The architect Roger Ferris is known for designing modern, statement-making homes. But his latest project, a waterfront poolhouse in Westport, Connecticut, is magnificently minimalist in form, its single story concealed beneath a verdant berm out of deference to the landscape. Save for the skylight that runs the length of its green roof, the building is hardly visible as you approach it. Even the entrance—a sloping lawn down to the front door, between two angled retaining walls—looks more like sculpture than structure.
“I just wanted this gentle rise, with as little of the building showing as possible,” Ferris recalls of the project, designed for Fiona Garland, an avid swimmer, and her husband, Andrew Bentley. “The poolhouse is something you should discover.” Inside, elegant concrete walls bookend a 75-foot-long pool and, on the other side of a barely-there glass partition, a generous living-dining room with a Grayson Perry tapestry. The latter room doubles as guest quarters thanks to a fold-down bed hidden behind Douglas-fir paneling. (Becky Goss of the local design store The Flat consulted on the other furnishings.) While the northern side of the floor plan, tucked into the earth, contains the kitchen, bath, and changing areas, the south-facing window wall offers breathtaking views of the Long Island Sound.
Garland, an art historian, and Bentley, a commodities trader turned graphic designer, had purchased the property intending to build their main house on it. But then they bought the lot next door, with a Shingle Style cottage that Ferris had designed for Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue. After approaching Ferris about making alterations to the residence, Garland and Bentley changed course, asking him to design a contemporary barn and poolhouse on their original plot instead.
The couple wanted the poolhouse to be invisible from the main house, even resisting the prospect of a front door. “But Roger said that without a front door, the building would look like a bunker,” Bentley reflects. “He is so good that we knew even the choices we questioned would be right.” This was also the case with the terrace’s aluminum trellis, which he and Garland at first thought just a superfluous flourish. They have no regrets. “Now we have these fabulous shadows on the wall and pool,” says Bentley, comparing the effect to Frank Stella’s geometric abstractions. Swimming or not, the couple can’t keep away from the poolhouse. “I always thought of it as main living space,” notes Ferris. “The site is too spectacular not to treat it as a place to dwell.”
I blew through most of my design budget—but totally forgot to think about art. Now what?
—Artless and Helpless
Two words you may have heard before: Prints, please!
“Prints are an excellent option if your art budget is tight,” says Rebecca Wilson, chief curator & VP, Art Advisory, at Saatchi Art. The key is giving the sense that they’ve been collected over time, even if that’s not the case. To do that, Wilson suggests pulling together a wide-ranging selection in different frames. “You can also combine new works with existing pieces, such as children’s drawings and family photos,” she says. “It will all come together to create an eclectic, cost-efficient mix, giving personality to the overall design.”
Another option: Shop small. “I’ll often commission something from a local emerging artist, or even shop Etsy,” says Andrew Torrey, principal of Manhattan interior design firm B.A. Torrey. “The important thing for me is that it doesn't look cheap or like decorative filler. If, in fact, it is decorative filler, only myself and the client can know it!”
As Torrey points out, an obscure signed oil painting picked up for $25 and framed beautifully could be a family heirloom—who’s to say? "So long as there is a bit of mystery and age to a piece,” he says, “going that route can work beautifully!”
At Saatchi Art, Wilson and her team routinely inform designers about great up-and-coming artists, offering a complimentary advisory service through which they can recommend original works by younger artists at what she calls “extremely reasonable prices [starting at $300]. Plus there’s the bonus that if you buy a work by a young artist or recent MFA graduate, their work might go up in value.”
The next time around, of course, Wilson says a good rule of thumb is to set aside about 10 to 15 percent of your overall project budget for art. This will amount to three or four original works in key areas, supplemented by framed prints.
Beyond that, a low-art room needn’t be, well, artless. Torrey has worked with clients who simply weren’t art people. In those cases, he might incorporate mirrors and screens, or rely on wall coverings and bookshelves. Wilson concurs: “Wall coverings can be really accessible if you want to make a big statement on a small budget,” she says, “especially in a bathroom, entryway, or child’s bedroom. You can fill a whole wall with one stunning image and you won’t need any other art in the room.”
These days, there are so many apps and online streaming services to help you get in shape outside of a fitness center. People are buying sleek exercise bikes for their apartments. There are magical mirrors for a nearly invisible home gym. So, while it's easier to find the most accessible option for your lifestyle, let's face it, most workout gear is still usually an eyesore. It's not often that you think of a set of free weights or a treadmill as a beautiful piece of equipment you want on display in your home.
Considering most home gyms are set up in a garage or spare room, it's clear that these spaces and their furnishings are not meant to be on view. However, there's a way to make your personal fitness area look like a gallery display. Thankfully, a slew of designers are making dumbbells and benches you don't need to store somewhere when not in use—this stuff is stylish and functional and can be left out in any room. For a gym rat who still appreciates good aesthetics, here is training equipment that's too good to hide away.