Architect Alexander Gorlin creates a rustic guesthouse and artist space that combines old world charm with a minimalist mentality
It’s no secret that artists have a long established love affair with the Hamptons. Winslow Homer painted bathers frolicking on the beaches of East Hampton in the late 1800s, Robert Motherwell set up residence here in the 1940s, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollack created midcentury masterpieces in the hamlet of the Springs and Willem De Kooning bicycled to his studio in the East Hampton woods to take advantage of the perfect light. Consequently, architect Alexander Gorlin wasn’t surprised when his client, an accomplished Israeli artist, handed him a book chronicling great artists studios of the Hamptons as inspiration for the design of her own East Hampton studio and guest house.
Gorlin, who did an addition to Lisa De Kooning’s house, was completely in sync with his client. “Those artists worked in typical Hampton Shingle-style structures that had a rustic quality on the outside with a simple interior-and an abundance of light everywhere,” says Gorlin. It was that philosophy the architect sought to emulate when he conceptualized a primitive Italian farmhouse characterized by earth-toned, hand-textured stucco walls and a hand-aged, red ceramic-tile roof.
Designed to coordinate with the main house, a Palladian-style villa designed by Gorlin 20 years earlier, the L-shaped building with a tower at one end is a series of massive but well-proportioned cubic volumes noticeably devoid of details such as moldings or columns. Nestled in a stand of stately Norway maples, the combination studio/guesthouse wraps around a courtyard where bougainvilleas cascade out of oversized containers, soothing water sounds trickle from an antique French fountain and olives tied and espaliered on the walls fill the air with an intoxicating fragrance.
According to the architect, “Colors like the deep ochre on the walls contrast with the green in thc surrounding trees.” The suspended exterior staircase and other projections were inspired by the paintings of Giotto, the 14rh-century Italian artist and architect. “The backgrounds of his paintings depict architectural settings with simple forms framing the people,” explains Gorlin, a former recipient of the Rome Prize Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. “There are loggias, towers and stairs and these backgrounds have a noble simplicity that dignify the people who in turn ennoble the architecture.”
The carefully derailed landscape further enhances the Tuscan experience. Using Italian courtyards and hillsides as his inspiration, landscape designer Charlie Marder strove to create a sense of timelessness. “We used a new stone on the upper patio combined with 120-year-old bluestone on the lower patio and pathways to give the place a sense of age,” he says adding, “We tried to be raw and polished at the same time.”
Evergreen magnolias and potted lemon and lime trees in the courtyard were selected to be reminiscent of the Italian climate. Marder seeded the gravel service road with grass and ground covers to mimic a typical overgrown Italian road. “Creating a sense of timelessness and building character into a new property is hard to do,” says Marder who planted mature eastern red cedars prior to building the driveway. “We intentionally created a problem to solve so the driveway would have to go up and around the trees, making the result more interesting.”
Just beyond the French doors, the serene courtyard gives way to austere white-washed walls, concrete floors and a bank of north-facing skylights. The sumptuous loft-like 25 by 80-foot room is all about volume and light and boasts ample wall space for hanging large canvases.
Rustic overtones return in the tower/guest quarters where the homeowner selected the eclectic blend of informal furnishings, and the structural wood beams fashioned from old barn wood have “as many visible bolts as possible. “We wanted to give a sense of age to the house,” says Gorlin, who punctured the wall with a series of small square windows to create an ambiguous sense of scale. “I didn’t want a full double-height space so the windows make the walls seem taller,” he adds.
The main level includes a place for guests to lounge and a full service kitchen. There arc individual guest suites on each of the three tower levels with the upper-level bedroom providing the only access to the rooftop terrace. “It’s a romantic and sculptural element that celebrates the ascent to the place where you can view your property,” says Gorlin. Those who make the climb are treated to views of the vineyards and fields of old East Hampton, and come fall, it’s possible to glimpse the ocean.
Gorlin notes that there are two approaches to the secluded building. But whether you drive up the road where you first spy the tower on top of the hill or come up the stairs from the grotto and enter the courtyard from the studio side, the effect of coming upon what looks like a slice of the Tuscan countryside in the middle of Long Island is nothing short of magical. “It’s like this clearing in the woods, and there’s a fairy tale quality implied,” he says. “And in the end, the Hamptons are all about fantasy.”.