SAGAPONAC HOUSE – SHIGERU BAN/SHAMIR SHAH –
WORDS – DOMINIC BRADBURY
PHOTOGRAPHS – MARK LUSCOMBE-WHYTE
Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has famously challenged convention when it comes to designing houses. He has created an eye catching series of open plan homes with few solid divisions and retractable glass walls which open up to the landscape, as with his Wall-Less House and also his Paper Tube House in Japan, where he used rolled cardboard as part of the structure of the building.
His wonderful Naked House, too, combined the theme of openness with experimental materials, made of semi-transparent walls that look like rice paper, turning the house into a giant glowing lantern in the evenings.
On the other side of the coin, Ban has developed lightweight disaster relief shelters, also made with cardboard tubes and easy available materials. Now he is at work in Europe, working on the new Pompidou Centre outpost in Metz, France, while America, too, has just been introduced to Ban's unique touch.
Out in the Hamptons – the ever fashionable Long Island enclave a few hours away from New York – Ban has designed a 'Furniture House'. Ban's Furniture Houses began life in Japan in the mid 1990s, where the architect began using cabinet work such as book cases and cupboards as part of the fabric of the building itself.
These heavy duty furniture units form dividing walls and partitions, while also largely supporting the roof, which goes on after the prefabricated cabinets have been laid out in position. 'Furniture House 5' in Sagaponac – created with American associate Dean Maltz – forms part of Ban's ongoing experiments with the theme, using a grand total of eighty cabinets to create the outline of the house and separate up the different rooms. "Each of the projects is really related to one another," says Ban. "Ideas get developed further and further."
"I became a fan of Shigeru Ban after seeing his Nomadic Museum, made of shipping containers," says the owner of the Sagaponac House, David King, who runs a fast growing internet company. 'I looked at more of his work and liked the strict design principles he follows. He shows great restraint and is very thoughtful about materials.
"I have always wanted to live in a Modernist style glass house and the transparency, the light, the open space, the relationship with the outdoors – they all drew me to the house."
King first heard about the Ban house when visiting Sagaponac, but lost out to another buyer, only to pick the house up when it again came on the market. Surrounded by trees, with only the sound of the birds and an occasional whistle from the railroad, the U-shaped single storey house is wrapped around a large swimming pool. The sleek, sophisticated house has something of the feel of a classic mid-century home, yet the execution is very contemporary, with the only brick limited to a corner fireplace in the living room.
When King finally bought the house, though, there was still work to be done to complete the building. The large basement remained in a raw and unfinished state and there had been some water damage to a Ban paper tube screen which had to be removed. There was also the problem of how to integrate King's art collection, given that nearly every wall in the house was made up of a sea of maple cabinets, with enough storage to suit even the most obsessive of hoarders. King turned to New York designer Shamir Shah to help with the interiors and finish the weekend and summer house.
"I found Shamir on the internet as I was searching for "hot New York designers" and knew he was perfect," says King. "He would bring luxe to the stark Ban interior and soften some of the hard edges. The house could have been cold but instead it is now warm, inviting and elegant."
"I was overwhelmed by the beauty and simplicity of the house," says Shah. "It is in an idyllic spot and it works well and the plan is brilliant. But the immediate reaction was that we had to do something to house David's art and mitigate the sea of maple, which was expansive."
While respecting the Ban vision as far as possible, Shah made some careful adjustments to the interiors, especially in the hallway, that preserved the open and fluid layout but created spaces for artworks and installations, including a large piece in the living room by Paul Villinski. The unfinished basement was completed with a large and fully equipped gym and a new studio, while services were also improved, including underfloor heating and a new air conditioning system.
"David wanted a comfortable interior and something entirely different to their place in New York," says Shah. "The overall feeling is contemporary and calm – he wanted a restful place away from the city."
Furnishings for the house mix some mid-century classics by Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner, Eero Saarinen and others with many bespoke pieces by Shah, including the dining table, which makes excellent use of Indonesian timbers imported by a friend of King's. One of the four bedrooms was transformed into a warm and comfortable media room – now one of King's favourite spaces in the house – while another doubles as a study.
Outside, there is a sheltered veranda holding an outdoor living room by the pool, complete with seating, kitchenette and barbecue area creating a multi-functional space that takes away the need to keep going in and out of the house on hot summer days. To sit here on a sunny day, surrounded by the woodland and the sounds of nature, is idyllic.
"The kitchen and dining area is a natural gathering point for entertaining and the outdoor living room – by the pool – is a great place to site while the sun sets," says King. "The house is a real retreat. There is just no reason to leave it on summer weekends."
Shamir Shah – www.shamirshahdesign.com
Shigeru Ban – www.shigerubanarchitects.com