Doing the Duin Huis

Tucked in the dunes off Moshup Trail is a sleek residence inspired by driftwood and lifeguard stands. But as architect Mark Hutker and builder Andrew Flake explain, the house called Duin Huis is anything but simple.

MVM: Tell us about how this building came to be.

Mark Hutker: They’re European clients who bought what was a troubled property, in the sense that there had long been lawsuits about additions and things like that….So they knew that they would only be able to build within a certain footprint and we had to stay within the existing height of the existing building. This was the most highly restricted home that we’ve designed here on the Vineyard.

They were exceptional to work with because I think it’s fair to say they value design services a little differently in Europe than they do in America. They lean into every conversation and suggestion we made, but we first started listening to them really carefully and they wanted a very simple – can we use the word austere – interior that was uncomplicated, uncluttered, and completely immersed in the environment, which they love.

The idea was to minimize the visual impact of the house, especially as seen from the beach.
Brian Vanden Brink

Andrew Flake: The irony of it is, it ended up being arguably the most complicated interior we have ever done.

Mark Hutker: Yeah, there is irony in that.

Andrew Flake: When designers, builders, and architects get together they all have their frames of reference. And when they say this is going to be really simple and really beautiful, what they mean is it’s going to be beautiful and really friggin’ complicated.

Mark Hutker: We talked to the owners and we knew they’d be using this as a vacation house, and so one of the things we spent a lot of time talking about is what’s the footprint and what’s the house look like when they’re not here. And what about those who walk up and down the beach and might happen to witness the house?

As we walked out to the beach one time with them on an initial design meeting, there was all this driftwood out there and you know, we thought wouldn’t it be cool if the house concept was just a simple driftwood form hunkered down in the landscape. One that completely closed itself up to and protected itself from the winter storms. And that also kept the glare from all the glass and everything from being an issue visually in the natural environment. So we have these shades that come down over the windows and protect the house in the weather of winter, and in the summer when they are in the raised position they keep the sun from beating in from the south.

Andrew Flake: When we’re up at the beach at Blue Barque and you pick up a piece of wood that has been flopping around in the ocean for six months or sixty years, and all the edges are rounded and it’s been sculpted by the sand and the weathering and the ocean…I think of this building. I really do. I think the connection between the land and the dunes and the saltwater are very transparent and they overlap with one another more in this house than in any other house that I’ve ever done, and I’ve built some pretty amazing properties, not only with Mark but with some other renowned architects. They don’t connect the way this one does. Not even close.

MVM: How did you come to the decision to use only four materials in the house: poured concrete, glass, wood, and bronze?

On the ground floor are two bedrooms and an entertainment room.
Brian Vanden Brink

Mark Hutker: Our way of interpreting simplicity and uncluttered was to use the fewest materials to achieve the highest results. The other thing that happens, you know, is that these materials are used because they look better over time as they resist the climate that bears upon them. And what’s nice is even in the winter when the leaves are all gone, it’s the exact same color as the bark. So it’s a blending type of thing. Not only is the form soft and blending, but the materials themselves are meant to just recede into the nature of nature.

Andrew Flake: Seven out of ten people who come to the Vineyard and who come to work with us or work with Mark or with other well-known builders or architects want a traditional New England vernacular to be the dominant force in the design. And when you get a client that sees the world slightly differently and with a different angle, it opens up possibilities that a person designing a more traditional house can’t even imagine. I think a lot of the traditional or traditional-inspired architecture that’s here on the Vineyard is totally appropriate to this part of the world, but if you look at individual sites it may be completely inappropriate. That’s why this house works, because it doesn’t really work in a traditional way.

Mark Hutker: We started working together thirty years ago. And the amazing aspect of working here on the Island is the kind of craftsmen and tradespeople that we have here. It’s one of the great benefits of practicing on Martha’s Vineyard. And basically we’ve learned as much from Andrew Flake and from his team as we did in college. We’re learning what makes buildings work. What doesn’t work. What materials will hold up. How to detail those materials. 

Andrew Flake: One of the biggest challenges from the perspective of the contractor is to make sure that design stays ahead of construction. But the fact is we’re doing work where it’s almost impossible to do that. It’s such a creative, collaborative process that you can’t, and it doesn’t lend itself to getting all the little widgets in the right place initially. You can’t create art that way. You can get the bones right, but there’s just so much infill that has to evolve in the process.

Mark Hutker: [Pointing to a corner of the house where the planks appear to wrap seamlessly around a complicated angle.]For example, this is the kind of thing where when we say we just want this to look like a piece of driftwood, it needs to just look like one solid piece of wood. Well, one is on a vertical surface and one’s on an angular surface, so the boards on the right actually have to be wider than the boards on the left. You would never notice that probably had I not pointed it out, but if it weren’t like that you’d go right at it.

But that’s the kind of simplicity that we say, “Andrew, just run the line around the corner” and he’s going, “Mark, what…?” And we actually do understand the implications of asking him to do that; however, we also know because we’ve worked with each other long enough that Andrew has the capacity and the team to actually do that.

Andrew Flake: Part of it, you know, is the willingness to take it on. Because a lot of people who can do the work, they don’t want to do the work because it’s just too difficult. It doesn’t go fast. But when Mark said, “You’ve got to put a point at this side of the house and you’ve got to string that line all the way around,” we actually had two carpenters who we had to take off the job because they couldn’t do it.

Brian Vanden Brink

Mark Hutker: The point is, if you have this idea that you want to make something look like a solid piece of wood, that’s just one thing. And you don’t want a whole bunch of trim and stuff. So you make that fundamental design decision, and then you need to work with craftsmen – you know, like Andrew has to figure out how to make it actually happen. That’s the collaborative thing. We have this idea, then we have to figure out how to get it made and then that person starts talking about what they can and can’t do. It’s a dynamic situation.

Andrew Flake: When you build a gambrel – people have built them for hundreds of years, anybody can build that stuff. But something like this, it’s never been built before. So you have to devise the techniques to be sure that there’s a relationship between what you actually build and what Mark’s team really wants it to look like.

Mark Hutker: It’s really a three-legged stool. You’ve got to have a creative team that can imagine it, you’ve got to have clients that believe in it and trust you, and you’ve got to have builders who can do it.

MVM: And the clients came up with the name Duin Huis?

Mark Hutker: Well, yeah, kind of. There’s a primary and there’s a secondary dune that we’re on right here….So the name of the house is very much a description of where it is, and frankly of its form. Because you’ll see we used a kind of a nice dune shape on the roof.

Andrew Flake: It’s Dunesque.

Mark Hutker: It’s German, isn’t it? No, I think it’s Dutch. We’ve gone back and forth about how to pronounce it. I’m sort of more comfortable just calling it the Dune House.

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