If you had asked me where I wanted to live, I would have told you East Chop. I could just see my husband and me biking to town, running the bluff and partying on the porch.

But, the Island’s dismal real estate listings circa 2008 told me to think again.

The “For Sale” menu featured petite fixer-uppers at grandiose prices and left me worrying we would rent eternally from my in-laws. Our barn-turned-rental home sometimes felt more like a halfway house, as friends, family members, even someone else’s dog and a few boats passed through.

Just as house-hunting fever was peaking, my man had an epiphany: subdivide the property where he was raised to create a second house site.

From the start, his parents applauded the notion of us building a house and a life alongside theirs. Reid would return to the West Tisbury forest where he once soared on tire swings, and use his clever engineering skills to get us there. While I was excited to finally become a homeowner, I felt hesitation about the lot’s distance from civilization and proximity to Reid’s family.

Seated in a nook at my favorite cafe, Reid, his parents, and I spoke openly. By the third round of coffee, my in-laws had taken a solemn oath: “We will always call before coming over.”

And so we plunged ahead, fueled by faith and dreams, building a light-filled, dormered cape, nestled amidst stone walls and tire swings.

Six years into domestic bliss, I’ve realized our story isn’t unique. While my generation appreciates what the Vineyard offers, be it family connections, shared values or just a love of the ocean, its lack of affordable housing does not always make one feel welcome. The Island’s not an easy place to stay or leave. The good news is, now more than ever, the reality of Island real estate is bringing out that old pioneer, creative spirit which, in many cases, is keeping families together.

The term family compound once conjured up images of Kennedys in white pants, sipping cocktails on a sprawling lawn between jaunts on the family yacht. While in some circles family estates are still a luxury, compound living now also brings to mind a more modest scenario, often the only option for younger generations finding creative ways to stay on the Island they’ve grown to love.

Family neighbors at the Ewing compound in Edgartown. Anthony Esposito

Life on a compound was a natural choice for Rachael Curtin and Niko Ewing, who already spend half the year living in a yurt village on her family’s New Zealand farm. Soon, hopefully before their first child arrives in July, these nomads will spend North American summers in their re-modeled 17th century shack salvaged from the Edgartown waterfront. The building, which now rests on Niko’s parents’ five-acre Edgartown compound, is one of five dwelling units that also accommodate friends, family and employees of the family’s dock-building business.

“I have always lived with a lot of people,” Rachael said. “It feels a lot easier since you’re sharing in everything from growing food to cooking and cleaning.”

When complete, their 600-square-foot home will have a finished basement and loft. Since there’s no separate bedroom, the couple plans on co-sleeping with their baby and using a hammock as needed.

“This set-up wouldn’t work for everyone. Our families share the same morals and fundamental feelings about life,” Rachael said. One such shared value is their love of delicious, local food. Niko’s parents enjoy hosting everyone for informal Monday night suppers where Rachael often contributes a homegrown salad.

“We of course have challenges, because we’re all human. Some of the best work in this lifetime is to be working through the challenges together,” she reflected. “I just wish more people would do this with their property.”

In Chilmark, the Goffs, Allens, Murphys and many other families have utilized an opportunity the town instituted that helps Island families address the housing crisis. If a certain set of criteria is met, landowners can establish a small youth lot or even lots on their property.

Cousins Matt Mayhew and Jeremy Mayhew are grateful to their fathers for purchasing a nine-acre lot (once dubbed "the sand pit") off South Road more than thirty years ago. Fortuitously, the size of this parcel allowed for each father to maintain a piece, while also giving each son a youth lot. Both Matt and Jeremy are now in the home stretch of housebuilding, ancitipating move-in dates this summer.

As Matt remembers, this sweet solution didn’t come easy. “I was going to do what was necessary [to stay on the Vineyard]. I just wasn’t sure how it would happen,” he said. Bunking in a summer camp with plastic windows during the past few winters and doing the seasonal shuffle gave Matt and his girlfriend, Molly Peach, all the motivation they needed.

Matt is especially pleased with the solar panels he just installed, using knowledge from his trade as an electrician and help from his cousin Todd Mayhew; the efficient system will save energy and money.

As for the proximity to Jeremy’s family, “It will be a community within a community,” Matt said. “Now, I see them for holidays and just enjoy hanging out with their twin daughters who are four years old. [When we’re neighbors] we can go over and say hi and see lights on in the winter.”

Lights also surround Lauren Townes and her fiance, Noah Scheffer, when inside their newly purchased home on Chapman Lane (named after Lauren’s ancestors). A Townes family compound was created in Edgartown when Lauren’s grandparents wanted to establish lots for their children. “My mother’s lot was going to be substandard, so we appealed to the town . . . . we were also looking at moving off-Island if that didn’t work,” Lauren remembered of their struggle to find housing when she was a child.

When Lauren’s mom recently moved away for happier reasons, she was delighted to sell her house to Lauren and Noah. But it’s Lauren who is now happiest. “I love it,” she said of living near so much of her family. “One of my favorite things is if I have some extra time on a Saturday, I’ll go to my grandparents house for coffee. Then, Aunt Becky comes over, or I’ll have my Uncle Danny’s girls over to watch movies.”

This spring, when Lauren and Noah were wrestling with a briar patch outside their kitchen window, she couldn’t believe her luck when Uncle Danny and “Papa” came out to help finish the job. “Where else does that happen?” Lauren mused.

Since moving in last winter, it’s only the little things that bother them, like shared parking. “Noah is still adjusting to it,” Lauren said, quickly adding, “A lot of my friends never see their grandparents. It’s an amazing situation to be surrounded by your family.”

Here in West Tisbury, we don’t see as much of Reid’s family as I had expected. Occasionally, during the shoulder season, I’ll have a glimpse of what a compound would be like when my mother-in-law invites family to stay in her un-rented house. Traveling the sylvan path between houses while wee cousins wield flashlights and grown-ups clutch wineglasses, I can feel the potential.

But my story’s not finished yet. Family compounds, big or small, are never out of the question when you live on Martha’s Vineyard.