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Framing A Dream
Collaboration on a Grand Scale Leads to Stunning Success

By Amelia Smith

Bill and BoStueck wanted a vacation house on Martha’s Vineyard surrounded by natural beauty and wonderful views. How would they achieve this dream?

Fast forward about four years: The Stuecks now enjoy their summers in their Aquinnah home, set in a rolling hollow overlooking a small pond and the Vineyard Sound beyond. The house has a low pitched roof which is typical of the area, but not so typical for the timber framed construction
the couple chose.

TheStuecks originally came to the Island in the mid-1980s with some of their Kansas neighbors who summered on Menemsha pond. Visiting led to renting, and then they bought a place on State Road in Aquinnah in the summer of 2001. It wasn’t quite all they wanted, though, so they kept looking. Their real estate broker, Richard Rooney of Rooney & Company, showed them some lots down Island, but this up-Island spot was the one they fell in love with.

After the Stuecks bought the land, they applied for a building permit using preliminary drawings from two local architects. When they decided not to use either of the original architects they’d spoken to, they were referred to Geoff Thors, a residential designer based in Edgartown. Geoff was a good fit for this growing collaboration.

Geoff began his college education at Boston University School of the Arts, but a growing interest in architecture led him to transfer to the Boston Architectural Center (now Boston Architectural College). The BAC’s unique curriculum encourages students to work in the field while completing their coursework. Geoff took a position at a design-build firm in downtown Boston, from which he gradually migrated south until landing on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1980s with his fiancée.

Since then, he has worked primarily as a residential designer, apart from a stint at Edgartown Hardware in the 1990s. “Working there was a godsend because I got to know everyone in Edgartown,” he says, and he soon started picking up more design work. He also worked with Ben Moore, an architect in West Tisbury, for five years.

“Geoff has a great concept of space,” Bill Stueck says. “He works all by hand drafting, no CAD. I can look at the remodeling jobs he’s done and know that Geoff did them.” Bo Stueck also liked Geoff. “He’s a very good communicator, he talks with his clients and makes sure he gets every detail right,” she says. The Stuecks and Geoff enjoyed a friendly working relationship as they developed a design for a vacation home that would bring the Stuecks years of enjoyment.

The designer and his clients drove around the Island looking for inspiration. “The flavor they were responding to was more readily found in Oak Bluffs,” says Geoff, although they also looked at houses in the other towns, especially Edgartown. They especially liked the pediment type entrances found around Oak Bluffs, bordering Ocean Park and on East Chop. Then they turned their focus to the building site in Aquinnah, where they had to work within the constraints of the lot, the terrain, and the plans which had been pre-approved by the town’s Planning Board. Sourati Engineering Group did the land surveying and engineering on the project

“We did a lot of site analysis for views, but we were penned-in by the setbacks and the shape of the lot,” Geoff says. The small buildable portion of the lot was idylic, overlooking a small pond, with the Vineyard Sound in the distance, with a ridge on either side. “The view is nicely framed by the hollow which blocks the view of nearby houses. It’s a really beautiful piece of property.”

The site’s zoning designated it part of a high visibility area, so they had to keep the ridgeline below an eighteen foot height restriction, as measured from mean natural grade around the house. This led to the use of a narrow (18’ wide), L-shaped floor plan, to get the floor height as high as possible to take advantage of the views, while keeping the roof within the height restriction.

The ridges on either side give the placement a sense of seclusion and privacy. “It worked out well. We got a nice view without having to see other houses,” Geoff says. If they’d gone any higher, the views would have included a lot more rooftops.

The original plans called for conventional construction, but the clients’ house in Kansas has open beam work and they decided that they wanted the same here. Bill Stueck met Bill Dreyer, a contractor who was working on a post-and-beam house in Edgartown, and was inspired by that job. He went back and told Geoff that they wanted to do this project as a post and beam – low pitched roof and all.
Geoff made a preliminary design of a hybrid king- queen-post truss as he started working on the sections. They put it out to bid to various post and beam and timber frame companies, including Timberpeg. Bill says that only Timberpeg would guarantee that their trusses would work. Structural engineer, Jesse Kendall, and Timberpeg worked together to figure out the mechanics of Geoff’s design. “There was a lot that they contributed in figuring out the design,” Geoff says.

While Timberpeg was manufacturing seventeen newly-designed trusses, which they have coined “Monarch Trusses,” for the house, the foundation was poured and the first floor deck put down, ready to take the frame. The Timberpeg contractor arrived, setting up the trusses against the bright blue sky with the Stuecks looking on. “The beams came in and had a golden and reddish color, and they just looked monumental against the bright blue sky. That was in September, when the weather is just beautiful,” Bo says.

The frame enclosed an L-shaped plan. On the main level, there’s a combined living room, dining room and kitchen with a fieldstone fireplace at one end. Gables in the long side of the house, one each for the living and dining rooms, frame views of the property’s small pond and the Vineyard Sound beyond. A deck runs all along the water side of the house, with steps leading down to the lawn below. The kitchen sits at the corner of the L. The cabinetry, along with much of the interior trim, were made by a contractor the Stuecks knew from Kansas, who came and stayed in their other house while doing the installation.

The master bedroom suite is in the short end of the L. It connects to the long outside deck, and also has its own private balcony, offering a spectacular view with the Elizabeth Islands in the distance. On the lower level there are two additional bedrooms, a rec room and a garage (mostly used for kayak and bike storage). “The entire lower level even has nice views out to the lawn and the Vineyard Sound,” Geoff says. “It was a fun job. I had a good time with it.”

Bill and Bo work in the construction industry in Kansas and Missouri, so they brought in one of their superintendents, Rusty Moore, to work with local contractors to complete the construction. While the wood of the timber trusses looked beautiful in its untreated, natural state, age darkens the wood over time, and Bo wanted a lighter, brighter look. The process of pickling the wood
was long and involved, with multiple coats of a Sherwin Williams stain followed by two or three coats of water-based urethane. A local house painter, Bill O’Rourke, spent over a year working on those beams and painting the ceiling.

The landscaping around the house dealt with the usual constraints of the Island – sandy soil and an abundance of deer. “This property has very fine, sugar-sand with a few wonderful boulders,” Bo says. They spotted the boulders around the property for focal points in the landscaping and brought in topsoil. Because they’d had another house on the Island, Bo had a little experience landscaping in this environment, mostly learning which plants are deer-resistant. “We like the roses, but the deer like them, too,” Bill says. They’ve had luck with some recently developed smaller butterfly bushes, spirea, and pieris japonica.

Having been in the house for about seven years now, they’ve grown to love it. “Timberpeg did a great job,” Bill says. “It was a new design. We like to look up at night when the light is just right and admire the house.” Then they move to the other side of the dining room table and look out at the sun setting over Vineyard Sound.

“This house is really easy to live in and care for,” Bo says. “We feel very lucky to have this home.” They still love the view. “We made it for our enjoyment and our family,” Bill says. “Our family has even grown since we built the house, and it’s perfect for us now. We have a full house going when they’re all on the Vineyard.”