I spent the better part of this late August muggy Monday doing laundry, making guest beds, cleaning, and vacuuming. By 2 pm, all I wanted to do was go swimming. First, I decided to stop by the Bananas pop-up in Chilmark, at 496 North Road. When I put the address into Google Maps, I saw it was in Menemsha, the opposite direction of where I planned to swim. But I still decided to drop by. As I slowed on the hill down into Menemsha, I was thrilled the sale was at a home I’d always been curious about.
Judy Hartford and Joani LaMachia were sitting on the screened-in porch, deep in conversation, when I arrived. They told me how Bananas was founded some 20 years ago at what is now North Tisbury Farm by Hartford and Ellen Wolfe. The store got its name when their friend, Bob Perlman, suggested, Yes! We Have No Bananas, and they immediately shortened it to just Bananas.
Hartford continues, “Joani must have come in, that was 2004. We just connected because our taste was in sync.”
Joani LaMachia, pop-up host, Northeastern professor, and homeowner, said, “You just didn’t find the kind of things the store had.” Although she and her husband did not buy their Menemsha home until 2005, they rented on-Island for vacation. Hartford adds, “We moved here in 2000.”
LaMachia rented in Chilmark before buying her home, because her friend Debra invited her and her baby daughter for a visit, and took them to Lucy Vincent Beach. LaMachia says, “We swam all day, horses were running on the beach in the evening, and they literally told us they were going to lock up and we had to leave. I went home and said to my husband, ‘You’ve got to come to this place; you’re never going to believe it.’” Hartford adds, “It’s true — that’s what happened to us. It was 1983, and we came for a few days. Five days we stayed in Vineyard Haven at the Lothrop Merry House, and I fell in love with the Island. Every time we came and had to leave I would go through mourning. So now I’ve left and come back, and have the same feeling. Every single day I was here I felt not only was it a gift to live here, but I felt so proud of myself that I had made it happen.” Hartford says she and her husband “closed down their practices on Long Island, shut down their house, packed up, came here without a clue of what we were going to do, and we were immediately at home.”
“What we’re doing right now,” LaMachia says, “this doesn’t happen in my regular life. You just meet people, talk to them and get a sense of connection, a sense people are happy, and I love it here.” Hartford adds, “Especially among women.” Everyone agrees the connections they’ve made here are special.
LaMachia mentions she’s writing a book about the house. It’s something she’s been thinking about for some time because she feels “this house is a story.” She continues, “It was made by two women in the 1920s. It was a tea house and restaurant with lodging upstairs.” LaMachia fell in love with the house the first time she walked in. When she purchased it from Helen Hart, the kitchen was painted dark green; everything was dark.
She points out that the kitchen doors swung out, and that tables lined the entire screened-in porch. Although not winterized, there is a stone fireplace in the present living room, which likely had tables as well back in the 1920s.
The house retains its original 1921 name and business name, the Lobster Pot. What has made this particular house special for me is a welcome beacon, the red and green lights which flank the entrance and shine through the off-season. LaMachia shows me around the ground floor pointing out original details, like the small brass “Hurry Up” door knocker on a bathroom door. Inside, bird paintings by LaMachia adorn the walls, so they named this particular bathroom “the Bird Bath.” She has some photos and an original Lobster Pot menu. Before learning more about the house, LaMachia tells us that after being kicked out of the farmstand, they did the Chilmark Flea for a couple of summers before finding the yellow house on State Road in West Tisbury (now Tending Joy) that was perfect. LaMachia says, “We always had two people renting upstairs; Kanta [Lipsky] was there, and Basia [Jaworska] was there.” Next, LaMachia is holding up a shirt and pants, wondering how I’d look. It turns out the three pieces I chose to try on, she too had chosen. Everything looks great on LaMachia when she tries it on.
A prospective shopper arrives, and then hugs ensue between Hartford and Julie Robinson, local interior designer, both women of equal stature, just around 5 feet tall, who haven’t seen one another for a few months. LaMachia’s family, her husband, daughter, and her boyfriend, her mother, and two dogs left just that morning. Hartford remarks, “It’s been five years since we moved away.” I notice an occasional strand glimmering in her curly hair, and she explains they’re called fairy hair, and woven into her hair: “They only come out when that strand falls out.” As Judy and Julie catch up, I asked LaMachia when she decided to write a book about the Lobster Pot. She says, “There are just so many stories, and I want to write it from the perspective of the house. The house has a soul, and is an accumulation of all the souls, the people, the laughter and things that have happened here.” LaMachia points out something now displayed on a shelf she found in the house when they moved in, and believes it is the ribbon used to tie the wrapping around takeout sandwiches, She reads, “Caught in the Lobster Pot, Menemsha, Mass., Martha’s Vineyard Island.”
We run into Robinson, who says, “I let go of all my employees in 2019 thinking I was retiring, but because people couldn’t travel, everybody wanted to do everything with their houses.” So she’s been busier than ever. I once had a sofa that had belonged to my grandmother reupholstered by her after she moved her business to her home in West Tisbury, and what I distinctly remembered were the wonderful Asian sculptures, both outside and in the shop. Robinson said, “I have always loved Asian art.” Now the gallery is her son’s apartment. She’s still busy doing interiors and plenty of upholstery. LaMachia says, “Out of necessity I learned how to upholster. I love doing it because it’s so focused.” Robinson adds, “It feels like you’ve really accomplished something. The first job my mother ever got me on Martha’s Vineyard, after scooping ice cream in Oak Bluffs and working at the Rare Duck — they wouldn’t let me work upstairs because they thought I’d get killed. Anyway, the first job she got me [when she was 12] was working for this seamstress, Mary Joyce. I learned how to smoke Kool cigarettes. Learning how to sew because my mother didn’t know how to sew a button on, that paid my way around the Pacific, the Indian Ocean.”
Robinson and her family started coming to the Island in 1954 from White Plains, N.Y. She continues, “I went to the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club and learned how to sail. To think that one job paid my way. I sewed for other sailors. My husband was a carpenter and had great layout skills, so that’s what we did across the Pacific and Indian Ocean, and when we got to [certain] countries, he’d get a job building houses on land. I’m trying to write a book.” LaMachia says, “So am I!”
Then it’s back to Hartford’s clothes, and why we’re all together at the summer house … LaMachia says, “Everybody was saying this today about Judy’s pieces. I have everything I ever bought from her. They’re my uniforms, even this [she points to what she’s wearing]. I’ve had this for 15 years.” We all agree everything is comfy and adaptable under or over other items. And like most women, we all agree we hate bras.
Funny enough, a newly retired pediatrician who stopped by the sale had attended New Jersey–based Johari’s Pop-Up Bra Fitting event, hosted by Sideline in Vineyard Haven, in late July, and was dumbfounded to go from a size 44 to a 36 bra, and felt like she’d never looked better (FYI, they’ll be back next summer).
While Robinson goes to pay, I ask LaMachia to show me upstairs. Originally beds lined the walls around the open center landing when they bought the home. Now she has one elegant trundle bed, a sewing machine and small work area, a reading area, and a desk beside a screened-in porch in the front center of the house with a single hammock. All three bedrooms are on the back side of the house, and have the original guestroom numbers on the doors, original small sinks, and are adorned with art made by her daughter as a child and her own watercolors. LaMachia has always done something creative, whether it’s her artwork, the upholstered pieces she’s done, or the entire house she’s styled and “homeified.”
What I expected to be a quick stop turned into one of those perfect Vineyard summer afternoons with old and now new friends, lingering, laughing, and storytelling.
If you’re looking for Judy Hartford, you can find her at Red Mannequin in Chatham, N.Y.
If you have any photos or stories to share about the Lobster Pot in Menemsha, please get in touch with Joani LaMachia at firstname.lastname@example.org.