There’s no shortage of design inspiration on Martha’s Vineyard. The Island combines natural beauty with colorful characters in an active community of artists and creative thinkers. But making a successful business of design can be a challenge – staying true to a personal aesthetic standard while creating something appealing to others. Here are three designers, all in different disciplines, who are achieving that balance within their thriving and respected Island businesses.
Tile expert Annie Bradshaw of Martha’s Vineyard Tile Company in Edgartown
What’s your background? Have you always been creative?
My parents owned the largest ceramic supply house in New England in the 1970s and ’80s. My mother was a pioneer in the ceramic industry and cultivated my artistic abilities. I worked side by side with her, starting at an early age. She instilled in me the importance of hard work and that you always listen to your customers. Martha’s Vineyard Tile Company was an extension of my ceramic background, without the messy clay and glazes. I could still fulfill my desire to create without getting dirty.
You and your husband, Jeremy, started the business in 1996. How did it begin?
I think people would be surprised to know that Jeremy and I started this business on pure sweat equity. Every week we would take money from his paycheck – he was a house painter – to invest in MV Tile. We never went to a bank for a loan. They’d also be shocked to learn that Jeremy learned how to set tile from a Home Depot instructional video, sixteen years ago. He is now considered one of the premier tile installers on the Island. He is a true craftsman in his field. I hope that we, as a business team, can inspire others to find their business niche on this Island.
What’s the design aesthetic in your own home?
We live in a renovated barn. We decided to go with a Tuscan vibe on the interior. It’s built on a slab, which is the perfect surface for large format porcelain tile. Our master bath is a traditional honed Carrara marble with a soft blue and green glass accent. We took a more whimsical approach with our guest bath. We tiled it floor to ceiling using a muted blue handmade subway tile and fish border. To give it the wow factor we installed a dark metallic glass mosaic behind the vanity. I honestly love every tile in my house, but I do come across tile I wish I’d used. It’s the price I pay for being in a business that is constantly changing, with new product coming in almost weekly.
Where does a project begin for you?
My clients’ personalities and lifestyles are what inspire me. I like being involved at the inception of the project. Tile has become an architectural element in homes now. It is no longer just utilitarian. Tile needs to fit seamlessly with the entire project.
Is there a specific look or product you’re dying to design with?
I love the simplicity and clean lines that come with a contemporary design. For example, large-format tiles on the floors and floor-to-ceiling mosaic patterns. Combining texture and organic products in neutral tones is a fantastic look. I’d love to use the new porcelain tiles that mimic hardwood throughout the living space and especially on the basement level. I recently had a couple in to design a Tuscan-style bath. I suggested a cobbled travertine and threw out a couple of additional ideas and they said, “You get us. Do what you think we’d like. We trust you.” That’s a great feeling.
Landscaper Evangeline Costa of Evangeline & Company in Oak Bluffs
What brought you to this work?
I grew up in New York City, architecturally stunning, but in those days lacking in many aspects of greenery and landscapes. I grew up with a concrete lawn. No kidding. The lawn was literally paved over and painted green. Flowers weren’t on my career radar. Then in one year, my aunt died from cancer, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and my company was purchased and I was laid off. It was the perfect storm of emotional upheaval. During a trip to the Vineyard, I turned to my garden for comfort and redesigned [it]. Friends asked me to design gardens for them, and then their neighbors asked. When someone handed me a check for a thousand dollars, I knew I wanted to start a business. I’ve now been in business for seven years, and I love what I do.
Did you get specific training in landscaping?
I enrolled at the New York Botanical Garden and took gardening and design courses. Then I got certified through the [Northeast Organic Farming Association, a.k.a. NOFA] Organic Land Care professional course. Next I went to Rutgers University to understand the business and construction side of landscaping, and I currently attend Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions classes to better understand the impact on our wetlands. An “aha” moment occurred during the NOFA course, when I understood you could be a good steward of the earth and not be in conflict with good design.
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere. I keep journals of anything that piques my interest: color combinations, art, even words. I once saw a headline from a magazine; it became the inspirational theme for a client’s secret garden – “Nestled and Tucked,” nestled amongst the flowers and tucked into the woods. When a client says, “I love my garden. Every morning I sit [there] and slowly drink my coffee,” I know we’ve hit a home run because the client is connecting on a strong sensory level.
How do you create that feeling of connection with landscape design?
It’s accomplished with color, being mindful of our sense of place and ecosystem by incorporating native species, and by adding a bit of whimsy when possible. Most importantly, it’s listening to what the client needs. The projects I’m most proud of have had a visceral impact not only on the homeowner, but also on the community. We landscaped four houses on Greenleaf Avenue across from Sunset Lake in Oak Bluffs. Neighbors from adjoining streets stopped to thank us for beautifying the neighborhood. An association was later formed to help improve and protect Sunset Lake and Park.
What’s your idea of a dream project?
I love the concept of outdoor rooms. I’ve always wanted to design and build an outdoor kitchen. We’re currently creating an outdoor fireplace, stone grilling station, seating area, and patio. I’m more excited than the client!
Builder Ben Kelley of Building Shelter in Vineyard Haven
Were you destined to become a builder?
Tonka trucks, Legos, and the Erector Set were my favorite toys. My family worked with their hands and they were business owners. As kids, my siblings and I were expected to work hard. We helped to renovate some of the houses we lived in. I worked with my dad laying carpet, vinyl, tile, and wood flooring. During summer breaks, I worked at my grandpa’s big-rig truck shop, treading tires, learning body work, welding. In college, I continued to work in the trades, doing a little bit of everything: sheet rock, foundations, framing, finish work, floors, painting.
You’ve had your company, Building Shelter, for about seven years. What does the name mean to you?
Building Shelter is about building relationships. My grandfather said having good relationships is the most important thing we do in life. Putting some wood together that eventually looks like a house is not the end in itself – nor is the final payment. Building is a service, affording protection, comfort, and refuge. Building is also a service to our community and our environment.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I’m passionate about space: How can you make limited space do more than you think? I designed and built a settee that folds into a chair or out into a bed, and if you remove the cushions, it becomes a table. It’s a fun puzzle. My outdoor movie theater is a design that came out of a mess: A neighbor complained about a shed I’d begun to construct, and a friend suggested I take this bad situation and do something creative with it – to rise like a phoenix from the mud. I moved the shed, built a wall and overhang, and had an electrician wire it, and the Phoenix Theater was born.
What do you see as your role in the design process?
To successfully enable the [architect’s] design in a way that will make the home more durable, comfortable, and efficient, to make it a high-performance home. Sustainable design is not all about tree-hugging. It can lower maintenance and operating costs, increase interior comfort and long-term durability, and make a home a healthier place to be.
What projects are you most excited by?
I’m always excited about whatever our current project is. I enjoy the challenges of small spaces or creative use of space. I’m working on a garage that will combine a studio and a fifteen-by-thirty-foot apartment. My team and I really enjoyed the recent porch renovation we did. The client wanted to stay true to the heritage and history of her house. This amazing circular porch hadn’t been cared for and maintained by the previous owners – it was falling apart. We were inspired by the funky, intricate scrollwork around the porch. We salvaged pieces, took them back to the studio, and re-created them to preserve the look and maintain the integrity. That was a fun project because it was so detailed and challenging.