A private oasis doesn’t require vast acreage to accomplish—that is, if you have a skillful, experienced architect guiding the design. The clients for this house in Water Mill, near the better-known Hamptons, were wise in their choice of Viola Rouhani, AIA. Her firm, Stelle Lomont Rouhani Architects, are practically the town architects for the area, having also designed the house next door and an additional five or so houses on the same road. The firm knows the codes, the conditions, and the culture here, right down to the unique biome of the street. And it understands how to harness the entire potential of special sites with tight dimensions and close neighbors. Whether a renovation or a new house, the architects’ goal is always to maximize the quality of the owners’ experience of the project and of the place.
In this case, what was intended as a renovation ultimately turned into an entirely new house. “The site is really beautiful, but the house was in a precarious position so close to the shore,” Viola explains. Located between Mecox Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, the original house had the best of both views, and the worst exposure to storms. “We started working on the renovation about six years ago, and then we were hit with Hurricane Sandy. The house didn’t take a beating, but it gave the owners pause. It made them think they should move it back a bit. In speaking with code officials, we learned that if we made the project fully FEMA-compliant and energy-compliant, they would let us build new.”
The catch was, the house had to stay the same size—no added square footage, no wished-for basement. Still, there was the opportunity to get the 2,400-square-foot house just right. The biggest challenge was to strike the best balance of privacy from immediate neighbors and exposure to the gorgeous views at the front and back and the clients’ vibrant network of nearby friends. Complicating the task was that the clients also wanted five bedrooms, so carving out that one spacious great room everyone wanted was a game of inches.
Viola’s solution was to keep the bedrooms as small as possible. “A lot of what we do out here has nothing to do with spending time in a great big, beautiful bedroom. It’s about engaging with outdoors as much as possible,” she explains. “It’s about the house being a perch that you can use to access the outdoors. Glass doors that open onto decks, making it feel like it’s all a big porch. These clients have so many friends in the neighborhood, it was really important to them to have the house as open as possible. Neighbors come over all the time.” So, although there’s a proper entry door off to one side of the house, the true beacon of welcome is a set of sliding doors that link the great room to the street. On the other side of the room, a matching slider opens onto the back deck and ocean.
Two of the bedrooms are located on the main floor and share the only bathroom for the level; various mechanical systems that would otherwise go in a basement or crawl space are here as well. On the second level is a central family room, two smaller bedrooms that share a bathroom, and the master suite and master bath. A balcony runs along the back of the house, providing the master and family room with the best views in the whole project: a full swath of Atlantic Ocean. Careful screening at each end preserves the panorama while providing a measure of privacy and sun control. Because this view is too good to waste, there’s another deck on the side the house, with an outdoor fireplace and hot tub—all kept more private but still permeable to sight lines with cedar screening.
As open as the house feels, it’s built “like a little bunker,” Viola says. “The whole area is considered a hurricane zone. We design now for the 100-year event with winds up to 140 miles per hour. Wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour happen on an annual basis. The house sits on piles and has a steel super frame. The windows are all impact resistant. It’s so solidly and rigidly built, you would be surprised by how sturdy it feels and how quiet.”
And yet, its skin matches the light and lean aesthetic of the once-humble summer community. “The houses here used to be simple wood structures, so you could get in the shade, and they were closed up for the winter. It was really nice for us to have clients who appreciated the modesty of those original houses. We evoked them with Western red cedar, which is a durable, stable, and rot-resistant material. It forms a rain screen, and there’s a waterproof layer behind it. It helps the siding last a lot longer.”
The overall effect is a meticulous little jewel box perched between sweeps of sand and sea. Its defenses masquerade as decoration. “We pay a lot of attention to composition,” Voila says. “We want the house to appear as if it were carved out of one volume, rather than having pieces put on. We are intentional about what is open and what is not.”
That’s the nature of an oasis—it’s open and protected at the same time, with everything you need to feel at peace.
Plans and Drawings
House on the Point
Water Mill, N.Y.
ARCHITECT: Viola Rouhani, AIA; Luca Campaiola; Damen Hamilton; Alexa Baker; Jessica Twiggs; Stelle Lomont Rouhani Architects, Bridgehampton, N.Y.
BUILDER: Fountainhead Construction, Bridgehampton
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: LaGuardia Design Group, Water Mill, N.Y.
PROJECT SIZE: 2,405 square feet
SITE SIZE: .93 acres
CONSTRUCTION COST: Withheld
PHOTOGRAPHY: Matthew Carbone
WINDOW WALL SYSTEMS/
SLIDING DOORS: Arcadia
DOOR HARDWARE: FSB, Accurate
HVAC: Weil-McLain, Carrier
FIREPLACE INSERT: Heatilator
OUTDOOR FIREPLACE: Earthcore Isokern
KITCHEN RANGE: Wolf
WINE REFRIGERATOR: U-Line
VENT HOOD: Wolf
OUTDOOR SHOWER: Calazzo PILA
LIGHTING: Tech Lighting
LIGHTING CONTROL: Lutron
WINDOW SHADING: Lutron