Our Philosophy

South Mountain Company is a multi-faceted employee-owned company offering integrated architecture, engineering, building, interiors, woodworking, and energy services to residential, commercial and institutional clients.  Great design, high performance building, superb craft - all rolled into one!   We combine youthful exuberance with diverse expertise and four decades of experience.

Founded in 1975 and located on Martha’s Vineyard, we limit our service area to the Vineyard and nearby communities.

For us it is all about collaboration: engaging as many participants as possible in our work consistently produces rewarding results. We are utterly dependent on the good will, great craftsmanship, and shared ideas of a large cast of characters: our co-owners, employees, clients, subcontractors, suppliers, and community.

This collaborative effort springs from a business model based on:

  • outstanding customer service
  • imaginative architecture
  • a fully integrated design and construction process
  • impeccable engineering and building science
  • craftsmanship of the highest quality
  • employee ownership
  • triple bottom line (planet, people and profits) management
  • community involvement and local commitment

Our ambition is to serve our several constituencies in an exemplary and responsible way that nurtures and strengthens all.

We are determined to create buildings and settings that are enjoyed for generations - that stand as worthy expressions of a humane, well crafted, environmentally sound architecture. We aim for our buildings to be loved (if they are, we have done our job well, and only then will they endure).

We hope our business practices provide a model for a 21st century economy that balances profits with environmental restoration, social justice, and community engagement.

We take seriously our responsibility to make the community that sustains us a better place for all

We take seriously our responsibility to make the community that sustains us a better place for all.  We designate 10% of our profits for contributions to charitable organizations - mostly local. Many of us serve on town and regional boards and, as a company, we express ourselves about important local issues. We hire locally as much as we can and we create good jobs that help families to have good lives. And we devote ourselves, in many ways, to helping to solve the affordable housing crisis and spread the use of renewable energy.

In 1987 we re-structured from a sole proprietorship to an employee owned cooperative corporation.  It was a hinge point in the history of the company.  Shared ownership enables our employees to own and guide their workplace.  This results in a stable and truly dedicated workforce. 

Today there are many parts of the company and our 30 employees (18 of whom are Owners) provide an array of services. Our core business is the integrated design/build process.  Our creative design staff and our expert project managers and carpenters are constantly informing each other.  We are as comfortable in the middle of town on an in-fill site as at the end of a long dirt road, and pleased to work with modern or more traditional forms and details. 

Each project, and each client, is different.  We are only successful if our clients are convinced that their project is the best we’ve ever done.

Design is at the heart of the matter. Our architects and designers are comfortable in many styles, but we are always on a quest for:

  • Timelessness.  We hope our buildings feel as fresh 30 years from now as they do today.
  • Integration with place. Finding the best ways to weave together the existing site and/or building with what we are bringing to it.
  • Careful Listening. To create solutions that truly resonate with you, our client.

This is nothing new; it’s what we have been doing for 35 years. Advances in our knowledge and experience, and the technologies that support our work, have refined our abilities in leaps and bounds during the past decade. We can now offer buildings that produce as much energy as they use, and for existing homes we can plan and execute Deep Energy Retrofits (DER) that result in profound energy use reduction, increased health and comfort, and greater durability.

Many of our smaller projects are additions, renovations, and alterations to buildings we have built during the past 35 years. We don't let go of our past projects and clients (we learn from them and they keep us humble!)

Energy Services is another essential part of our business.  When it comes to energy efficiency and renewable energy, we do it all: consult, design, diagnose, implement, measure, and monitor. In 2010 we made an extraordinary addition to our team – nationally recognized building performance engineer Marc Rosenbaum, P.E.  We are thrilled to be able to offer his expertise and wealth of experience to our clients.

In the challenging economic times that came after the crash of 2008 we expanded our territory and diversified our services.  For the first time we are working on Cape Cod and Nantucket and we have become involved in more commercial and institutional work.

South Mountain Company is the people who work here, how we think, and what we do.  It has become, for us, over 35 years, as much a community as a company.   We remain a work-in-progress.  It’s still an adventure, and we are grateful to the many collaborators who share the ride.

That's us in a nutshell.

Mission, Goals, and Principles

From time to time we look carefully at the statement of our Mission, Goals, and Principles that we first created in 1993.  There are always minor changes, but by-and-large they have endured, nearly intact, for two decades.

Mission

  • To enrich our community by designing and building for the future

Goals

  • To make places that draw from past intelligence and anticipate future needs
  • To craft buildings and settings that will be loved and admired for generations
  • To advance the architectural expression of high performance building
  • To create lifelong, stable, meaningful jobs with living wages and good benefits
  • To further our understanding of employee ownership and workplace democracy
  • To create affordable housing opportunities which help to preserve community
  • To promote responsible energy use in our work and our region
  • To develop new business opportunities that extend our primary endeavors
  • To practice the best level of environmental stewardship we can
  • To share what we learn
  • To continue our work for generations

Guiding Principles

Our mission and goals are living expressions of our will as a company. They spring directly from these guiding principles:

  • Triple bottom line (planet, people & profits) commitment
  • Create enduring and respectful relationships
  • Encourage individual creativity, health, and fulfillment in the workplace
  • Ensure opportunity for all
  • Honor craft and those who practice it
  • Embrace new ideas with a bold and flexible approach
  • Employ reclaimed, renewable and energy efficient materials and systems whenever possible
  • Accept only projects that are consistent with our values
  • Practice design/build to create buildings, landscapes, and neighborhoods
  • Produce lasting value for our clients
  • Grow only with purpose
  • Deploy our financial resources to support our mission and our goals
  • Concentrate our endeavors primarily on Martha’s Vineyard
  • Use and expand our extensive network of professional connections for learning and educating
  • Cultivate a spirit of cooperation, teamwork, and fun!

Environmental Building Practices

Environmental stewardship and low-impact building are at the core of our business. We aim, to the best of our ability, to tread lightly on the planet.

We use a wide variety of strategies to help us optimize land use and minimize maintenance and operating costs, and to maximize comfort, health and durability in our buildings and landscapes. This is what we call “high performance building.”  As much as possible, we try to design within the spirit of the Living Building Challenge.  After reducing energy loads as much as we can through a host of building envelope and efficiency measures, we incorporate renewable energy production (mostly solar electric) whenever we can.

In addition, our standard design and construction practices include as many of the following as possible:

  • Minimize square footage and volume of building
  • Renovate wherever possible instead of demolishing and rebuilding
  • All electric buildings (we can produce electricity on site but not fossil fuels)
  • Site buildings to minimize visual and habitat impact and maximize solar access
  • Protect existing trees, plants, and landscape features from construction damage
  • Avoid use of pesticides and chemicals
  • Use local plant species well adapted to the climate
  • Use permeable paving systems for on-site stormwater management
  • Find positive use for as much construction and demolition waste as possible
  • Optimize passive solar heating
  • Design good daylighting and cross ventilation
  • Design for natural summer cooling
  • Use air-source heat pumps for efficient (electric) heating and cooling
  • Employ water conservation measures
  • Use salvaged & locally produced materials as extensively as we can
  • Avoid toxic construction materials
  • Specify materials with high recycled content
  • Use materials that are easily recyclable at the end of their service life
  • Specify resource efficient composite materials
  • Use materials which require no finishes
  • Use composting toilets and graywater re-use systems when appropriate
  • Employ neighborhood planning strategies as follows:
    - attach houses or cluster tightly
    - renovate older buildings to new uses and today's standards
    - create shared systems and functions whenever possible
    - design pedestrian environments to isolate vehicles & maximize green space
    - preserve existing vegetation - work around it
    - preserve and create prime agricultural land
    - locate close to public transportation

Buildings That Age Well

To maintain alignment with our environmental principles, it is essential that our buildings “wear well” and last, hopefully, for centuries.

Our founder, John, tells the story of taking his mother-in-law, a surgeon, to tour some of our houses. As we headed home she said, "You know, I've spent my life working my fingers to the bone to help and save people. But all the work I've done will soon be gone. What you do is lasting. It remains here forever." We wish she were right. We didn't have the heart to tell her that most houses built in this country may barely out-live their mortgage. Some of her patients will last longer.

Her words were important, however. We who build leave something behind. And the life of our buildings should be measured in centuries, not decades. We have a wonderful opportunity, but a powerful responsibility as well.

Stewart Brand,  the author of How Buildings Learn, says that the only buildings that last are buildings that are loved.

Stewart Brand, the author of How Buildings Learn says that the only buildings that last are the buildings that are loved. These are the buildings that are maintained and carefully re-adapted over time as the needs of the occupants change. If we make buildings that are easy to maintain, operate, and change, they stand a better chance of being loved. In our company, we have committed ourselves to not letting go of our buildings. We remain connected to the buildings and the people that own them - we have now maintained, altered, and renovated some of our buildings for well past quarter of a century. We learn from our buildings every day.

Making buildings that work, and last, requires learning over time through experimentation, patient observation, dogged perseverance, and attention to detail. This is why we are so committed to remaining involved with the buildings we make - adding, altering, and maintaining.

Our Maintenance Group is always available to fix and adjust. Along with providing immensely valuable on-going service to our clients, they are our feedback loop to our buildings. They tell us what works, what doesn't, and why. There is another tool that helps to make our buildings operate well and endure.

All new cars have Owners Manuals. Why don't houses? Some commercial buildings are equipped with Owner’s Manuals, but very few houses are.  Houses, however, are complex. They're more subtle than a car, and have a longer life. Shouldn't all the operating and maintenance instructions be collected? When you buy a house, shouldn't its documented history be a part of its contents? We think so. 

In addition to Owners' Manuals, we've developed a second important tool, which we call a "Roughing Book". It's a series of photos of all walls and ceilings, keyed to a set of plans, taken before walls and ceilings are closed in. This gives us x-ray vision into the walls and ceilings, forever. The longer a building endures the more valuable these tools become, as memories fade and alterations and repairs become necessary. We make both of these for every building we make. It's one of the most important things we do.

For more, see the Fine Home Building article, "Making an Owner's Manual" and Stewart Brand’s book How Buildings Learn, where he wrote about our practice.

Staying Local

We believe that our collective future depends on strong, prosperous, self-reliant local economies that carefully shepherd resources and promote social justice.

As our local commitment has developed, we have begun to understand the potential of local economies to serve as an antidote to the negative consequences of globalization.   Events beyond our shores will always have significant local effects; we need to understand them as they relate to our re-localization emphasis or we are like ostriches with heads in the sand. But as we struggle to understand and correct that which we cannot fully control, we can invest at once in that over which control is more direct: the process of localization.

Local enterprise has different aspirations and different constraints. Worker-owned firms, social enterprises, community nonprofits, and community-owned cooperatives are tied to the regions in which they operate. They have greater accountability. And the people involved are part of the community. For these reasons such enterprise is more responsive to local social and environmental concerns, and they anchor jobs and investment locally.

Island vacationers and seasonal residents largely drive the Vineyard economy. While we need to keep this part of the economy robust and responsive, there is also a sense, among many, that there should be more balance, and that a more diverse and stronger year-round economy would be good for the island's residents, seasonal and year-round alike.

Some of the attributes of such an economy might be (as described in the Island Plan)

  • Increasing economic multipliers by fostering the circulation of money within the community
  • Reducing economic leakage by encouraging more island spending
  • Supporting local ownership so that those who are conducting commerce are anchored in the community
  • Substituting imports through local production, especially of such essentials as food and energy
  • Stimulating local investment
  • Increasing year-round jobs with living wages
  • Optimizing self-reliance, so that we become less dependent on distant forces and events
  • Utilizing our historic character and geophysical attributes more fully by promoting a greater diversity of off-season activity
  • Creating a robust environment for lifetime learning

All these combine to move us towards a diverse and prosperous year-round economy that enhances our community and environment, respects our character and history, and understands that although we are an island, we are also part of the larger world. We can imagine - and develop - the economy we would like rather than accepting—without question—the economy we have.

Local energy production, an arena that we are deeply involved in, is a great example. As we make the switch to conservation and renewable energy, the decentralized nature of new technologies has created great new opportunities at both the residential and individual commercial scale and the community scale. 

Our current association with Vineyard Power, a community owned electrical cooperative that intends to use local renewable resources to generate a large fraction of the Vineyard’s energy, is a great example of a business and a non-profit working together for the benefit of all.  

Vineyard Power is a bold idea...but it may just be possible!

On Martha’s Vineyard, as in most places, almost every dollar we spend on electricity goes to distant investor-owned utilities, and, often, from them to the rest of the world.  At the same time, we have no control over the price of that essential commodity.  Formed just a few years ago with the goal of all Vineyard ratepayers becoming members, the cooperative has begun to consider and negotiate for sites for a major offshore wind farm and major onshore photovoltaics (PVs) that will provide electricity at long-term stable rates.

Vineyard Power is a bold idea and a major project that will take years to implement.  It combines the need to create a democratic organization with a membership of thousands, and manage it, with the goal of completing the biggest development project in the history of the Vineyard.  Big job.  But it may just be possible!

At South Mountain Company we treasure the opportunity to concentrate our primary endeavors on this complex little island that we've come to know well. It's still a fine place to live and work. Committing to the business of place is an unconditional investment in the people and economy of a single locale. We've tossed our hat in the ring here and tied our future to the future of the Vineyard. We're eager to see what comes next and pleased to be able to take part in the evolution of this place.

We're staying close to home.

Charitable & Pro Bono

South Mountain Company commits 20% of its annual profits to charitable and community work, split equally between direct financial assistance and pro bono/discounted work.

Click here to view PDF of contributions for FY13-FY14.