Peter Marino Rethinks the Modern House

Peter Marino thinks of himself as a rational man. A man who loves a uniform, a man who eats according to his blood type (unsurprisingly, his is A+). Even his garden is color coded. But when it comes to architecture, Marino says, his clients are the ones who call the shots. And if they want a nautical folly in the Southampton dunes or a limestone castle above Beirut, who is he to deny them? 

“I’m not one of those who likes to shove a design idea down someone’s throat — there are six ways to skin a cat,” the architect says by phone from his apartment near Manhattan’s Sutton Place, where he’s just returned from the Salzburg music and drama festival. Marino’s appetite for a creative challenge is the message and also the pleasure of his latest book, Ten Modern Houses, a collection of his residential work over the past decade.  

designer peter marino portrait ten modern houses phaidon
A new Phaidon book, Ten Modern Houses, by designer Peter Marino, includes a chapter on a home he designed on a long narrow site on Miami’s private Star Island (top). All photos © Manolo Yllera

While houses have been a staple of Marino’s practice throughout his 40-year career, his reputation as a Midas of the protractor set has been shaped by the public projects he’s completed worldwide, including retail, cultural and hospitality extravaganzas for Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton and Cheval Blanc Paris, among others. His 2023 remake of Tiffany’s New York City flagship is still the subject of debate, with its conflation of art and commerce characterized by some as bravura and others brazen — criticism that seems to roll off Marino’s back.

living room of house on Miami's Star Island by designer peter marino as featured in ten modern houses book published by phaidon
In the living room of the Star Island house, which was commissioned by art collectors, a mobile by Alexander Calder hangs over works by Agostino Bonalumi, Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana and Paolo Scheggi. The chair is by Wendell Castle, and the cocktail-table trio by Juan and Paloma Garrido.

Behind the gates of a private house, of course, he and his clients have only themselves to please, and the projects in this volume are staggeringly grand. Many test the boundaries of residential scale at more than 15,000 square feet. But Marino, in the spirit of modern iconoclasts like Frank Lloyd Wright, Albert Frey and Richard Neutra, maintains a deep commitment to harmonizing building and landscape. It’s an approach that goes a long way toward instilling “kind of a gentler karma than making something that contrasts sharply,” the architect suggests. “It’s softer, maybe slightly less arrogant.” A family compound in the Dominican Republic becomes a garden laced with multiple pavilions; a Provençal estate hides a third of its volume beneath a green roof.  

One of the most striking houses in the book, published by Phaidon, is Marino’s own in Aspen, a ski chalet whose form was influenced by the surrounding peaks and an encounter in the Galápagos Islands with a waved albatross, a sea bird that became an avian inspiration for the building’s sharply jutting roofline and its command of the rock-strewn surroundings. “Executing this vision,” the text notes, “required dynamiting much of the mountain face, then flying long steel beams in via helicopter, as the curving mountain roads were too tight to accommodate the trucks required to haul them.” 

pool garden and rear elevation of house on Miami's Star Island by designer peter marino as featured in ten modern houses book published by phaidon
Marino designed the house — the Biscayne Bay–facing back of which is seen here — as two rectangular volumes connected by a generous central glass entry space that afford views through the entire building to the water.

Inside, though, all is calm. Honey-colored cedar bathes rooms of judiciously placed furniture by Jean-Michel Frank, Poul Kjærholm and others in amber light. The scheme has an almost Japanese level of serenity, ruffled only by the somber paintings of Anselm Kiefer.

Composing an entire house from an initial chord of materials is Marino’s forte as well as his greatest pleasure. “Materials are the very first things I think about,” he says. “Like a chef preparing a soup, I get my ingredients: stone, metal — what’s the salt and pepper going to be?” Often, the answer will emerge from one of his retail jobs, which serve as “a giant design laboratory for me,” he says.  

Turks and Caicos Grace Bay house by designer peter marino as featured in ten modern houses book published by phaidon
Marino completed this house overlooking the Turks and Caicos’s Grace Bay in 2020, once again connecting two rectangular volumes with a void that reveals water views.

On Star Island, a private retreat in Miami’s Biscayne Bay, the recipe for a waterfront house designed for contemporary-art collectors called for bronze, green onyx, matchstick rattan and antique Phulkari textiles. The news that this will be no simple beach bungalow is delivered right in the entry hall, where multihued marbles and travertine have been sliced into “floorboards” — echoing  Gio Ponti’s Villa Planchart, in Caracas, and the complex stone floor patterns of ancient Roman structures. Marino selected all the stones for the house, then “matched the palette of the rooms to them,” he says. “I can’t tell you how much fun I had with the baths.”

Library of Turks and Caicos Grace Bay house by designer peter marino as featured in ten modern houses book published by phaidon
The home’s library features an LC4 chaise longue designed by Le Corbusier with Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret.

His plan for the 11,000-square-foot residence takes a similarly inventive turn. Handed a narrow site with water access at only one end, he devised a sort of catamaran layout, with two narrow wings — one public, one private — flanking a long central hallway facing the bay. Deep window recesses in the limestone exterior provide protection from heat and humidity and suggest a thick skin that’s been cut away here and there. Inside, raking light skims across angular coffee tables by Juan and Paloma Garrido, a Wendell Castle Triad chair, lamps by André Dubreuil, custom club chairs and sofas by Marino and a spellbinding center table by François-Xavier Lalanne depicting a two-headed bouquetin, or ibex. Suspended from the ceiling on bronze rods are three major works by Richard Prince

Pool and rear elevations of Turks and Caicos Grace Bay house by designer peter marino as featured in ten modern houses book published by phaidon
A view of the house seen across the pool shows the back of the glass-walled volume containing a gym (lower left) and media room (lower right) below guest bedrooms.

“I arranged the windows like I would the paintings on a wall,” Marino says of his associative scattering of glass. “Straight-on views of water can become boring.” Nor is he a fan of window walls: “In today’s green world, one huge expanse of glass — you just can’t do it. Anyway, how much view can you take? Once you’ve seen the sky and the earth, what do you need another five feet of sky for? Just go outside!”

Designer Peter Marino's own Aspen house featured in ten modern houses book published by phaidon
For his own home in Aspen, Colorado — which takes its formal inspiration from the body of a waved albatross that Marino saw in the Galapagos — the architect designed a slate wall around the fireplace that provides a dramatic counterpoint to the large-scale works by Anselm Kiefer that hang adjacent to it.

Implicit in this argument, of course, is the fact that fewer windows add up to more walls to encrust with art or paneling in the textured plaster Marino loves — as in the Miami primary bedroom. More than any other house in the book, this one illustrates the maxim that vacation homes are where clients let loose and experiment. Still, some things never change. “What you find out is that most people really live in their sitting room or library,” Marino says. “No one lives in their living room. 

“Many people ask me for a small, intimate family dining room and a bigger one for entertaining,” he says matter-of-factly, then bursts into laughter. “Of course, the one thing no one has ever asked me for is a small, intimate bathroom.”

Cover of phaidon book peter marino ten modern houses
Phaidon will release Ten Modern Houses on June 5.

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