Martha’s Vineyard Design, Landscape, Interiors


Status: Completed in 2016

Designed and built in Chilmark, Mass., the Chilmark House project covers almost five acres of previously unbuilt land in the heart of the farming and artistic community that is known as “Up-Island” Martha’s Vineyard.

Building in the Land

Despite its scale and stark modernity, the three-story structure closely embraces the land, evoking the local vernacular of timber sheds weathered to a gray patina—a poetic byproduct of the region’s salt and sun.

Interior DesignAileen Kwun, 2017

Farm. Landscape. Seascape.

Chilmark’s long agrarian history on the windswept southern edge of Martha’s Vineyard underpins the design approach to this house and studio for a multi-generational family.

The site, a former sheep grazing field, with long views to the Atlantic, overlooks Chilmark Pond, with long views to the Atlantic. In deference to the field’s history, and to the simple New England forms that shape the area’s heritage, we developed the house and studio as a pair of barns with low pitched roofs that sit quietly in the landscape. The two buildings form a series of courtyards and outdoor spaces, with varying degrees of privacy and views. In a nod to New England’s bank barns, the long barn is set into the hillside, diminishing its scale from the north and creating direct connections to the outside from both upper and lower levels.

Producing a Facade

Schiller, like an increasing number of Western designers these days, created the house’s arresting exterior using a process known as shou sugi ban, a ­centuries-old Japanese ­technique for preserving and finishing wood by charring it with fire.

The New York TimesAmanda Fortini, 2017

The jet-black structure is wedged into the South Road hillside (inspired by up-Island bank barns) and peers out over the ocean with great windows like the eyes of an insect. An expanse of solid-black charred wood wall stretches along the land-facing side. As you advance toward the massive front door, the black planks begin to separate slightly, offering glimpses of the interior and the sea beyond. When the door sweeps open, it reveals a view of the pond and the ocean through the opposing wall of glass.

Martha's Vineyard Home & GardenHolly Pretsky, 2019

The simple, dark buildings are approached via a farm road that winds through Chilmark’s dense thicket of scrub oak. A broad stair links a large south-facing porch back to the farm road and provides pedestrian access through the field to the beaches beyond. Based in a shared love of the dense aggregation of New England’s farm complexes, we sited the studio and the house barns tightly together, creating a charged outdoor space between them, which provides the approach to the house’s entrance. The sweeping Atlantic views are only experienced after a visitor enters the house; the northwest entry courtyard is edged by a mute, charred cedar wall with screened apertures, creating a private courtyard with views west over the rolling fields and stone fences. Inside the dark buildings, bleached ash lines and lightens all surfaces. The ceilings in the public rooms lift to the high ridges, with dropped areas to create a children’s sleeping loft high in the roof. The lower level consists of a series of bedrooms with shared spaces between that look into light wells, landscaped with local rocks and moss.

At the heart of this design process lies collaboration. Aaron Schiller, Principal at Schiller Projects, six years ago, approached Alan Organschi of Gray Organschi Architecture to collaborate with him on the design for Chilmark House. Gray Organschi Architecture gave Aaron a home to start this project and provided experienced leadership to the project that in turn launched our practice. Over the course of five years this team built an intricate approach to the overall development of Chilmark House, the landscape design and the interiors. Schiller Projects designed and built many of the freestanding furniture pieces specifically for this project and enlisted great designers, friends and long time collaborators including Fort Standard and Pletz Lighting out of Brooklyn and Caleb Woodard Furniture out of Tennessee.

Photographs by David Sundberg of Esto, and Matthew Carbone.