Chilmark: Embracing a Glacial Moraine


Residential Design

Martha's Vineyard, MA, USA | Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects


Set high on the terminal moraine of Martha’s Vineyard, this project emphasizes the unique quality of a glacial landscape with sweeping ocean views. Existing glacial erratics and mature trees are woven into the design, which employs a minimal number of walls and terraces to ground the house to the site. Close collaboration between the Architect and Landscape Architect fostered a strong continuity of spatial organization and materiality between interior and exterior spaces, effectively blurring the boundaries between inside and outside.


The project was conceived of as a 4 acre vacation retreat consisting of a main house, guest house, basketball court, parking court and swimming pool. The clients as collectors of modern art and photography wanted a design that was minimalist, understated, and strongly integrated with the site, taking full advantage of the ocean views to the south.

The Landscape Architect and Architect worked together from conceptual development to locate and orient the house, site major landscape features, capture views and incorporate existing trees and rock formations into the design. Grading and sight lines are enhanced by stone walls which underscore the dramatic contours of the unique glacial terrain. A strong interplay exists between the native landscape and the “man made” features of the design, which weave seamlessly through the spaces created by large existing trees and boulders.

The Landscape Architect created a simple planting palette that celebrates the native vegetation of Martha’s Vineyard. Native Oak, Maple, Cedar, Witch Hazel, Bluestem grasses, Rose Mallow, and ferns form understated garden areas. Plant species were selected for their proven hardiness against the unpredictable coastal climate, and for their ability to thrive with minimal maintenance. The new and old landscapes are stitched together by integrating plant types found in the surrounding environment, and by preserving trees. The linear geometry of walls and terraces adjacent to the house and pool contrast the less ordered, intersecting landscape of native meadow and woodland.

The existing driveway was realigned to serve the residences and to preserve and highlight significant oaks on the property. The use of crushed stone and shells in the driveway and the vast amounts of meadow planting reduce the amount of sub-grade drainage required. Upon entering the parking court, the raised wood decking in the boardwalk and terraces encourages infiltration of rainwater.

The strong relationship between interior and exterior materials becomes evident in the entry sequence. Concrete pavers lead across the gravel driveway to a wooden boardwalk that passes through the front entry. The boardwalk geometry continues as wood flooring in the house and rear deck, and evolves into a concrete plank walkway leading toward the pool. This north-south axis functions as a central spine which connects the garage, parking court, entry garden, house, and rear lawn plinth. Granite slabs lead informally through the meadow to the pool terrace, which is built into the hillside creating a dramatic juxtaposition between the pool’s edge and distant ocean views.

A second axis on site, a granite retaining wall running east-west, provides both circulation and delineation. The wall divides the pool and meadow from the lawn plinth and transforms into a set of stairs connecting to a meadow path which leads to the guesthouse. Walls on the site help demarcate sensitive natural areas from those more programmatic in use. As a whole, the project effectively integrates clean modern architecture with the unique surrounding glacial landscape of Martha’s Vineyard.

“A lovely job. The use of stone was very striking. Yes, there were grand gestures but these were appropriately done. The palette of the landscape agrees well with the architecture.”

- 2016 Awards Jury


Lead Designer:

  • Stephen Stimson, FASLA


  • Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen

General Contractor:

  • Andrew Flake, Inc.

Landscape Contractor:

  • R.P. Marzilli & Company


Product Sources [required for built projects]: LIGHTING

Product Sources [required for built projects]: FENCES/GATES/WALLS

Product Sources [required for built projects]: WATER MANAGEMENT/AMENITIES