Reprinted from Cape Cod & Islands Magazine
In the finished basement of his impressive timber frame home in West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard, Paul McDonald reaches into a storage area, sorting through the dusty residue of cinder block, and pulls out a brass ring. “It’s from the Flying Horses,” he says, referring to Oak Bluffs National Historic Landmark, the nation’s oldest continuously operating carousel. The brass ring, in so many ways, symbolizes McDonald’s idyllic life on the Vineyard and the rock-solid, country-style home that holds it all together. At 43, the veteran lobsterman has grabbed the brass ring indeed. “It’s worked out pretty sweet,” he acknowledges.
First came love-Paul met his wife Karen on the ski slopes of Sun Valley, Idaho. Then came marriage, the baby carriage (twice), and the dream of planting roots on the Vineyard. McDonald, who grew up in Braintree in a family of nine boys and two girls, summered on the Vineyard throughout high school and college, operating a successful lobster business for six years before heading west to ski. Also a natural handyman, McDonald worked with his brother in Marshfield, and later out west, assembling post and beam barn homes. It was no surprise when he and Karen ventured back to the Vineyard dreaming of a timber frame of their own in peaceful West Tisbury. They purchased almost two acres on the lip of the pastoral Sheriff’s Meadow preserve, and began to plan the house of their dreams. McDonald’s goal at the time: complete the project in one year, from CAD drawings to open house.
“I was always taught to do something right the first time, and to do it yourself,” says McDonald, an ex-hockey player who remains youthfully fit and trim even as he approaches midlife. “We wanted a home that would be in keeping with the ancient integrity of West Tisbury-a New England farm home with gabled walls, a 12-pitch roof, and doghouse and shed dormers.”
After Brian Smith, a builder friend on the Vineyard, showed him a home by Davis Frame Company of Claremont, New Hampshire, McDonald contracted with the firm to build the shell of what is now considered one of the Up-island’s most impressive structures. In April, 2003, four tractor trailers-two for the frame and windows, two for the insulated skin panels-plied the serpentine dirt road leading to the McDonald’s property in the pine and scrub oak woods. Within weeks, the frame and insulated panels, cut from computer drawings with the exactness of a heart surgeon were firmly in place. During the year, McDonald worked part-time as a lobsterman and full-time as a general contractor on the house, moving the family in by the summer of 2004. In all, the project took about 13 months. No material was wasted on the 3,700-square-foot home-even leftover odds and ends were used to finish off the guest quarters above the two-car garage.
“It was like snapping together the Lincoln Logs you had as a kid,” McDonald says of the post-and-beam technique that uses only wood pegs, no nails. “The finished product gives the home far more lines and character than a traditional stick frame house.”
The solid lines, craftsmanship, and use of wood give the home an old, farmhouse beauty. Cedar shingle siding, cranberry trim, and a red cedar roof meet at perfectly formed angles. Natural island vegetation such as bayberries, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas surround the home. A Maine granite slab front step and graceful entry porch give the home a refined appearance that is carried through to its southern rear exposure, which is bordered by a winding granite wall that serves to pitch a runoff away from the house.
A catwalk from the master bedroom suite leads past the heart pine treads and Douglas fir risers of the front entrance stairway, down past another bathroom (there are four-and-a-half in the house), to two children’s rooms similar in size and layout. “My daughter’s room is on the brighter south side of the house,” notes McDonald. “She has trouble getting up in the morning.”
The finished basement houses a TV room, exercise room, and Karen’s office-a compact space with four high-tech computer screens and a videophone. Above the two-car garage, doghouse dormers add great charm to the guest quarters, which boast a second-story deck and a stunning view of the backyard and conservation land. Nearby, lobster pots stacked neatly on the side yard reflect McDonald and the Vineyard life that suits him so well.
You can see McDonald’s contentment in his smile and passion. “Life is too short to miss it,” he says. “There’s a lot going on.” One glance at his remarkable home, with its precise lines and striking details, makes it abundantly clear that Paul McDonald hasn’t missed a thing.