Home is where the art Is: a visit with Kara Taylor

A jewel of a hand-me-down home in the woods of West Tisbury.

It is not often that you walk into a house and it feels completely original, but that is the experience one has when crossing the threshold at artist Kara Taylor’s fairy tale of a home. It is so utterly one person’s aesthetic, vision, take — not the usual palette that one finds in most Vineyard homes — blue hues, stripes, white walls, and dishes from Williams Sonoma — that it feels like a story that might have been cooked up by the minds of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.  Instead, it is all Kara’s vision and craft.

The story begins in 2008, when some clients of Kara’s mom, Kathy Sollito, a real estate agent, were dividing up a “pretty big” parcel of land in the West Tisbury woods and they needed to section off an acre for an affordable housing lot. “My mom asked them if it was possible for them to designate the lot for me. Pure luck,” Kara says.

In just nine months, Kara designed, contracted and built the house with the help of framers from Maine, friends, and as she tells while strolling around her home, the Island community at large. “I wanted the house to have an old feel.” Indeed, it does. The paint hues complement the refurbished radiators in each room and a pair of spectacular, stained glass windows — replete with wavy glass — serve as walls. Kara points to a pair of large four-over-four windows. “[Architect] Chuck Sullivan helped me figure out the engineering for those.” Then she points to her kitchen counter, which is a giant hunk of glossy walnut. “Ross Gannon and Nat Benjamin helped me get that.” Her stove? “That’s from Bob Mone.” Her kitchen counters? “Those are from the Finkelsteins and Leo Desorcy helped me with my floors, which are angelique. And those beams over there are from a client in Chilmark who was building a post and beam home. It’s a house of hand-me-downs.” Other items include fixtures found at salvage yards up and down the East Coast — from New Bedford to Newburyport. “I went all over New England. Each ballister on the staircase is unique. My ex-boyfriend did an amazing job of making the staircase work.” She sighs remembering the process, “I really cracked the whip, but I also had so much help along the way. Trip Barnes helped. Oh and I was also able to work in a few painting trades with some of my subcontractors to offset the cost.  We all came out happy. Of course there are things I might do differently now. Wooden gutters? They are such a pain. They need constant maintenance — sanding and painting — and I have other painting to do,” she laughs.

“When I went off to college, I never thought I’d be here — Island-grown girl back living on the Island — at this point in my life. But that is how it worked out. I feel incredibly fortunate to have a home on Martha’s Vineyard. To get to live here. And that my art supports me and having this home.”

Kara received her BFA from Maine College of Art, majoring in ceramic sculpture. After college she moved to another island, Maui, to work. There were no ceramics studios so she began painting. A couple years later, a show at the Field Gallery brought her home.

Now she has her own gallery up the street from the Field Gallery and an amazing collection of Island art. Richard Lee, Allen Whiting, Bill McLean, Max Decker, Peter Keene, to name a few. Her most prized painting is by Sonja Lamut. “That’s the one. Some of my friends don’t understand why. But it gets me.” She also has a framed picture of Frieda Kahlo holding a gun. “She’s important to me. I feel we might have been good friends.”

And then there are the incredible objects inside the home. Her step-father Joe Sollito’s giant wooden desk, which lived at the MV Courthouse for more than 40 years, is now parked in an alcove on her second floor. “It took four guys to get it in here.” There are file cabinets from her days working as a gardener for Barbara Drier and a trunk from another gardening client Margot Wilke. She also has a stack of Black Mountain College books from them. “I miss them both. I would love to see how Barbara’s rock garden is doing.”

But the thing that really takes the house from feeling well-collected, crafted, and curated to magic, is the way Kara has organized her everyday stuff. A bowl of thread feels like a Golden Age Dutch painting by Vermeer. Another bowl holds large paint brushes and the presentation has the wink of a surrealist. A stack of red books feels utterly modern and sculptural. Even the sheets, which are stuffed into shelves in an open closet, are a painting of puffy clouds.

As she walks outside to her garden, she points out plants, shrubs and trees that were also gifts from Island families and friends.

Her arugula spills out of one bed, herbs like rosemary and thyme volley texture and scent into the scene and the tomatoes and zinnias lean against each other and their bounty.

Nearing the end of our visit, Kara pauses and plucks a weed out of a bed. The sun shines overhead. The tall oak trees shake in a gust of wind. There’s so much beauty and wonder around, the whole property feels like a self-portrait of a woman and her Island.