Pioneering audio engineer Henry Kloss and his wife, Jacqueline, did what many of us wish we or our parents had done: In 1978 they re-mortgaged their Cambridge house and scraped together enough money to buy land on Martha’s Vineyard – 158 waterfront acres in Chilmark – before prices here went haywire.
Their son, Dave Kloss, says, “My parents weren’t loners, but they loved being alone and being in nature.” He recalls being a teenager, hiking in from North Road to a tent platform where the family would spend the whole summer. “We’d come down and the summers would go like that,” Dave says, snapping his fingers. “It was luxurious camping, but pretty inconvenient living.”
Dave’s sister Margot Rothmann recalls that her parents kept a tractor tied to a tree on North Road to haul a summer’s worth of supplies to the campsite. “If you were lucky, you got to drive the tractor to the tent platform.” The others would hike to the site about a kilometer in. “Dad didn’t like to cut trees – he gave us hand tools to build the road.”
Dave, Margot, and their sister, Jen Hummel, along with visiting friends, spent summers hiking the land, exploring the rock walls and deer paths. “We would get up and just go walking for hours; no one would ask us where we were,” says Dave.
The Kloss family and their friends enjoyed the idyllic summers at the campsite. Even after the children had grown, Henry and Jacqueline “would come and would not leave,” says Margot. “We’d bring them a New York Times as a treat, but that was it.”
“My parents never really had the money to build anything,” Dave says.
“I don’t believe [Dad] ever had a desire to build,” says Margot. “But Mom–”
Dave explains that in the mid-1980s, “they built a basement, and then ran out of money and patience. So they laid down some tar paper and moved in.” The family called it the Bunker; a visitor later compared the dwelling to The Twilight Zone, so it was also known as the Zone.
“It was ramshackle living,” Dave says with a smile.
Despite the Klosses’ low-budget approach to summer in Chilmark, land values were skyrocketing around them. “Both Mom and Dad came to the realization that my sisters and I couldn’t afford to hold onto it.” So in 1986 the Klosses put more than fifty-three acres into conservation with the statewide organization The Trustees of Reservations. A conservation easement allows the landowner to keep the land, but permanently protects it from development; the family put the waterfront segment of the property (“high-value stuff,” as Dave puts it) into the easement. “They did it purely for the love of the land,” Dave says of his parents. “They saved the stuff that they loved the most.”
In 2001, Jacqueline passed away, and Henry followed in early 2002. And since land values had continued to climb, the Kloss children were forced to sell 118 acres, including forty protected acres. “The last thing we wanted to do was sell land,” says Margot’s husband, Doug. But estate taxes left them little option. They are happy to report that a neighbor bought the property and has yet to develop any of it.
After the sale, the three adult children decided on separate houses. The youngest sister, Jen, and her husband, Bryan Hummel, decided to buy a house in Menemsha; Dave enlisted Hutker Architects in Vineyard Haven to design him a home on another part of the property; and the Rothmanns decided to complete the large house Margot’s parents had begun. But as often happens, nature changed their plans: The under-construction house was blown in on itself by the Patriots Day nor’easter of 2007 (the storm that opened Katama Bay to the sea and cut Chappy off from the rest of Edgartown). Dave, a pilot for Delta Airlines, was flying to the Vineyard when he first saw the destruction.
Stunned, Doug and Margot then turned to Hutker Architects as well to help them realize their plans on the family land. In the end, the firm designed the architecture, landscape, and interiors of both houses.
Dave spoke with six architects before settling on Hutker. It was important to him to build a house that would have a minimal impact on the land his family loved, a house using durable materials and requiring minimal maintenance and energy, with a small footprint. The Rothmanns felt the same way, and both houses reflect the respect for the land that their parents instilled in them. “Hutker was very sensitive to minimizing the impact on the area,” recalls Dave. “We didn’t have to push our agenda on them.” Margot agrees: “They knew where we were coming from.”
Hutker designers Greg Ehrman and Phil Regan worked on both homes. Greg explains that the firm works closely with clients on issues such as stewardship, energy, and technology, and together they set the “values for the project and the sustainability goals before pen goes to paper.”
Of course, both houses are not just ecologically sensitive, but are also beautiful, featuring sleek contemporary design. Dave’s house – built by Perry Construction Company of Martha’s Vineyard, based in Vineyard Haven – sits near the high point on the property with a lovely view of a stone wall (one of many), a sloping field, and the Elizabeth Islands in the distance. He and his father used to hike from the family campsite to this spot, and while the view is impressive, many trees remain, a legacy of his father’s feeling for nature. “I wanted to clear just enough to get a view.” One large oak blocked much of it, and it took Dave seven years to find the will to cut it down.
Greg says everything from the “informal siting” of the house – on the side of the hill rather than on top of it – to the “camp feeling” inside reflects Dave’s personality. “David talked a lot about the playful and adventurous sense the property always gave him.”
Margot and Doug’s house – built by Cornerstone Building & Remodeling of Oak Bluffs – sits on the site of the Bunker, and has a much more wide-open view of Vineyard Sound. When they were initially trying to finish the original family house, a previous builder had cleared a large area for staging, and the Rothmanns were taken aback. “A huge area was disturbed,” says Doug. “We wanted to bring it back to its natural state.” Margot and Doug’s house, while sizable, is less than half the size of the 8,000-square-foot house that collapsed. The new house uses reclaimed materials, high-end insulation, and a geothermal heating and cooling system – and is certified by the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. Doug hopes to erect a wind turbine and get “off the grid” completely.
Greg says regardless of the greener aspects of the house, the layout is a “direct response to the way Margot and Doug saw the site.” They wanted their bedroom oriented toward the Gay Head Lighthouse, the kitchen and dining area to look directly out toward Vineyard Sound, and the “destination living room” to showcase the full 270-degree view.
Both houses defer to the landscape. Despite being large enough for extended family and guests, neither house presents an imposing mass to the arriving visitor, preferring to highlight the stunning views with lots of windows and glass doors, which also let in cooling breezes. Dave says he rarely uses his air conditioning. In the landscape design, both homes feature native plantings, utilize stones found on the land, and forego irrigation.
The task of designing and building a house is often seen as grueling by homeowners, but Margot says, “It was a blast; it was a ball.” Dave praises Hutker and builder Dan Perry for their willingness to entertain new ideas: “They were not scared of anything.”
Modern elements recall the streamlined, utilitarian design Henry Kloss favored in his long career developing audio equipment, starting in the mid-1950s. (The products of Tivoli Audio in Boston, among others, still feature some of his technical innovations and now-classic designs.) They used materials with a clean industrial aesthetic (porcelain tiles resembling weathered steel on Dave’s fireplace and kitchen stove backsplash, zinc-coated copper as flashing outside both houses and as a surface covering for the Rothmanns’ dining table), with agricultural elements (red sliding barn doors in Dave’s house and aged gray mushroom board – a by-product of commercial mushroom cultivation – inside and out at both houses).
In talking with Dave and Margot, they often refer back to their parents, particularly their father. Margot says bluntly that he was “eccentric,” a stereotypical inventor who would blast classical music in the wee hours to test his audio innovations while his grandchildren were sleeping. Margot recalls having her fortieth birthday party on the beach with a group of friends when her father came down for a swim – in the nude, save for a terry-cloth hat. “Many of my friends still remember him as ‘the naked guy,’” she says with a chuckle.
Brother and sister honor the summers of their youth by inviting family and friends to fill their homes each summer. “We hate having empty rooms....We just love to share it,” says Margot, noting the twelve-person dining table was custom-built to be strong enough for people to dance on. “It’s not unusual to have twenty people here.”
The children of both families continue to explore and enjoy the protected land with their friends, much as Dave and Margot did thirty years ago. With the distractions of family and nature all around them, Dave says, “The house is a very small part of the experience.”