My space: where Vineyard artists work

Cathy Walthers wanted a kitchen she could use to teach students in; her mahogany counter can seat 10. But she also needed a space that could accomodate the way she cooked, and the rest of her family's needs. — Photo by Laura D. Roosevelt

Hugh Bush’s Atelier

Artist and playwright Hugh Bush’s studio is a place that pleases at least four of his five senses. A spacious room above his Vineyard Haven garage, “it smells like pine,” he remarks — “so great.” With windows on all sides, it captures lush views of forests, lawns, and the house he shares with his partner, Doug Cramer, and beyond it, Tashmoo Pond. Because Hugh is a seasonal Islander and uses the studio only in the summertime and early fall, the windows are always open when he’s working, letting in the sounds of the outdoors. The space is equipped with a desk and computer, multiple work surfaces, and other accoutrements that aid his work; for relaxation, it also houses a comfortable 19th century Chesterfield sofa and — from the same era — an armchair that Hugh’s dog, Linus, is partial to. Its cushion still bears an original instruction label recommending that it be “beaten or shaken every day” to help maintain its resilience. “If only I had time!” Hugh laments. “I used to do it every day, but now I’ve given up.”

Originally, Hugh used the studio for writing, but as the focus of his work has shifted more toward painting, he has made changes to the space to improve its utility as a place for making art. “Every year I add something,” he says, noting the track lighting in the ceiling that is new this year, and the dormer window on one side that he added last year to provide additional workspace and better natural light.

Among his favorite items in the room are two medical/surgical lamps. “They don’t cast much shadow,” he explains, adding that his father was a surgeon, and that the work surgeons do under such lamps requires the same kind of lighting that he needs for detailed painting. Another favorite fixture is his soapstone sink, which has two deep basins and a nozzle that swings back and forth across them. “It’s the simple things that make your life better,” says Hugh. “The solidity of a stone sink makes me happy every day.” Also useful is the small refrigerator by the sink, where Hugh stores the perishable egg tempera paints he makes himself.

The warm pine from which the room’s walls, rafters, and floors are constructed gives the space a welcoming, homey feel. The fact that it is much used is evident in the work surfaces littered with tools of the trade (paintbrushes, pigments, mixing jars, exacto knives), the protective paper covering the floor (striped with tape to fix rips), and the many art books and objects from the natural world that strike the artist’s fancy and perhaps inspire him (a crab carapace, feathers, apples from trees on the property). Referring again to the sounds he hears through his studio windows, Hugh says “The owl hooting in the evening tells me it’s time to go in for dinner.”

Kate Feiffer’s Guest/Writing/Editing/Doodling Room

“Our house is tiny,” says Oak Bluffs writer/artist Kate Feiffer. “It’s just two bedrooms for three people and a large dog.” So when a recently divorced cousin came to visit for a year in 2004, he built an outbuilding to provide the family with guest quarters and an office for Kate. Sliding doors separate the two rooms, but when no guests are in residence, Kate’s work bleeds over from her office into the cozy and whimsical guest space. She reads on the day bed and sometimes she edits or draws in an armchair. The loft above is where she does her painting.

Kate’s drawings — or “doodles,” as she prefers to call them — are offbeat, a bit whacky even, incorporating fanciful lines and shapes and the sparing use of eye-catching colors. Her guest/work room is in many ways like one of her doodles. “When we built our house,” she says, “we were conservative with regard to color and design. With this room, I wanted to have fun, to be playful. I wanted it to be visually invigorating, yet also relaxing.”

When you sit in one of the room’s comfortable armchairs, with your feet up on an ottoman or the chest that serves as a coffee table, you feel as though you’re occupying a tasteful cartoon. The wooden moldings around the windows flare out at the bottoms like curtains, and this theme is echoed in the woodwork at the bottoms of the cabinets in the kitchen area. The daybed is tucked into a windowed alcove painted a deep but bright yellow, and there are accents of cobalt blue (a color Kate loves) throughout the room — in the kitchen area tiles, for example, and in some of the light fixtures. “I also used a lot of copper,” Kate says — in the kitchen’s hanging lights, and in the railings that line the loft.

The room is filled with things Kate likes to look at, or that have a special meaning to her. Part of her collection of old cameras lines the top of one bookshelf; the walls are adorned with artwork by family and friends. There’s an old Singer sewing table below a window and a telescope on a tripod in a corner. And of course, since Kate writes, there are lots of books. There is a free-standing wooden bookcase in the living area, and — one of Kate’s favorite features in this space — a built-in bookcase in the bathroom. Both are packed with books, and all of them, Kate says, are there for a reason. There are novels she particularly loves, children’s books that inspire her own work, and books by friends and family members. “I have a personal connection to all of them,” she says, as indeed she does to everything in the room.

Cathy Walthers’s Kitchen

When chef and cookbook writer Cathy Walthers and her husband, builder Dave Kelleher, were designing their Chilmark house, Cathy planned her dream kitchen. “I wanted it to be a teaching kitchen,” she says, “but also, I wanted it to be set up for the way that I cook.”

Her favorite feature of her kitchen is the large island in its center. Seventeen feet long, it can accommodate 10 seated students. There is a four-burner cooktop with a griddle toward one end — great for teaching, since it allows her to cook for a class without turning her back on her students — but otherwise, the island is a long span of African mahogany work surface. Shiny with several coats of sealant, it repels water and stains. Though you can’t put hot pots directly on it, it was a functional and economical choice. “It’s made of four long boards side by side,” says Cathy. “They cost about $300. Granite would have been closer to $8,000.”

It’s also pleasing to the eye — a warm, rich brown. “Functionality is important,” says Cathy, “but so is beauty.” The far end of the island has plumbing beneath it for a sink that was in the original design. “But when I saw how beautiful that uninterrupted surface was, I changed my mind,” she confesses. “It’s one of the great things about having your husband as your contractor: you’re in the middle of something, and you can still change it.” Now, she says, she’s happy to have the ample work surface, which offers plenty of room for cutting boards, plating space, and even her laptop, which is often on hand for recording recipes and making notes.

Tall, backed stools line one side of the island. The other side, which faces a stove with two ovens and four more burners, a sink, and a granite counter crowded with kitchen machinery, is what Cathy calls “my space.” She designed the storage below the mahogany counter to provide for easy access to everything she needs close at hand while cooking. Open drawers under the cooktop house pots and pans; pull-out trash and compost bins are nearby, as are the drawers in which she keeps her knives and cooking spoons. “I like to save time when cooking,” says Cathy, “so I arranged it so I don’t have to think. I can just reach for what I need.”

On the opposite side of the kitchen from Cathy’s space is “the family’s space” — a countertop where the toaster and coffee maker reside so that family members can make what they need without getting in her way. The fridge, situated directly in the middle of Cathy’s space and the family space, has two doors so that it opens for everyone. And both sides have sinks and dishwashers, so everyone can clean up their own messes. In a kitchen where both work and normal life are constantly taking place simultaneously, Cathy notes, “having the ability for two people to do dishes at once is huge.”