A Nod To Neutra
For his own Florida house, architect Scott Hughes channels the L.A. master—and invites designer Brad Dunning to handle the interiors
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 6/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Architect Scott Hughes recounts how five years spent in Los Angeles left a lasting impression on his work. "In California, I became consumed by Richard Neutra. His brilliance is hard to resist," confesses Hughes, who now practices in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., under the name Architecture+. Building a vacation home for himself and his wife in Hobe Sound, Florida, offered an outlet for Hughes's fixation. "Plus," he adds with a laugh, "Neutra was one of the few inspirations that my wife, Lisa, and I could agree on."
Hughes chose Hobe Sound for its rich history of International Style architecture. The property itself, though a mere 100 yards from the Atlantic and dense with ficus trees, lacked views and was only half an acre. "My primary goal was to take a small lot and make it feel as expansive as possible," says Hughes. The L-shape structure that he designed stretches to the boundaries of the lot, wrapping two sides of a pool.
Sheathed in gray-green stucco, the low-slung building blends seamlessly into its surroundings, its tweaked planarity an update on Neutra's. Extensive glazing and long sight lines create an easy transition between inside and out. The south wall of the main wing, which houses living areas and the master bedroom, boasts a 64-foot-long expanse of sliding glass doors. A cantilevered overhang extends the roofline toward the pool, further opening the interiors to the landscape. "Neutra was the most successful architect in resolving the influence of natural light on a residential scale," Hughes points out. "This house is full of contrasts—light and shadow, public and private, open and enclosed. I call it 'openness with an edge.'"
Perpendicular to the main volume, a two-story wing accommodates visiting friends and family. Hughes gave them extra privacy by cheekily modeling the guest quarters on a Motel 6—albeit a highbrow interpretation. All three rooms peel off a plein air corridor with access to the pool via an exterior staircase. An interior stairwell at the corridor's other end leads to the kitchen, where the two wings intersect. "It's the focal point of the house," says Hughes. "We rarely use the living room when people are over."
Which seems a shame, as the living room is suited to intense lounging as well as an appreciation of fine art and design. To oversee the interiors, the couple turned to L.A. designer Brad Dunning, who had worked on residences designed by Neutra. "Lisa and I needed a sounding board, and we recognized that Brad's eye was similar to our own," says Hughes. Dunning stayed true to the Hughes house's modernist influences while avoiding slavish imitation. "The house's design is very straightforward and crisp," says Dunning. "It's neither quaint nor retro." Furnishings followed suit.
For the ground floor, Dunning favored custom and contemporary furnishings. Then he added early modernist, Bauhaus-influenced pieces such as Breuer chairs and Le Corbusier LC7 chairs. A Carlo Scarpa dining table provides a bit of '60s pop. Dunning customized other vintage furnishings, including the Jean Prouvé credenza in the entrance hall. "We bleached it to death to make it truly Floridian," he says. In the master bedroom, the Poul Kjaerholm chaise was fitted with a woven cane seat, a "twist on the expected resort rattan."
The iconic Eames Surfboard table and George Nelson beds were relegated to guest rooms, for which Hughes requested a more casual ambience. "Mid-century modern has been revived and reexamined to death," says Dunning. "But when handled with a light touch, it still feels relevant."
During the course of the project, Dunning investigated Miami Beach designers' use of materials and color, determining that a "monochromatic, opaque palette works best in the intense climate." Creamy terrazzo floors and white walls are enlivened primarily by an art collection featuring works by Jasper Johns, Damien Hirst, and members of the Washington Color School. And a giant swath of blue pool is visible from every room of the house.
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