“First, do no harm.” A foundation of medical practice, that principle applies equally to the remodeler’s art. Especially in cases like this one, a weekend home in Amagansett, N.Y., whose humble origins and tired finishes might have marked it for demolition. “It was a kit house that was sold through the local lumberyard in the 1960s,” says architect Paul Masi, of Bates Masi + Architects, in Sag Harbor, N.Y.
On closer inspection, Masi found much to like in this vintage version of modernism on a budget. “It didn’t really fit the owners’ lifestyle as it was,” he says, “but it had a good structure and a nice, simple layout.” Building on those inherent virtues, Masi and general contractor Brian Mannix, of Mannix Custom Builders, in Amagansett, conducted a thorough yet restrained remodel that transformed a bit player into a real heartthrob, which won a Grand Award for Whole-House Remodeling $250,000–$500,000 in the 2014 Remodeling Design Awards. (See a slide show of this project and the other 2014 Design Award winners online in Remodeling’s Project Gallery.)
A Few Good Moves
The core of the original house consisted of a living space with an open ceiling above a high clerestory. Flanking that central element were two lower wings containing a kitchen, a dining area, four bedrooms, and three bathrooms. “The structure had a nice rationale,” Masi says. “It had some volume in its main space and a fair amount of glazing. And it was quite efficient; there were almost no hallways in the house.” As a result, Masi was able to retain the building’s basic interior layout with only a few judicious adjustments. The new floor plan shifts the kitchen and dining area toward the center of the house, freeing up space for a new media room, and includes only enough new area for a larger master bath.
Changes to the building’s structural shell were similarly restrained. Expanded window area—all of the glazing in the house is new—exposes more of the structural frame (the new roof over the master bathroom follows suit, with a tier of clerestory windows all around). Dark-stained cedar siding and matching window frames highlight the contrast between structure and openings. A reconfigured deck spans the home’s rear elevation, punching out at its center to accentuate the building’s basic symmetry. Mannix removed a brick patio and gave the existing swimming pool a narrow apron of cut stone surrounded by a carpet of grass. In keeping with the spirit of the original house, Masi says, his design approach was “just about keeping it simple.”
While Mannix saved the bones of the house, he took a wrecking bar to its existing finishes. “We gutted the entire house down to the frame,” says the builder, who updated the home’s plumbing, electrical, and mechanical system, and replaced the existing lumberyard-grade interior with an abbreviated palette of earthy, natural materials. The dark cedar of the exterior extends into the house, wrapping the exposed ceiling beams and framing the clerestory windows. Wall paneling and cabinetry fabricated from weathered barn boards highlight Masi’s simple modernist detailing. “We felt like there were a lot of areas that we Sheetrocked,” Masi says, “and this became a counterbalance.”
At the kitchen island, barn board panels and a volcanic stone countertop frame prefabricated laminate cabinets. “We just clad the boxes,” explains Masi, who says that simple stock cabinets represent an attractive, cost-saving option, even for high-style installations like this one. “You’ve just got to find a way to balance them using other materials,” he says. A volcanic stone tile backsplash lines a recess in the opposite wall, which holds another run of laminate cabinets and a pair of weathered plank shelves with hidden cantilevered supports.
The exposed brick chimney, which stands prominently at the center of the living room’s entry wall, gained a bit of artificial aging. “It had a sort of patina that was starting to be interesting, but it wasn’t quite there yet,” Masi says, “so we added some paint and rubbed it off. We did that over and over. It was sort of this layering process.”
Bound for Glory
The project’s most distinctive feature is its use of a material not usually associated with residential interiors: manila rope. Masi specified the rope as a finish and accent throughout the house. Mannix fastened CNC-milled “looms” to the sides of the roof beams and wove the rope back and forth to form continuous screens. The assemblies create visual interest overhead, tying together the home’s existing and new elements. By dampening sound, they also create a warmer environment for music, which is an important consideration for the owners, one of whom is a professional DJ. “There’s quite a lot of glass there, and glass is such a reflective surface,” Masi says. “[The loomed rope] helps balance that out.”
Woven rope also fills the wood-framed sliding door between the master bedroom and the bath, and appears to suspend the long mirror over the master bath vanity. “In a lot of our projects we try to come up with a concept that’s going to carry through not just the big elements, but also the smaller details,” Masi explains. And while he had never worked with rope before, it wasn’t his first experiment with unconventional materials. “Our projects have a tendency to drive us into products and industries that we’ve never delved into,” he says. Fortunately, a member of the crew had relevant experience. “One of the guys was a fisherman,” Mannix says, “I used him specifically because he knew how to work with the rope.”
Sense of Intimacy
The only entirely new room in the house, the master bath offered additional opportunities for creativity. The space centers on a barn board–clad vanity wall, which also encloses the shower and toilet area. Because the wall stops short of the ceiling, Mannix explains, it depends on cantilevered posts that extend into the floor framing for lateral rigidity. “I ran engineered lumber at the corners, straight through the floor, and sheathed the wall with plywood,” he says.
Mannix lined two of the shower walls with stone tile and two with barn boards sealed behind sheets of glass. “We simply laid the glass on top of the wood and siliconed all the corners,” he says, “just like a standard frameless shower stall.” The result is as watertight and easy to clean as a conventional installation, he says, but “it has a very raw feel to it.”