Most people will never own a home by Robert A.M. Stern. Most people will never even see a home by Stern, the dean of the Yale School of Architecture and a favorite architect of the tasteful privileged. His houses, all of them extravagantly detailed and rooted in the architecture of centuries past, are hidden behind high hedges or at the ends of long driveways in places like Montecito, East Hampton, Martha’s Vineyard and Kiawah Island. But now there is a bit of democratization going on, at least in how Stern’s houses are presented. Recently released, Designs for Living (Monacelli; $75) is the 17th monograph on the works of Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), and the fourth devoted to houses — but it’s the first in which Stern’s partners get a chance to talk about their work. They do so in a conversation with the architecture critic Paul Goldberger, which forms the introduction to the book, and in essays that introduce each of the 15 featured projects. Stern is allowing his partners (some of whom have been with him for 30 years) their day in the sun, and the book is all the better for it.
Though the photographs (nearly all by Peter Aaron) are glorious, they have been seen before in magazines (in several cases on the cover of Architectural Digest) — but the words are a revelation. There’s discussion, for example, of how the partners interact with Stern (says Grant Marani: “We use him as a sounding board — a critic”) and how they feel about the cartoony, post-modernist houses that the firm was known for in the 1980s (Gary Brewer: “When we send out portfolios now, we’re not showing that work.”). Roger Seifter explains that one reason RAMSA houses are so well-detailed is a willingness to push local contractors: “We come in as these brash New Yorkers.”
There is no one style — the house are Norman, Georgian, Mediterranean Revival, Shingle Style and Craftsman, with nods to Frank Lloyd Wright; Bernard Maybeck; McKim, Mead and White and many others. What unites RAMSA houses (and there have been about 100 so far) is that nothing is left to chance. One recent house required an astounding 230 pages of architectural drawings. In the worlds the firm creates, no stone is left unturned — or, for that matter, unpolished.
In addition to offering a grand tour of architectural styles, the book includes examples of superb interior design by such blue-chip names as Steven Gambrel, Victoria Hagan and Bunny Williams. (At least in one case — a relatively modern Long Island home for a New York financier — the furniture nearly overpowers the architecture.) Some of the best interiors are those designed by Stern’s daughter-in-law, Courtney Phillips Stern, for the townhouse she shares with Stern’s son, Nick, a builder. That home, in Manhattan’s West Village, was designed by RAMSA partner Randy Correll. Talented family, talented firm.
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