Dan Shaw -- Interior Design, 8/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
You wouldn't think that a pair of architects who live on a secluded, bucolic property with a distant view of the Catskill Mountains would need a man-made element to heighten the natural beauty that surrounds them. But Peter Franck and Kathleen Triem believe that bold artwork can enhance and elevate even the most exquisite rural environment. They've been putting this theory into practice for more than a decade, both as the husband-wife team behind FT Architecture + Interiors and as curators of the Fields Sculpture Park in Ghent, New York, where they've chosen and placed colossal sculptures amid the 100 acres of rolling hills, meadows, and woods to maximum effect.
Franck and Triem just happen to live next door to the sculpture park, without so much as a fence between, and they've turned their 1,500-square-foot studio-guesthouse into an audacious piece of sculpture in its own right by wrapping the upper story in a billboard-size photograph printed on translucent vinyl mesh. The couple got the idea after curating the sculpture park's "Photography in the Landscape" show. "We'd found someone to print pictures on an all-weather material," Franck explains. (It's commonly seen on construction signage.)
The photomural's ocean image—the work of Joni Sternbach, who often photographs the sea and sky—quietly subverts expectations of a landlocked mountain site. "It's surreal," Franck says, admiring it from the far side of his swimming pool. He and Triem had considered many different images before selecting this one, he adds: "When we found it, we knew it was right. It's very calming." And while it's most spectacular seen from the exterior at night, glowing and shimmering from the illuminated rooms inside, it's striking from the interior during the day, too. "It makes beautiful shadows as the sun rakes across," he notes.
Though the installation looks like a purely aesthetic exercise, form does follow function. "We needed something to cover all the large windows, so we could see our computer screens," Triem says. "The scrim screens the light beautifully while letting us look at the trees outside."
What's more, the innovation was economical. "We were able to clad the building in inexpensive cement-board and still have a spectacular exterior," Franck says, adding that the stained-pine boards around the lower story look like woven wattle fencing, which grounds the building on its site. "We always love playing with textures, light, and shadows, making a building work with the landscape."
Even without the photomural, the two-story studio is a dramatic structure that takes advantage of its sloping site. Entry is on the upper level, a mezzanine with a conference room and a lounge. "When we have dance parties," Triem says, "the lounge is our DJ booth." The lounge's balustrade and the staircase down to the studio proper are made of rough-hewn pine planks and white-painted steel for a rural high-tech effect.
That art is integral to FT's design practice is made evident not only by the photomural but also inside, as two large artworks pay homage to architecture : a Styrofoam wall sculpture by John Powers that looks like dozens of colliding maquettes and a photograph of Brasília by Mariko Mori. The working environment the couple have created for themselves 4,500 miles north of the Brazilian capital is equally forward-thinking, with an intimacy and an expansiveness that nurture and inspire.