Away From It All
Alejandro Saralegui -- Interior Design, 1/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
A lot of thinking went into Ali Tayar's first ground-up house, built on Rhode Island's Block Island. This remote destination is the kind of place where family and guests cool out the minute they arrive, and the beauty of the house lies in everything it's not: big, intimidating, impersonal. Tayar cites the concept of the New Austerity, a term coined by Italian design writer Rossella Venturi.
The Turkish-born Tayar, principal of Parallel Design, studied architecture at Germany's Universität Stuttgart and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then came to the fore professionally in the early 1990's, when minimalism was all the rage. Among his first interiors projects was a New York apartment for his Block Island client, who happens to be a dear friend. At about that time, he also developed an extruded-aluminum shelf bracket that set his career in motion as an industrial designer.
"It's odd that furniture became the number-one priority for me," Tayar says. "For this house, I had to go back to the scale I was trained in as an architect."
Helping him with that adjustment, engineer Attila Rona was crucial in determining the structure of the house and its guest quarters, connected by a bridge of engineered-wood beams. Rona suggested tying down the two volumes at their corners and separating the studs by multiples of 9 inches. This established the placement of the windows and doors, which Tayar tweaked into a syncopated rhythm. On a macro level, the 9-inch organization increases to a 9-foot grid. Even visitors unaware of these perfect geometries are conscious of the soothing feel they create.
"This is a handmade, one-of-a-kind piece of architecture, but the modularity implies a certain sense of mass production," Tayar says. That's in keeping with his long-standing interest in taking a systems approach to architecture.
As for the form and materials of the exterior, they were largely determined by a next-door house reputed to be McKim, Mead and White. The softly curved rooflines mimic that of the century-old arts and crafts "cottage." Walls are clad in cedar shakes, with trim painted white. At the clients' request, Tayar also limited his building materials to those available right on the island.
Landscape exerted an additional influence. Built into a hill, the bottom level emerges from below grade to face the Atlantic Ocean. And because the property's 2-plus acres are raised on a bluff, all three stories enjoy the water views that are so important to the house. In every room, they're framed by the carefully placed windows, as opposed to the floor-to-ceiling glass used so commonly.
Tayar's double interiors, a combined 5,000 square feet, are characteristically spare. Walls are mostly white-painted particleboard, flooring birch. The potential monotony is alleviated by subtle variations. Birch, for example, recurs in solid form for picture rails and banisters and as veneer on cabinets.
Color plays a part, too. Amid the birch veneer, strategic cabinet drawers are surfaced in a reddish-orange plastic laminate. In the kitchen and main entry, blue anodized-aluminum ceiling panels take their inspiration from the tiled ceilings of Andalusia, according to Tayar—and never fail to thrill.
The guesthouse entry is dominated by a birch staircase with a sculpted handrail designed in homage to the arts and crafts era. Furnishings from half a century later mix with contemporary pieces throughout. When it came to choosing dining chairs by Jens Risom or side tables by the brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Tayar threw that "buy local" mandate to the ocean winds.