We’ve spent over a decade working closely with architects, and many of them have become personal friends. So we know that it is not easy to become an independent success in the field. Years of schooling, high professional liability insurance, and simply the fear of striking out solo leave many architects wondering why they went to school for all of those years in the first place. Then there’s the practical compromise: many architects think of themselves as artists, then end up designing 911 call centers or shopping malls because that’s what pays the bills. Whenever we discover the exceptional architect who has also built a thriving brand we can’t help but share their success.
FEH recently caught up with Patrick Ahearn, the founding principal of the wildly successful design firm of the same name. Patrick not only beat the odds with the success of his business, but his passion, vision and aesthetic sparked the rebirth of Edgartown, the de-facto tourist capital of Martha’s Vineyard. In a long conversation covering thirty years, Patrick opened up about his work, his recipe for success, and how his architectural adventure in Edgartown began.
Over the past forty-two years, Patrick has specialized in historically-motivated architecture and interior design. Patrick has offices in both the Historic Back Bay neighborhood of Boston and on the island of Martha’s Vineyard where each of these different environments provide inspiration for the creation of his classic and timeless architecture, appropriate and in scale to each locale. Patrick’s volume of finely crafted and detailed residential work spans a multitude of styles from City Town Houses to Island Homes all with his distinct style.
Patrick’s connection to Edgartown specifically started three decades ago when he bought a vacation property in-town to “decompress”. At the time, Patrick was living a bachelor’s life—and quite happily so. That status quickly changed when he met his now wife at a “pre-planned” introduction at a surprise party orchestrated by friends. Getting married was the first permanent foundation Patrick put down in Martha’s Vineyard. Now a semi-full time residence, it didn’t take Patrick long to see that Edgartown’s many historic structures were on the verge of falling apart. And he saw nothing but potential. Patrick started to submit renderings to the local Vineyard Gazette, of what these properties could look like with a little love and updated design. As Patrick put it so aptly, “the rest is history”.
The locals quickly warmed to Patrick’s ability to restore Edgartown’s historic charm while designing additions and even building new houses that fit the natural landscape of the island. For Patrick, the smell test for success is when people cannot tell if the home is historic or not because it appears to have been there from the beginning. “At the end of the day you never really knew I was there”, he adds.
Eventually, Patrick bought an office, immersed himself into the local community, and changed his primary address to Martha’s Vineyard so that he could vote in local politics and became a board member of the local preservation board, the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust.
When you talk to Patrick you can see why the locals were quick to embrace him into the community. His straight shooting attitude and passion for “quietly giving back” to his community are genuine and selfless. We like that—not everyone donates their time and expertise without a little bit of chest beating. We’ve also moved into new towns ourselves and know firsthand that locals don’t always like “outsiders” who come in with new ideas and plans for change. Patrick lives by the design motto of, “non-ego driven architecture”, which is vital since preserving history has differing points of view. Putting ego aside is a key ingredient in getting projects completed successfully and satisfying the balance between historical sensitivity, making structures energy-efficient, and contextualizing a property with the natural landscape and surroundings.
Fast forward to the present. Patrick has completed an astonishing two-hundred plus projects (both new construction and renovations) on Martha’s Vineyard, with one-hundred and forty-four of them within a twelve block area in the historic Edgartown downtown. It’s safe to say that his original plan to spend time here to “decompress” thirty years ago went out the window like so many other carefully laid plans. But the entire island of Martha’s Vineyard should be thankful for that. If not for Patrick’s vision of what the island “could” look like who knows where Edgartown would be now.
Patrick now has the rare luxury as an architect to be selective in the projects and clients he takes on, which come from all around the world. He was also recently elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects for his long-standing excellence and contributions to the profession. As if that accolade weren’t enough Patrick’s firm was also recently selected to design the 2015 HGTV Dream Home. Surprised? It’s a four-bedroom, Cape-style home on Martha’s Vineyard.