The Living Well

Peaceful, Minimal Zen House

As a tribute to his heroic brother, the owner of this South Shore property set out to create a modern home as a peaceful place of healing for him and his family. The simple architectural forms and minimal interiors disappear in order to shift the focus beyond the walls and into the lush Japanese garden in the rear. The central core of the home captures natural light and brings plant life indoors.

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Core Design Concepts

Although a perfect square is never found in nature, the form is known to be stable and rigid both structurally and symbolically. Designing the floor plan of the home as a perfect square creates a space that is easily understood and rational. The simplicity of the home’s lines and forms disappear to create a strong connection with the natural landscaping of the property.

The stairwell is placed in the center of the floor plan, which allows the exterior shell of the home to be opened to natural light. This central core is then extended beyond the roofline to capture additional sunlight and provide the stairwell with enough light to plant a large vertical garden. Or, as we like to call it, a “Living Well.”

The rear yard of the home is to be planted with a lush Japanese garden. To help carry that feeling of nature indoors, all of the gathering spaces of the home are pushed to the rear, creating a colorful interaction and a stunning view of the garden. This constant connection with the living world is known to benefit aspects of both physical health and emotional well-being.

The local community is beloved for its connection to the nearby Long Island beaches, but the town’s aesthetic seems stuck in the aftermath of conservative suburban developments like the infamous Levittown just a few minutes down the road.

The new, modern home uses rigid geometry to maximize interior space, provide ample space for solar power, and create a private roof deck. The exterior is then clad in natural cedar to create a coastal, beach house aesthetic.

In the center of the square home is a raised volume that is wrapped in windows and topped with skylights. This creates a lightwell that looks down on an open stairwell and brings natural light into the otherwise darkened core. Over time, this three-story void will be filled with an interior vertical garden.

Through the owner’s continued research on Japanese gardens and tea house architecture the term “Sukiya Living” arose as a guiding principle.

As defined in the Journal of Japanese Gardening this is “The combination of a home, its interior spaces and a surrounding garden meant to be viewed from inside the building. At the center of this unified property is a graceful, high-quality home – not necessarily Japanese – that avoids clutter and ostentation and is visually integrated with exterior spaces. Hallmarks include ample use of natural materials, light, elegant proportions, and respect for human scale. The overall mood of a Sukiya Living Environment is one of elegance surrounded by natural beauty.”

The home's second floor is designed with private balconies for the primary bedroom and family suite - both of which look over the rear yard’s garden and pond. Shown here prior to railing installation, the rear portion of the roof deck is also occupiable.

The ground floor layout also brings the most commonly shared spaces to the rear of the home. The custom kitchen, living room, and dining area are a combination of bright white and natural materials that allow the greenery (and the family’s incoming collection of art from around the world) to provide an organic pop of color.

A home that is one with its surrounding gardens will never be truly complete. As years pass and seasons change the landscape will require constant toiling, yet it is the gardening process itself that will continually bring the owner closer to nature.