Step inside an iconic gingerbread cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, remade for today - The Boston Globe (2024)

Tim Cuppett and Marco Rini are native Texans who live in Austin and have no connections to New England. That said, after a thorough search up and down both coasts, they landed on Oak Bluffs as the ideal seaside locale for a vacation home. Cuppett, an architect and interior designer, and Rini, a landscape designer, now spend elongated summer seasons in an 830-square-foot gingerbread cottage. The home is part of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, a community that began as a collection of tents during the religious camp meeting movement of the mid-19th century.

The couple collaborated with local design/build firm South Mountain Company on an extensive renovation. Their goal? To bring the Victorian-era cottage into the current century while retaining its character and sense of place. Despite its tiny size, the cottage was quite a project. “The house was on the market for over a year and such a mess that nobody would touch it,” Cuppett says. “It was leaning on the house next door.” Yes, the houses are that close to one another.

In addition to straightening the listing structure, South Mountain Company insulated it, rebuilt the windows and doors as well as the decks and porch, and hand dug a basem*nt for the new, high-performance mechanical systems. It’s now extremely energy-efficient, exactingly executed within the district’s strict historical preservation requirements.

The team also renewed the floors. In the front half of the first floor, that entailed pulling up the boards, refinishing the underside, then reinstalling them bottom side up. Where boards could not be salvaged, they filled in with pine reclaimed from century-old chicken coops. Artifacts they unearthed during the process include a Revolutionary-era bottle, toys, and newspapers from John F. Kennedy’s presidency.

Cuppett and Rini furnished the cottage almost entirely with inherited heirlooms and found vintage pieces. An exception is the living room’s contemporary Gervasoni sofa, made cozy with a floral coverlet. Across from it, a drop-leaf table that belonged to Cuppett’s grandmother sits under a midcentury modern Louis Poulsen pendant; vintage chairs with new rush seats woven by local artisan Sue Tonry of Wicked Martha’s surround the table. A gallery wall featuring family photos is the backdrop. “Most of what’s here is from our ancestors,” Cuppett says. “We wanted the cottage to feel like it had been in our family for generations.”

A newly cut passageway connects that front room to the study, where generations of snapshots are tacked up on the shingled wall. Old history books bought on the island and curiosities abound, including a vintage typewriter that Rini uses to write thank-you notes. A built-in bed lets the room double as an extra place for guests.

At the back of the cottage, Benjamin Moore’s Marblehead Gold paint sets the kitchen aglow, a nod to Rini’s unfulfilled desire for a fireplace. Cuppett pulled the color from the vintage bark cloth curtains that picture the village of Menemsha. The fabric, an Etsy find, was the first thing the pair purchased for the home. “This funny fabric became a touchstone for everything we did,” Cuppett says.

The kitchen feels, appropriately, assembled over time. South Mountain Company built the free-standing sink cabinet and island from sinker cypress, old growth timber that sunk to river bottoms in northern Florida and southern Georgia around the turn of the last century. A butter yellow Big Chill fridge feels more authentic than kitschy, and sets of dishes from both men’s grandmothers are displayed.

A mirror hanging above Rini’s grandmother’s desk, now painted the same yellow as the walls, bounces light into the dark space. “Light from the study goes through the bathroom’s glass door and an interior window transfers it into the kitchen,” Cuppett says. On the other side of the room, by the staircase, South Mountain Company inserted plexiglass panels into the ceiling to pull light down from the guest bedroom above it.

The cottage retains its original steep stairway to the second floor, but includes a new hand-carved barley twist handrail, a surprise from Ken Leuchtenmacher, a woodworker at South Mountain Company. The rope effect fits nicely with Lindsey Adelman’s nautical sconce on the adjacent wall, a splurge. “We live small so we can have some expensive things we really love,” Cuppett says.

The back bedroom, painted Benjamin Moore’s Valentine Memories, is outfitted with twin beds that belonged to Rini’s grandmother. In the primary bedroom, Cuppett designed the headboard affixed under the eaves based on shapes from the gingerbread trim on the front of the home. Vintage watercolor seascapes by local artists speak to the view. “We get the quiet of the campground, but between the buildings we can see to the bustling harbor,” Cuppett says. “Most of the other cottages here face inward; the view makes this one special.”


Architectural and interior designer: Cuppett Kilpatrick Architecture + Interior Design,

Project architect and builder: South Mountain Company,

More photographs

Step inside an iconic gingerbread cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, remade for today - The Boston Globe (1)
Step inside an iconic gingerbread cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, remade for today - The Boston Globe (2)
Step inside an iconic gingerbread cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, remade for today - The Boston Globe (3)
Step inside an iconic gingerbread cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, remade for today - The Boston Globe (4)
Step inside an iconic gingerbread cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, remade for today - The Boston Globe (5)
Step inside an iconic gingerbread cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, remade for today - The Boston Globe (6)

Marni Elyse Katz is a contributing editor to the Globe Magazine. Follow her on Instagram @StyleCarrot. Send comments to

Step inside an iconic gingerbread cottage on Martha’s Vineyard, remade for today - The Boston Globe (2024)


What is the story behind gingerbread houses on Martha's Vineyard? ›

The story of the Gingerbread Cottages began in the late 1800s when the Methodist Camp Meeting Association established a religious retreat on Martha's Vineyard. Seeking a place to gather and worship, members built these intricate cottages as summer homes, with each one showcasing its own distinct personality.

How many gingerbread cottages are in Martha's Vineyard? ›

From 1869, every year in August, the locals adorn these cottages with paper lanterns and create a beautiful atmosphere. This annual tradition is known as the 'Illumination Night. ' Today, there are 318 cottage houses remaining in Martha's Vineyard, with each having a unique name.

Do people live in the gingerbread houses in Martha's Vineyard? ›

There are still 318 of these original Victorian cottages standing and lived in today. Known as “Gingerbread Houses” due to their intricate, “carpenter's gothic” architecture, they have become one of the biggest draws for tourists to Oak Bluffs.

Who owns a house on Marthas Vineyard? ›

What celebrities live on Martha's Vineyard? Other than the Obama house, Martha's Vineyard has a scattering of estates that belong to – or have been rented by – the rich and famous, both past and present. They include Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Jeffrey Kramer, Spike Lee and Oprah Winfrey.

What celebrity has a house on Martha's Vineyard? ›

Famous people that call Martha's Vineyard home include Michael J. Fox, Spike Lee, Diane Sawyer and Barak and Michelle Obama, and hundreds more A-listers that visit the island each year.

How many millionaires have homes in Martha's Vineyard? ›

How many millionaires are on Martha's Vineyard? 50 or so. The Obammas have a new 20 million dollar compound.

What is the average household income in Martha's Vineyard? ›

What are the median and average incomes in Martha's Vineyard?
Y-o-Y Change
Average Household Income$139,1584.9%
Median Household Income$73,849-10.9%
People below Poverty Level1,04921.4%
People above Poverty Level12,43715.2%

What is the story behind gingerbread houses? ›

According to certain researchers, the first gingerbread houses were the result of the well-known Grimm's fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” in which the two children abandoned in the forest found an edible house made of bread with sugar decorations.

What is the history of the cottages on Marthas Vineyard? ›

Between 1859 and 1864, the “Martha's Vineyard” cottages appeared. Remarkable for their unique architectural form and is considered an invention of the local carpenters. Most of the cottages built were small and imitated the form of the tents they replaced.

What is the story behind Martha's Vineyard? ›

Bartholomew Gosnold charted Martha's Vineyard for the British Crown in 1602 and is credited with naming it, supposedly after his infant daughter or mother-in-law (or both) and the wild grapes he found growing in profusion.

Are gingerbread houses biblical? ›

Although not a religious tradition, it does remind us that being together as a family is God-given and something to be thankful for. A little history: the earliest known gingerbread recipe was found in 2400 BC in Greece.


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