Josh Gothard’s parents came from England to the Vineyard on an architectural photo shoot in the early 1980s. While on location, they rented an 1840s Victorian Greek Revival on Music street in West Tisbury – and never left. Josh’s birth made him a first-generation Islander and ultimately a graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. In 2017 a Vineyard Vision Fellowship supported his master’s thesis at Parsons School of Design, in which he developed an architectural language to address coastal resiliency in the restoration of historic buildings.

On the way to becoming an architect, Josh also spent time at sea, gaining his Coast Guard captain’s license which brought him to historic seaside towns on the East Coast and to coastal communities as far as the West Indies.

We recently met at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury, just around the corner from his childhood home where he and his wife Grace now reside – as do the offices of his historic restoration architectural firm, Music Street Architects.

Q. I would imagine your childhood home instilled an early appreciation of historic buildings.

A. I have lived there all my life, except for the time away at college and graduate school. The main house shares the property with two very old timber framed barns where my office is now. Some of the interior in the larger barn is from reclaimed shipwrecks. You can see the old, curved ship knees that hold up the second floor, and some of the rafters are quarter-sawn round masts, sliced thin and sistered together to make a larger beam. At the time, they just used the materials they had.

Q. That must have been a fun place to play – not to mention your proximity to Alley’s General Store!

A. I would walk to Alley’s every morning, sometimes with our neighbor David McCullough who was on his way to get the paper as I headed to the porch swing to wait for the 7:12 school bus. Thanks to the efforts of the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust the building hasn’t changed so much!

As a kid, Josh waited on the porch of Alley's General Store for the school bus. Jeanna Shepard

Q. When did you start to feel a responsibility for your uniquely historic home?

A. I think I especially gained an appreciation for the materials when I went off to Boston and New York where, for the first time, I lived among all these new builds. In most places you might be living in an historic structure with a completely new interior, but on the Vineyard, there are a lot of houses with an historic aesthetic on the exterior that also have interiors that are still original.

Q. A Vineyard home with 200 years of history has historic details from its original era as well as embellishments added in later years. How do you pick and choose and find the balance of the old, older and oldest?

A. That is hard to do because if you look at a span of historic photos of the houses in the Vineyard villages, there are different iterations of the same building. Trends change and things come in and out of fashion and get added on and then stripped off.

Q. Does the quality of the materials dictate choices in starting a renovation?

A. Removing some of these pieces of time that are of lesser quality is a good starting point. You can hone in on the different eras like the 1950s and 60s where cheap materials and the quality of the detail work wasn’t there. A lot of it has to do with the client and how far they're willing to go. I work with them to choose a snapshot in the history of the house and restore it to that time.

Q. What is the best advice for someone contemplating a restoration process?

A. Start from the overall structure of the building to ensure that it is going to stand for another two hundred years! Make improvements so it is structurally sound and save as much of the structure and the form because that’s what gives the Island and the property character.

Q. What are the latest innovations in the historic preservation process?

A. There are advances in the technology for research – incredible archives are being developed on the Island and throughout historic districts – where you can find photos of your building organized chronologically. With some projects the focus is on bringing back the most iconic elements of the building. You don’t have to bring them all back unless you are dedicated to a complete preservation.

Q. Are there new building materials that have an historic aesthetic with an increased longevity?

A. I think natural material is a better solution – using real wood siding and, ideally, wood roofing. Obviously, there are cost implications, but some of those materials have a similar lifespan as synthetic. If they are preserved and maintained properly, it brings back the fabric that makes the Vineyard so special.

Q. Help me with a few definitions: What is adaptive reuse?

A. Taking an older structure that was used for one thing – like a boat shed or an agricultural barn – and converting it into something else like a residential setting, an office or a movie theatre.

Q. What is coastal resiliency in architecture?

A. It’s not just about building materials. It’s about where the land and sea meet and the effect on architecture and infrastructure such as seawalls and dunes. The thing I tried to focus on with the [Vineyard Vision] fellowship was how to create a higher level of resiliency on our coastlines in a way that references historic building techniques, so the overall fabric of that coastline doesn’t change dramatically.

Q. How did your experience as a Coast Guard captain influence your design work?

A . From seeing so many coastal communities and the aesthetic change from one to the other, I developed a semblance of a coastal language and learned to appreciate that these self sustaining communities should be the basis for our future! And being on board a ship really makes you focus a lot more on efficient use of space and the materials.

Q. Does your upbringing and Islander status give you an advantage in a partnership with a client?

A. I think it helps strengthen their understanding that we really focus on creating a home for them – whether it is incorporating a new structure or a renovation – with a special knowledge of the vernacular of our neighborhoods.

Q. A high-profile example of that would be your restoration of the Dragonfly House on busy Seaview avenue in Oak Bluffs. For those of us who live in Oak Bluffs, it was fun to watch!

A. It was a wonderful project for a terrific family who really cared about the history of that structure and bringing it back as much as they could. There were a lot of changes made to that building to adapt to today's lifestyle but we tried to keep as many historical elements as possible in more prominent positions.

Q. You and your clients face the rigors of Island zoning, historic review boards and the opinion of neighbors. What advice do you have for homeowners facing this process?

A. Try to pool together as many of the historic precedent images for your property and form a catalogue to use in your presentation to the boards to explain why you are bringing some elements back and not others. From a neighborhood aspect, if the building is going to have additions, try to focus on keeping the most historic elements in a more prominent position to preserve the feeling and fabric of the neighborhood.

Q. Those who've been through the process know that sometimes the best laid plans can still get pushback.

A. This sounds corny but people say a good haircut is when nobody really notices you’ve had something done. It’s just the same in a renovation project. Do as much as possible without changing the overall character of the property.

Sissy Biggers writes regularly for The Vine and Martha's Vineyard magazine.