A Stern Look

Architectural Digest this month features a home by Robert A.M. Stern, and I was tempted to make Stern the subject of the last Pop Quiz.

The bronze sconces were cast from branches found near the property.
The same publication featured Stern’s own East Hampton cottage in February of 1994.

I’d rather hang out here.  I’m not sure you would agree, but it is difficult for me to visit the ocean and not be overwhelmed by its vastness.  I have three children, so I have my own daily reminders of my insignificance in the universe, but the ocean can make me have to sit down, maybe close my eyes, and get my bearings a bit.

The 1967 Paris Review by Robert Rauschenberg “punctuates the room,” according to Stern.
Because of this, I think the best beach houses are cozy.  Contained.  A reminder that, while indeed the world is wide, you can make your spot in it, perhaps no larger than your shell, to shelter you while you sort things out.

The chesterfield sofa was 25 years old when Stern brought it to the cottage; I can only hope that it is creamy leather as it appears.  The chair is of his design.  
Stern modified an existing house and here I will borrow Paul Goldberger’s text from the article as I could not do better on my best day.

“This house is a consistently pleasurable companion.  It seems to know that its origins are common: It doesn’t hide its bungalow beginnings, even as it makes its Jeffersonian gestures here and its Schinkelesque allusions there.  The house wears its knowledge lightly, and like a thoughtful conversationalist, it makes every statement with the intention of putting one at ease.  The result is that it comes off as gracious rather than overbearing, as witty rather than pretentious.”

Stern says, “You should either eat in a library or sleep in a library, and I made my decision to sleep in one.”
I could live the rest of my life wishing to live up to that epitaph.  

For all the reasons that Goldberger stated, I prefer this house, which contains all of Stern’s usual elements, to the gigantic ones.

Stern collected carefully for this house, though he was not worried that things needed to be particularly fine.  Goldberger surmised that the house succeeds, “in making much out of what is there.”  And I just can’t stop wondering, who is writing about houses like this now?
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19 thoughts on “A Stern Look

  1. Fortunately, Paul Goldberger continues to write for The New Yorker. Perhaps focusing more on Manhattan’s skyline or Beijing’s Water Cube then individual homes but I agree that his is a very enjoyable and creatively descriptive style. He’s another reason I love that mag.

  2. That’s a good question, Patricia, and a challenge I’d enjoy seeing addressed.

    Like you, I much prefer Stern’s charming, more intimate house to the larger one. I also prefer Martha’s Vineyard (specifically Edgartown) to the Hamptons. In either case, I love water. It took me a while to get used to the Atlantic Ocean over the Gulf of my childhood vacation days. One is wild, vast, and grayer as you travel north. The other, aqua blue with sugar sand beaches. Of course, the Atlantic is for sunrise and the Gulf for sunset here in Florida.

    I like Stern’s thoughts on libraries. We’ve had a library in a bedroom and loved it and a dining area in a library which everyone enjoyed. Books make any room better!

    Sheila… who likes Stern’s use of oval windows in both featured houses

  3. Yes, love the windows, those fireside club chairs with that great trim. The baskets of pears and gourds, it all works! BTW thanks so much for making the photos enlarge to full page. I lived in San Diego thirteen years before moving back to my beloved home Kansas City. I stll miss the bay and beaches there! (family and friends of course)

  4. Mrs. B… do you think that it’s because you were raised in the Midwest that you’re overwhelmed by the ocean?

    One of the things that wigged me out at an early age was being on a sailing trip and getting out of sight of land. I’d always learned to use landmarks for navigation and when they weren’t there, it was an a new way of finding my way.

  5. My favorite architect!!! I love every house Stern has ever done. I was going to blog about his beach house this week!

  6. You asked, “And I just can’t stop wondering, who is writing about houses like this now?”

    “No one in Architectural Digest,” would be my short answer. But many other shelter pubs are featuring smaller, greener, higher quality, traditionally-styled homes — trends driven by the mortgage industry crisis, depletion of fossil fuels, global warming, and the baby boomers approaching retirement. The catalysts are mostly unfortunate ones, but the results are promising.

  7. I eat in a library. While there are a lot of books in my bedroom , I’m not certain I’d want to sleep in a full-fledged library as the one shown here. I would think I’d hear whispered odes, hushed complaints, and snippets of mysterious dialog all night.

  8. My parents’ house on Cape Cod is 600 square feet. Except for the fact that we could use a second bathroom, and perhaps the two smallest bedrooms would be slightly more comfortable if they could hold double beds, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Cozy is best at the beach. A good side effect is controlling the number of mooching guests that way. Another is that you can get it spic and span clean in 30 minutes.

  9. P.S. I lost respect for Stern after seeing his design for The Darden School of Business at UVA. The site planning was terrible, and while I understand there is a Board of Visitors to please who know nothing about architecture and want everything to emulate Jefferson’s work, the resulting design was inexcusable.

  10. I have always loved the shingle style homes that Stern has designed over the years. But I do agree that size matters! When they get too big, they lose their appeal and charm. I must say I am always stunned that people want such huge homes. What a huge obligation. Does one really use/need all that space?!?!? Give me a cozy place every time.

  11. Check out Cottage Living magazine for some great, small(er)-scale house design. In spite of the name, they feature a range of styles from traditional to contemporary.


  12. I do love the idea of a library/dining room. And with the frequency with which I continue to buy books, Mrs. E. and I shall soon be dining, sleeping and dressing among them….

    Is there any place better than the seaside for relaxing and getting lost in the vastness of it all? I am always amazed that the explorers made it to our shores in those small boats.

  13. I think after the architectural neo-palladian excesses of the 80s, 90s and 00’s, human scale is returning to Architecture. I prefer a smaller home. We’ve lived in our modest shingled cottage for over 25 Years, while we could have afforded something grander, but is suited us. I see many of my favorite bloggers’ homes and even large, they have a good scale to them. Oversized homes of any sort leave me cold. I would definitely prefer the Stern Cottage! Good post. How’s the post-school situation going?

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