he says. “We can take the same budget, use our new regional vernacular, and make it functional, attractive, and appropriate to the Island landscape.”

Armed with Dede and Ken’s wish list, the architects set out to create a house that would maximize views across the Sound to the Elizabeth Islands and Woods Hole, as well as toward Paul’s Point and the town’s old fire tower.

Meanwhile, Kris contemplated the extensive ground preparation that would be required to site the house high enough for views. “It meant resolving a total change in grade of over thirty feet from top to bottom,” she says. “Building on a hillside is complicated and not for the faint-hearted. The major challenges were things you couldn’t actually see – all the structural concrete foundations, underground utilities, drainage, and the mountains of soil that needed to be excavated and moved around. Ultimately, we wanted the buildings to fit into the hill, not on top of it.”

As the house was designed and built, team members developed a bond built on trust and respect for one another’s talents and vision. Jerry, with forty-two years in the interior design trade, proved to be a valued conduit to the Feinbergs, able to translate blueprints and floor plans, recognizing the designers’ intent – from their overarching vision to the subtlest of details – and representing Dede’s tastes and interests.

“We all worked well together from the get-go,” Jerry says. “This was my favorite residential job, a great collaboration.”

Collaboration is a word repeated up the line, perhaps best summarized by Ken: “Building this house was a great lesson: If you delegate and trust people who know their field, you can achieve great results.”

Dan, too, recognized the importance of teamwork on what became his largest and most intricate job to date. Coordinating up to five on-site subcontractors on a given day, with combined crews that could number up to forty (and included his son, Marcus), was a daunting task, he admitted. “There were demands every day, problems to be solved. I tried to be instrumental in bringing out the best in everyone. I’ve worked for people I’ve wanted to jump through hoops for, and that’s the feeling we had. It was an honor to be selected by the Feinbergs. They’re first-rate citizens. It meant a lot.”

To foster camaraderie among the crews, Dan hosted weekly cookouts on the job site. The hamburger and hot dog lunch tradition became so popular, he says, that even when a phase of construction was complete, workers sometimes stopped by from other jobs just to rejoin the conversation and have a bite to eat.

The finished house is a marvel of natural materials, imposing to behold yet comfortable and functional. Even as it rises high above the surrounding landscape, most of its bulk nestles into the hillside, flanked by layers of artful plantings, stone retaining walls, steps, sloping paths, and several terraces.

Kris spoke to that challenge: “This is not a formal house with a single focus. It’s a project you move through to experience. All the spaces around the house have a different function and character, yet they feel connected.”

ken dede feinberg

The pool, guesthouse, and garage were sited after the main house was constructed. Originally conceived to be located far below the main house, they were moved much closer up to a terrace level that feels more connected to the Feinbergs’ daily activities.

The house, comprised of four wings extending out from a circular core, set up some interesting landscape opportunities, Kris says. “The wings define four unique spaces that correspond to the program of the house and the surrounding landscape,” she says. Incorporating terraces, flowering gardens in sun and shade, and a bright hillside of native shrubs and ground covers, Kris worked with Landscope Landscape Construction to create an unfolding series of views and spaces.

Inside the house, the circular foyer provides the first of many surprises. Its Jerusalem stone walls, concrete floors, and central powder room (featuring orange walls and a dramatic round skylight) signal that this is no ordinary dwelling. Two open-tread staircases, a curved screened porch, a cylindrical outdoor shower, and abundant windows echo the theme: clean shapes, natural materials, north shore light, and a willingness to let the landscape be the primary aesthetic.

Artwork is in deliberately short supply. “We wanted to design the home with minimal accessories, including art,” Jerry says. “If including art meant sacrificing a window, the art went.”

Dede concurs. “We want the natural materials, the views, the trees, landscaping, and water to be what draw the eye. That, to us, is the art.”

The Feinberg house has already become a popular destination for friends and family. Drawing on his many years designing interiors for the hospitality industry, Jerry treated each guest room as a first-class hotel room – replete with comfortable chair, desk, and ample lighting. And his overall design philosophy based on order and continuity is evident in the smooth flow from one space to another.

Dede uses her laptop in the master bedroom office nook to stay connected to the causes she is passionate about. Ken is clearly smitten with his upper-level den and the covered porch where he can work, smoke his beloved cigars, enjoy expansive views of Vineyard Sound and beyond, and listen to Wagner’s Das Rheingold at full and glorious volume.

As for the surprises Dede was seeking in her Island home, she says the greatest one is how much she and Ken love living in it. “We didn’t have any idea how wonderful this would turn out to be,” she says. “We’re ecstatic beyond anything we ever imagined.”