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By Drew Limsky | Photo: Robin Hill | Architecture & Interiors by HughesUmbanhowar Architects | October 17, 2016
A snowbird family from Canada has a modern home built as a pure statement—in bespoke fashion.
“These clients had noticed some of our work locally and had seen some of our work published, so they sought us out,” recalls Scott Hughes, principal (with John Umbanhowar) of HughesUmbanhowar Architects, which is based in Jupiter and also in Venice, Calif. “And they were interested in working within our vocabulary.” And so, a 28-month project—a new 4,200-square-foot build of poured concrete with a stucco finish—commenced. The completed home is a stunner: It looks like two interlocking objects—one big piece is white, the other gunmetal.
The 30-something Canadian owners live in Florida with their children most of the year. Active in water sports, they were taken with the location on the Loxahatchee River. “They were interested in a site that they could paddleboard and sail from,” Hughes explains.
Hughes’ marching orders were clear: modern, stripped-down and bespoke. The home had to suit the family’s active lifestyle. Since the site faces south—Hughes notes that most of his waterfront projects face east or west—the overabundance of direct sun inspired him to create a huge shade to protect the pool from the punishing sun. That shade became what Hughes calls the house’s frame. “I conceive of the home as a series of objects organized inside this frame—in a more literal way than we had done this in the past,” the architect says. “We broke down the spaces into different blocks, which were then organized to create as much shelter and sightlines as possible.”
The shade covers the second-floor deck and the living and dining room, as well as the pool. Key elements—recessed lighting, pocket doors, stainless steel wire rails—are discreet, so as not to detract from the integrity of that frame. “The client wanted as minimal of a look as possible,” Hughes says. “The wife was very interested in the architecture being the art,” he recalls—an especially nice thing for an architect to hear.
The clients were also particular about the 10-foot-deep pool Hughes designed. (It was constructed by the respected Tequesta-based firm Almar/Jackson.) Because of the depth and the shade, days are filled with freestyle and diving, sans sunburn. Sightlines remains open, courtesy of the restrained work of the Jupiter-based landscape firm Cotleur & Hearing (cotleur-hearing.com). The clients were adamant in that they wanted a grove of royal palms and not much more—just some height to play against the horizontal lines of the facade.
The clean lines extend to every room. The zebra stone kitchen was custom-built by Kitchen Strand. Designed as minimally as possible, its central location meant it had to be functional as well as sculptural. The drawers are devoid of handles. Appliances are sleek Bertazzoni and Miele. Upstairs, the master bathroom, with its shiny Dornbracht fixtures, evokes the same architectural and color contrast as the home itself—a sort of white gallery interlocked with gunmetal gray. Its clean lines are not merely aesthetic: The design bows to the increasing popularity of wet rooms—no doors, shower curtains, steps or lips. The terrazzo floor of the dual-access shower floor is imperceptibly sloped.
Hughes is mindful of the ways in which modern home requirements have transformed the challenges of architecture. The home’s grills and slot diffusers are barely noticeable (to Hughes, unsightly grills are “a rookie’s mistake”). Such a circulation scheme means that air moves evenly. Hughes knows well that successful architecture is an experience that transcends what you see. He recalls Rem Koolhaas speaking at the Architecture Exhibition at the Biennale di Venezia two years ago: “He said that architecture requires a mastery of so many different subcategories—and that was not true 500 years ago. He showed how a domed building today would need a dropped ceiling to contain the plumbing and electrical wiring. Architectural design used to be pure. Now we spend at least two-thirds of our time on requirements like ductwork.”
Hughes is on familiar terms with some of the greats. “I was doing rather traditional houses into the early 1990s because the mid-Atlantic market I was in wanted that,” he recalls. Working with Philip Johnson changed the trajectory of Hughes’ career. “He convinced me if I really wanted to work in the modern movement, I needed to recharge my batteries, so I went off to the Southern California Institute of Architecture for another master’s in architecture. SCI-Arc exposed me to some very pure ideological foundations.” Hughes was surprised to find clients interested in modernism in Jupiter.
Yet one clean, modernist project begat another. Eventually, his modernist Florida story culminted with the intrepid owners of this bold home. “They were happy with the process,” Hughes says, “and how we got them to where they want to be.”
Architecture & Interior Design
Living room sofa, coffee table
Design Within Reach
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Slim dining room table