Louis and Mary Larsen opened Larsen’s Fish Market in 1969 to provide fair prices for both local fisherman and their customers. Over the last 53 years, Larsen’s has evolved into the quintessential community hub—an unofficial town hall, if you will—for residents of Menemsha, a small fishing town at the southwestern tip of Martha’s Vineyard. Although the island is known for the quaint eastern outposts of Edgartown and Oaks Bluff, Menemsha has seen an uptick in tourism thanks to a recent renovation of this local favorite. The task of preserving the small, shingled shop and honoring its cultural significance arrived to Aaron Schiller, founder of New York–based architecture firm Schiller Projects.
The shop owners sought out a renovation that would both optimize productivity and enliven the space for customers. “The elements that we wanted to maintain were more cultural than they were physical,” Schiller told AN. “It was a really interesting process.” Schiller began the project with an analysis of how the market was being used and noted a number of different traffic flows: one for the locals, one for the visitors, and one for the workers hectically shuffling fish into the market from nearby docked boats. “In order to achieve a harmony between the three circulation patterns, we literally ripped out the existing buildings that had been built on top of each other, clearing 60 to 70 years of structures on the site in order to put this modern-operating fish market together,” Schiller explained.
While the original interiors of Larsen’s were designed with functionality in mind, Schiller incorporated elements that tie back to the community within the renovation while also enhancing organization and flow. Inside the new space, a datum at 8 feet above the floor separates the base structure from the 14-foot-tall, timber-framed ceiling. The insulated timber frame pays homage to traditional New England fish shacks while also serving as a nice backdrop for the antique wooden lobster traps suspended from the ceiling.
Below this impressive roof, to play into the maritime-themed interior the space is wrapped in glazed teal and white ceramic tile from Bedrosians Tile & Stone. The tiles also make for easy cleanup: Larsen’s workers can hose down the entire back-of-house each night. The sealed polished concrete floors and moments of exposed Douglas fir and western red cedar are straightforward in their material articulation, allowing “you to focus more on the market itself than on the interior design.” A 22-foot-tall overall ceiling height accommodates an office on the second floor and space for large, ocean-facing windows. The heart of the shop is the wood counter anchored by a large refrigerated display case where the seafood is stored and sold.
The new and improved Larsen’s Fish Market opened in June after less than a year of design and construction. A testament to the institution’s strong community standing, this speedy turnaround was due in large part to the many Menemsha locals who volunteered to help with construction during the harsh winter months so that the Larsen family could open their doors for peak season. As the sun begins to set on the market’s first (very successful) summer in the new space, expect visitors from near and far to flock to the buzzing, revamped market this Labor Day weekend.