The More the Merrier

Gogo Ferguson and David Sayre’s storied Chilmark home is designed for a good get-together, RSVP not required.

Early afternoon on a humid summer day, Gogo Ferguson and her husband David Sayre were relaxing by their natural pool outside their Chilmark home. Gray catbirds, white-breasted nuthatches, cardinals, and osprey flew overhead. A hummingbird visited the tall grass beside an open lily pad that floated atop the turquoise-blue water.

The tranquil scene would look very different in a few hours. Later that day Ferguson, a jewelry designer, and Sayre,  a builder and former private pilot, were set to host thirty friends in celebration of a couple whose wedding they had recently attended in France. Now honeymooning on the Vineyard, a party in their honor was in order – although both were quick to admit they never “need” a specific reason to host a party.  “We just love entertaining,” Ferguson explained.

The thirty attendees expected were actually just a rough estimate since such parties rarely have hard guest counts. “Once the word is out that there’s a party at Gogo and Dave’s,” said Sayre, “everyone wants to come.”

The living room and dining room merge and there’s enough space for at least twenty friends to sit down and tell stories.
Lexi Van Valkenburgh

And yet with the clock ticking down toward the festivities, all on the property remained calm: there were no tent rental vans parked in the driveway, no caterers setting up shop, no cleaning crew prepping the space. Most shockingly, Ferguson and Sayre conveyed not an ounce of stress. They sat outside admiring a frog doing the breaststroke in the pool – exuding, as does their house, an enviable sense of laid-back cool.

“Dave built this swing,” said Ferguson, rocking back and forth on a large wooden porch swing that hangs underneath a gazebo. “It’s very southern. Every house in Cumberland Island has these swings. Dave built this for my stepbrother and stepsister-in-law, and when they moved and sold their house, they gave it back to us.”

Both the topic of her husband’s building prowess and Cumberland Island are familiar ones for Ferguson. She’s quick to heap praise on her husband, pointing out the various improvements he has made throughout this property and others in their past. She’s also eager to discuss her love for Cumberland Island, the forty-square-mile barrier island off the coast of Georgia that was once almost entirely owned by the Carnegie family. Ferguson is a direct descendant of Thomas Carnegie, the American industrialist. Today, much of that island is owned and maintained by the National Park Service. Summers growing up there were spent making memories and art with her grandmother and exploring the great outdoors.

Thirty years ago, she and Sayre set down roots on the other island they would come to call home. They bought and sold homes in Vineyard Haven and West Tisbury, but in 2018 the couple found “the one.” They purchased their current property, four and a half acres on Hewing Field in Chilmark, now complete with an eight-bedroom home with a spacious jewelry studio, a guest house, a large basement recording studio, gardens, an oyster roaster, a great deal of space to entertain, and many meaningful memories with room for more to be made.

Gogo Ferguson and Dave Sayre lived in several different Island homes before settling into the Hewing Field property.
Lexi Van Valkenburgh

“We love it here. We never want to leave the compound. We get asked for dinners and invited to events but we say no,” Sayre said, laughing. Though he spoke in jest, Sayre admitted they do, in fact, handle most of the entertaining themselves.

“Everyone loves coming over,” he said. In the center of the property sits a bow-roof home, which was formerly the Inn at Tiasquam, named after the nearby Tiasquam River. Outside, the front porch is surrounded by wildflowers. Inside, the coat room is adorned with boots, jackets, and various hats – wide-brimmed ones from Mexico, ranchers, baseball caps, fedoras, and one unfamiliar bucket hat left by a wayward guest. Ferguson picked one up from a hook.

“I don’t even know whose this is,” she said, putting the bucket hat on her head and glancing in the mirror on the wall. “Oh no, this isn’t for me,” she whispered, quickly removing it and returning it to the wall.

From the coat room the home empties into an open floor plan where the living room and dining room merge and there’s enough space for at least twenty friends to sit down and tell stories. On this particular day, fourteen chairs had been arranged around the long dining room table, but the homeowners insist it can seat many more, maybe almost double. Though it’s not hard to imagine that this large space could have once been an inn lobby, it is undoubtedly more inviting and eclectic now, having been renovated and refurbished by Ferguson and Sayre with Mexican and Moroccan furniture, housewares, and art from their travels together. Skulls from wild horses on Cumberland Island line a large mantle that looks out to a spacious seating area.

Ferguson and Sayre’s decor speaks to their love of travel and incorporates Mexican and Moroccan house-wares and artwork.
Lexi Van Valkenburgh

Elsewhere, more bones, skulls, and other unusual natural forms –a constant theme and source of inspiration in Ferguson’s jewelry – punctuate the house. An inveterate nature lover and forager, she hunts for natural treasurers and, using the lost wax casting method, recreates them in sterling silver, gold, and vermeil. She completes the transformation in her jewelry studio, a bright and airy upstairs space with wide windows and an overflow of natural light that slinks in from cracked windows. “It feels like an aquarium,” she said. “It feels like a space where sharks should be floating by.”

In fact, the sharks – parts of them, at least – can be found inside the room, alongside a bowl of acorn tops placed on the floor, bags of rattlesnake ribs and baroque pearls, dried seaweed scattered on various surfaces, and a couple of plastic toy babies the size of an elevator button that her assistant likes to hide in the house, just for fun. A white sheepskin rug draped over a black computer chair sits below a spacious open window angled toward the sky. Cabinets, storage bins, and various tables display even more finds: pieces of driftwood, skulls, shells, starfish, and shark vertebrae, the latter which were destined to be repurposed into doorknobs.

Ferguson has displayed such treasures in each of her homes: the previous houses on the Vineyard, an equally eclectic home that she and Sayre built on Cumberland Island shortly before marrying. Even her childhood family home on that island, which has since been transformed into an inn. Now known as the Greyfield Inn, it is Cumberland’s only commercial establishment.

It’s an odd twist of fate, perhaps, that one of her family homes would be converted to an inn, while another inn on another island would be converted to a new family home. If nothing else, that experience likely helped her and Sayre visualize the possibilities of such a transformation. Rather than tear down and start again or drastically alter the footprint, they made minimal changes. They reduced the number of bedrooms from eleven to eight and added a generously sized studio for Ferguson’s jewelry business off the primary bedroom. Both are located on the far end of the house, away from the guest bedrooms and entertaining spaces downstairs.

A jeweler by trade, Ferguson recreates elements from nature – from shells to animal bones – in sterling silver, gold, and vermeil.
Lexi Van Valkenburgh

Ferguson and Sayre joke that they did this so that they can have a little separation from their many guests. When there are fifty people laughing and drinking downstairs, they said, it gets “just a little loud.”

Despite their preference for private quarters, evidence of the couple’s wide social circle permeates the home. Alongside a collection of large, beautiful maps of Georgia hangs a handful of snapshots of Vineyard music matriarch Trudy Taylor, mother of James. Some are from Ferguson and Sayre’s wedding; one is of Taylor holding their newborn grandson.

“Trudy was like my mom,” said Ferguson, who first met Taylor on Cumberland Island more than three decades ago. Their relationships carried over to the Vineyard, all the way until 2015, when Taylor died. “We loved each other dearly and I would often in her later years go have a sleepover in her beautiful house at Stonewall Beach…The greatest honor was to be with her as she left us,” she said.

Elsewhere in the home, a series of photo collages tell stories of Ferguson’s eclectic childhood: there’s a picture of a pig she raised as a pet on Cumberland Island, another of her beloved grandmother Lucy Ferguson with a pet buzzard, yet another of her grandmother with an alligator. Mixed in are unposed shots of family and familiar faces in personal settings, such as an informal shot of Hillary Clinton with Ferguson’s daughter. Some were taken on family cameras, others by Annie Leibovitz.

Lexi Van Valkenburgh

“These pictures are all part of our lives,” she said, pointing from one photo to the next. “I love them.”

Above the kitchen doorway hangs a block of wood, part of a dance floor, signed with a footprint by Mikhail Baryshnikov. The esteemed ballet dancer and choreographer is another dear friend of Ferguson’s; he wrote the introduction to Gogo: Nature Transformed, a book originally printed for an exhibit at the High Museum of Art Atlanta. One Christmas, on a bushwhacking adventure on Cumberland Island, Ferguson had Baryshnikov and his wife hunt for a raccoon penis after finding raccoon bones. But that is a story for another time. As are the stories of many other accomplished friends, most of whom she refers to in passing by first names only.

Ferguson is no stranger to bold-faced names, having grown up in a prominent American family and entertained brushes with fame herself, including in 1996, when she designed the wedding rings for John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette, who were married on Cumberland Island. But while notable names such as Bill (Murray) and Nicole (Miller) number among the many who have been known to stroll through their Chilmark doors, the gatherings at the former Inn at Tiasquam are a far cry from typical Hollywood party scenes or the political confabs of Washington, DC. They are quintessentially Vineyard – with a bit of southern hospitality mixed in.

On any given night, but especially during the summer, guests might congregate in the former lobby area, take a seat at the long dining room table, grab spots beneath the Mexican papel picado bunting lining the porch, or spill into the gazebo and out on the lawn. Meals are always big, healthy, similar, and prepared by the hosts.

Get-togethers often spill from the lobby-turned-great room onto the porch, a comfortable hideaway within the four-and-a-half-acre property.
Lexi Van Valkenburgh

“We love oysters,” Ferguson said, “and oyster roasts are big in Georgia…Dave’s an amazing builder and renovator. He built the fireplace outside during Covid. That’s where we roast oysters.”

Their fireplace, one of many he has built over the years, gets plenty of use. A standard dinner party menu typically includes 100 oysters from Jack Blake at Sweet Neck Farm in Edgartown, along with some chicken, maybe some smashed potatoes, all of which go into the fire, plus a few big garden salads. The goal: nothing fancy that involves a lot of prep.

Music is another important element. Depending on the occasion, the hosts sometimes fly in musician friends who stay at their home. At one recent party they flew in friends from Mexico City who play the marimbas. Then again, importing talent isn’t necessary. The Vineyard is filled with talented musicians who have made a name for themselves on the mainland, Ferguson said. Often, many of their musical friends come as guests and end up playing tunes for fun.

Poet and journalist Rose Styron, who is ninety-five and the godmother to their daughter, attends almost every party Ferguson throws. She is also always the last to leave. “Rose is to this day the first on my list to invite to an evening celebration. She has her designated chair for conversation and listening to music,” she said.

A pond-like natural pool is the latest addition to the property.
Lexi Van Valkenburgh

“And we always include our neighbors in any party. I love doing that. It’s polite.”

Their closest neighbors by proximity live in their guest house: recording artist and rapper John Forté, his wife Lara, who is a photographer, and their two young children, Wren Zazie and Haile. Ferguson and Sayre consider them family.

“We just love them. Zazie comes over and dances and it’s just the cutest thing,” she said.

This mixing of people of different ages and places and professions is at the heart of the couple’s passion for entertaining. That, and the fact that Ferguson describes such evenings as “pure joy.”

“Dinners and gatherings for me have always been ceremonial,” she explained. “The gathering of old friends and new, young and old, is a celebration of the creative diversity the Vineyard holds….

“What’s important to me is that everyone participates in bringing the best of each other to the evening.”

Once, long ago, Ferguson rented out their house to people she didn’t know, people she thought might enjoy the pastoral landscape, the chance to unwind and perhaps even throw a few backyard bashes themselves. But things didn’t go as planned.

Pictures showcase the couple’s eclectic social circle.
Lexi Van Valkenburgh

“Never again,” she said of the experience. “They thought it was cluttered with all the pictures. They said there were too many pictures.” Rather than meet the demands of the rental market, the couple decided it wasn’t worth the stress or the judgment. They carried forth personalizing the space, deciding once and for all that the house that was once an inn will remain a private home – albeit one where the doors are always open to a rotating roster of guests.

Earlier this year they put the finishing touches on the natural pool, their latest enhancement to the property. The unique design uses no chemicals and is made to mimic the look of a pond. It was built by Dan Whiting of Next Generation Natural Pools, who the couple learned about from an article in Martha’s Vineyard Magazine. It’s the best pool option for our planet, she said. “The water is so clean, so clear.”

Ferguson adores the peacefulness it has added to the already bucolic, laid-back property. “Dan is such an artist. He had no idea how he was going to lay it out. He had some conception. It was a work in progress the whole time. But oh my God, I just love it so much,” she said.

As the temperature rose and the start of the party neared, she sat by its side, watching birds fly overhead and chirp among the tall green trees. The swoosh-swoosh sound of water spurring down the waterfall into the pool – part of the advanced bio-filtration system – echoed through the yard.

Sayre, ever relaxed and up for a good time, glanced over to a volleyball net steps away from the pool. “We should play later,” he said as Ferguson smiled. They had plenty of time before their guests arrived.