Design Q and A: Patrick Ahearn, and a certain little yellow house renovation in Edgartown (no, not that one)

Keeping the old and making it new.


What’s the background on this house?

The Yellow House was built by Edward Worth during the Island’s golden era of whaling in 1838. In 1840, Captain Rufus F. Pease bought the Yellow House for $1,650 after his first successful voyage as captain of the ship Awashonks. After his second successful voyage, Governor Mayhew appointed Pease the Commissioner of Wrecks and Shipwrecked Goods. Capt. Pease died in 1893, and since then the Yellow House has lived many lives at the hands of its various homeowners, resulting in a small addition to the rear of the home in the 1960s.


What was the scope of the project, and the project?

For years, prospective homeowners were attracted to the rich history of the Yellow House. Upon entry into the home, one steps back in time to the late 19th century. The 1840s antique pine floorboards bear meaningful scars, alluding to centuries of inhabitants enhancing the historical feel of the home; however, nearly two centuries of New England weather, damages from various homeowners, and benign neglect left the home in considerable disrepair. A couple from Texas purchased the illustrious 1840s Georgian Colonial captain’s home and recruited our firm to restore it to meet today’s standards of living. Our goal was to preserve the history and character of the house, replace the 1960s addition with an addition more sympathetic to the original architecture, improve the flow of the interior, and reorient the spaces to take advantage of the long views to the water.


The exterior

The project began by jacking up the house to introduce a new basement and to restabilize the structure with a new pier foundation with an antique brick veneer reminiscent of Edgartown vernacular in the late 19th century. The original frame was carefully reassembled stud by stud, followed by new insulation, wiring, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, and roofing. As a result, almost every element of the house is new; however, the home appears to be original to the 1840s. At the rear, the 1960s addition was replaced with a more sympathetic addition. The goal was to complement the existing architecture and to celebrate the long vistas to the harbor. The new gable addition allowed for a master bedroom with cathedral ceilings above with French doors leading to a shared deck. The combination of large windows and pair of French doors allow the natural light to fill the interior while providing an unobstructed view of the harbor.


The interior

Similar to the exterior, the interior is just as much a celebration of the original home. The main objective was to preserve the original footprint, but to improve the natural flow between the connected spaces. The existing stairwell was preserved in its original location, and the newel post and balustrade were meticulously mimicked to extend to the new basement. The front rooms — the formal parlor and study — were repurposed as a game room and home office, respectively, to adapt to life in the 21st century while remaining consistent with their intended uses.

The 1960s addition, housing the kitchen and part of the family room, was poorly executed, making it difficult to access the kitchen without passing through a rabbit warren of rooms. We removed the second staircase to introduce a major spine connecting the front of the home to the rear. The new addition was designed with an open floor plan to foster social interactions among the multigenerational family, all while celebrating long views to the harbor reinforced by the cased beams. All new materials were prudently selected or mimicked to appear historically correct and original to the home, including flooring, antique brick, millwork, hardware, etc.

Today the Yellow House emanates its newfound vitality, and will continue to serve as an heirloom for many generations to follow.


What were some unusual features and design challenges?

Connecting the old and the new: The first challenge was determining how to connect the existing home to the new addition (replacing the 1960s addition) without impeding the existing dormer’s view and natural light. We accomplished a natural transition through creative roof detailing on the addition. The gabled roof expresses the main box of the new addition, and allowed for a dramatic cathedral ceiling in the master bedroom. The roof structure of the addition connecting the original home and the master bedroom is flattened to avoid blocking the existing dormer. The change in roof pitches is cleverly hidden from sight.


The site

The homeowners wanted a garage to store their small car. We had to look at the existing site and carefully plan how to fit the desired program in a very tight space in a way that didn’t compete with the existing home and didn’t interfere with the functionality of the service entrance. We replaced the existing shed with a new “post and beam” one-car garage. The new structure is appropriate in scale to appear like a workshop that could have been used by a fisherman. We placed a natural granite step off the service entrance so the car can easily maneuver past it, and the mudroom remains a functional transition space.