Some architects loathe review boards and the maze of requirements they impose. But Phil Regan, a partner at Hutker Architects, thrives on creativity within the lines—of review boards and of architectural context. Regan, who grew up on Martha's Vineyard, turned the town of Aquinnah's regulations into inspiration for this family vacation home. He was so successful in walking those fine lines that the review board now shows off the house as “a model of interesting and fun architecture presented modestly.”

In addition to an 18-foot height cap set by the district, there were natural limitations to this project. The site's buildable envelope was a tight, pie-shaped wedge flanked by large, precious oak trees. And view orientations were at cross-purposes, with the water in one direction and the iconic Aquinnah Lighthouse on the exact opposite side. Regan's solution thrilled the owners and bureaucrats alike—the ultimate acclaim and justification for an architect's services.

He started by segmenting the mass of the building into more flexible parts. “You can't put almost 3,000 square feet under one roof and expect it to stay under 16 feet,” he says, “so we broke those spaces down.” A compact entry sequence fans out into four rectilinear wings spreading toward the water. Like many vacation homes, spaces needed to be comfortable for one couple or multiple families. The compartmentalized plan facilitates that agenda, with central public spaces and two sets of bedroom suites pushed to outer edges. “Two families can be staying here and have private areas away from activity or come together for group interaction,” Regan says.

“It's tricky to make a house that feels good for two people as well as 16 people,” he adds. “It has a lot to do with scale of the spaces and textures.” A half-barrel vault ceiling spans an open kitchen, dining, and great room, offering both intimacy and drama in its climb. The vault's zenith terminates in a window wall. The expanse of glass is a fresh, cool counterpoint to the warm timber-frame interior and tightly connects indoors and outdoors. “It's like we forgot to fully enclose the house,” Regan jokes.

The challenge of dueling views was reconciled with dual entry options. Visitors can enter directly through the front door, which opens to a circulation spine and tantalizing sightlines of the water, or they can scramble up onto the roof and take in both ocean and lighthouse vistas at once. An exterior mahogany staircase leads to the roof deck, which exits to the courtyard at the back of the house. Regan says one of the firm's longstanding goals is to design elements that “fascinate children, so they'll remember for 50 years how cool it is.” This home's alternate entry is a keepsake for the memory book, and his 3-year-old daughter confirms it. She's crazy about being able to “walk right over the top of this house,” he says.

Lighthouse Lookout, Aquinnah, Mass.

Hutker Architects, Vineyard Haven, Mass.

general contractor:
Cranston Timber Frame, Vineyard Haven

landscape architect:
Horiuchi-Solien Landscape Architects, Falmouth, Mass.

2,800 square feet

construction cost:
$400 per square foot

site size:
2 acres

Brian Vanden Brink