Maryann Thompson runs a successful architectural firm based in Cambridge, Mass., but she has a special connection with Martha’s Vineyard: She’s designed 21 houses on the Island so far, with four more pending.

Along the way she developed the master plan for the West Chop Club, designed Slough Farm in Katama and designed the Polly Hill Arboretum Visitor’s Center in West Tisbury. Her latest commercial project is the design for the Vineyard Haven Library’s addition.

We met up with Maryann at Polly Hill this winter to find out more about her.

Q. Where did you grow up?

A. I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio – really beautiful, very cultural, lots of investment in the arts. I grew up on a farm right outside the city.

Q. What was that like?

A. I loved it! It was a childhood that was very nature-oriented – woods, beautiful fields, a lot of incredible trees. There’s a kind of Vineyard quality there – lots of rolling farmland, really stunning.

Q. How did you decide to become an architect?

A. I went to Princeton for college. I was going to be a chemistry major; in fact, my college essay was about global warming. At the time we were all worried about the hole in the ozone. I was interested in the environment and I wanted to help through some kind of science. But then I fell in love with architecture at Princeton. I got a great education there and then went to Harvard School of Design (HSD) for graduate school. I’ve been an architect for thirty years now.

Q. What do you think are the most important personality traits for being a good architect?

A. I think being a good listener is really important because you are not building for yourself. Your client is someone who comes to you and trusts you to give them something that will fit them like a glove.

Q. And when were you introduced to Martha’s Vineyard?

A. When I was a graduate student at Harvard, I was getting a degree in both architecture and landscape architecture. A professor of mine, Michael Van Valkenburgh, bought a farmhouse in Chilmark, and his wife set me up in her kitchen with a drafting table where I drafted what she wanted to see in her house. Meanwhile, she showed me every stick of this Island. It was winter and right then, at age 28, I fell in love with the Vineyard.

Q. How did you develop your own firm?

A. That same professor suggested I do it. And then he told me to apply for the job to create the West Chop Club’s master plan. I interviewed for the job and got it. Because of that I met everyone in the club, and because of this listening thing, I interviewed everyone really carefully and got all the ideas they wanted to see happen. Then I created a master plan full of those ideas. And many people I met there ended up hiring me to do houses for them. The practice grew from there.

Q. And what do you think makes a good client?

A. Introspection, the ability to go inside and understand what his or her (or their) dreams and desires are, and to be able to communicate those. I met with a client this morning who said, "I really want to live around plants." That person has identified that as the vision for the project. That gives me something to work with that can be very interesting.

Q. Do you prefer one kind of project over another?

A. Most of the time, when people come to me, it’s for a project that integrates landscaping and architecture because that’s what I do. I try to heighten the experience of nature, the experience of light and the experience of the outdoors in all my projects. So the type of project is not important. I love working with homeowners and I love working with communities. It’s fun to galvanize a community around architecture.

Q. For example?

A. The Vineyard Haven Library addition. We’ve held a lot of meetings about it; everyone is invited. You learn what people are worried about, what they’re worried about losing, what they want to gain. When I visit there, I see that a lot of people come every day. It’s already their community center. But now we can enhance the library, allow it to become a comfortable place for lectures and movies. Then it becomes a community center at night too.

Q. Tell me how you got the job designing the Polly Hill visitors' center.

A. I think the fact that I had that double degree in landscaping design and architecture was appealing to Polly [Hill]. I have a deep love of plants and we connected on that level.

Q. How did that influence the design?

A. Rather than always designing one big building, I sometimes like to break a building into smaller parts so that the landscape can be the focus. I talked to Polly about that idea and she liked it. And that led to the bathrooms and visitors’ center being two separate buildings, with the linking trellis focusing attention on the stewartia and holly grove. That way plants become the primary focus and the building is not just a big object.

Q. You seem to love working here. Why?

A. I’ve always thought that the Vineyard is a magical place. You can literally feel it when you get on the Island. The craft community here is unbelievable – the woodworkers, the stone workers, the chefs, the jewelry makers, the artists, the people who are invested in farming. That is utopian compared to America. I really think the craft economy that exists on the Vineyard makes people happier. There is something here that feels like it is the correct way of living, and it gives me a sense of hope for the world.

Paula Lyons is a former ABC and CBS television consumer journalist. She lives in Vineyard Haven.