written by:
photos by:
February 27, 2013
Originally published in The Interiors Issue
as
Something Old, Something New
For a vintage design dealer seeking a respite from the city, architect William Massie conceptualized a mostly prefab home around a carefully curated furniture collection in upstate New York.
Wooten interior living room

Architect William Massie built a hybrid prefab home for vintage retailer Greg Wooten, who handled the interiors. In the living room is a 1950s Franco Albini rattan chair, a Crate chair designed by Gerrit Rietveld in 1934, and a 1970s sofa by Edward Axel Roffman. The tall ceramic piece is by Bruno Gambone.

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Wooten exterior steel screen close up

“I made a very conscious decision, when I realized that the house with nothing in it was such a fantastic work of art,” says Greg Wooten, “to go out of my way to pull back and only select pieces that complemented the architecture and would allow both the house and the furniture to breathe.” The place is furnished minimally with vintage finds he chose for the rooms over time.

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Wooten interior storage unit

“Materials were a major consideration in this house,” says Massie, who created a curtain wall with steel supports adorned with sandwiched layers of birch plywood and amber acrylic. “When light enters that wall, the layers of acrylic allow it to come through and glow—it’s really quite beautiful,” says Massie, who added the same acrylic for the thin window at the end. “That plays off the yellows in the Gambone ceramics and the Eames storage unit,” notes Wooten.

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Originally appeared in How to Design with Yellow
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Wooten self portrait

“It has a surreal element,” says Wooten of the house, nicknamed the Skull. In the snow, the building blends into the landscape. Its tallest form holds a periscope. Inside, Guido Gambone ceramics brighten the living area.

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Wooten exterior home

“If you look closely at the concrete wall, the curvature is based on one really simple formal move,” says Massie. “In front, the roof is about 11 feet high, and in back, about 9 feet. If you could imagine just pinching the back of the building, that linear distance would have to go somewhere, hence the curve.” That arc continues inside as the wall nearest to the guest sleeping area. “It’s really interesting to feel that wall dimpling toward you,” says Wooten. “It changes as you walk from the bedroom to the guest bath—it starts with a dramatic curve and gradually flattens out.”

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Wooten interior kitchen

Wooten anchored the kitchen with a faux-bois coatrack from France. “Since Greg’s furniture is predominantly wood, we chose to make the interior all wood,” says Massie. “We used laser-cut mahogany and cherry plywood with jigsaw edges to make the house more like a cabin—albeit a very modern one. This puzzle piece motif is something that I’ve done in every project before and after this one—it’s a different way of having surfaces come together without having to abide by a modernist rule of panels. We can snap the whole thing together with eccentric uniformity, and it’s really simple.”

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Wooten interior wood chair

Wooten handpicked every piece in the house, such as the 1955 Medea chair by Vittorio Nobili, near which he placed an abandoned bird’s nest he found on the property. 

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Wooten interior dinning room

The table in the dining area was found in Venice, California, and the geometric table is a prototype by Arik Levy.

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Wooten interior sleeping area

For one of two sleeping areas flanking the main living space, Wooten placed tatami from Miya Shoji on the cork floor. “With the radiant heating system, it’s fantastic to be in this glass box looking out at a blizzard, walking barefoot on the warm floor,” he says. “Tatami are not for everyone, but they are really comfy to me. Before we built the house, I stayed at a traditional bed-and-breakfast in Kyoto, Japan, and had one of the best nights of sleep ever, so I decided I wanted to do that style of bed. On top is a 150-year-old Japanese denim patchwork quilt I bought from a friend who took me to Japan. I’ve always admired Japanese design—Noguchi is one of my favorites—so I was inspired to have that spirit in the house.” miyashoji.com

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Wooten steel screen

Wooten asked Massie to incorporate a 1960s steel screen by Don Drumm into the house; Massie placed it on a central pivot so it acts as a gate, a privacy barrier, and an architectural gesture. “We actually changed the whole roofline of the porch to accommodate the screen being able to pivot,” says Massie. “The screen also allowed the building to have an immediate history.” dondrummstudios.com

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Wooten house floor plan

The Wooten House Floor Plan.

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Wooten interior living room

Architect William Massie built a hybrid prefab home for vintage retailer Greg Wooten, who handled the interiors. In the living room is a 1950s Franco Albini rattan chair, a Crate chair designed by Gerrit Rietveld in 1934, and a 1970s sofa by Edward Axel Roffman. The tall ceramic piece is by Bruno Gambone.

A decade ago, musician and vintage furniture purveyor Greg Wooten began looking for a quiet place where he could escape from New York City. He found a five-acre parcel upstate in the town of Milan and called upon architect William Massie to create something unique. Massie—currently head of the architecture department and an artist-in-residence at Cran-brook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan—answered with what he calls a “site-driven, 90-percent-prefab social environment, built with Greg’s collection of eccentric, beautiful modernist furniture in mind.” As such, the 2,300-square-foot layout is open (with plenty of floor space for guests who wish to crash there) and enveloped in warm wood panels that embrace Wooten’s well-edited furnishings. “Every piece had to really matter,” says Wooten. “Most of those pieces have a story, and often that story relates to a friend or an experience. If it wasn’t something created by an artist or designer friend, it’s the one thing I brought home with me on the plane from Italy or the flea market in Tokyo.” Though Wooten has since relocated to Los Angeles, where he recently opened the Window—a shop special-izing in 20th-century furniture and objects he gets back to the house as often as he can.

Wooten interior storage unit

“Materials were a major consideration in this house,” says Massie, who created a curtain wall with steel supports adorned with sandwiched layers of birch plywood and amber acrylic. “When light enters that wall, the layers of acrylic allow it to come through and glow—it’s really quite beautiful,” says Massie, who added the same acrylic for the thin window at the end. “That plays off the yellows in the Gambone ceramics and the Eames storage unit,” notes Wooten.

Greg Wooten: It wasn’t long after 9/11, and the city felt dark and almost scary. That inspired the idea of having a more tranquil place to spend some time. I had some friends in upstate New York, and I had been exposed to the pocket of paradise that is the Hudson River Valley, so I started looking near there. I was lucky enough to stumble onto this land, which is a really special place.

After I bought the land, a friend introduced me to a young architect, Bill Massie, and we found that we were immediately on the same page. We both love simple materials, and we share a love for Case Study houses. I knew I wanted concrete slab floors, radiant heat, massive expanses of glass, a very open plan, and I love steel, concrete, and plywood. Bill took the design to a whole other level with these fantastic curved concrete walls and what we call the “shower tower of power.” Since there was no budget for a two-story building, and there’s an incredible seasonal view of the Catskills, Bill designed a periscope inside the master bedroom’s shower from which you can see the landscape. On this house, Bill was doing experimental things that were technologically cutting edge, things that he hadn’t tried out before. That contributed to the house’s design being very unique. It’s almost like a big sculpture.

The house quickly became known as the Skull, not so much for its appearance but for the alphabetic translation of its phone number. But people say that the curved concrete wall resembles part of a skull, and the name has really stuck. That concrete continues inside, and it creates the feeling you get from looking at a Richard Serra sculpture—brutalist, in a way. As a rectilinear, minimalist structure with so much concrete, it could have been just another cold, modernist box. But Bill radiused the corners—so it almost feels like a ship inside and introduced the puzzle joinery for the interior walls, which softens that hardness.

Wooten interior dinning room

The table in the dining area was found in Venice, California, and the geometric table is a prototype by Arik Levy.

Given what I do for a living, it would have felt wrong not to have a vintage element incorporated into the architecture. I had a one-of-a-kind screen Don Drumm made in the 1960s for an Ohio department store—I bought it before the notion of this house even existed. For a while, I had halfheartedly displayed it in my shop, hoping it would eventually end up at my house. I showed it to Bill and asked him to integrate it, and he immediately got it. Then he came up with what I think is a perfect use: He mounted it on a center pivot on the back porch, off my bedroom. With its leaf motifs, it serves as a transition between nature and the man-made world.

Each piece in the house has some special significance. There’s an Eames chair covered in layers of a swirling, acrylic gloss—it was a housewarming gift, made by an artist friend named Jim Oliveira. The other Eames chair I bought from Gerard O’Brien of Reform Gallery—it’s a very early production Zenith shell chair. The Eames geeks who have visited have different theories on the production date. The bar stools were custom-designed by Jonathan Nesci of Hale. He said, “I’d love to produce something for your house,” so he made these powder-coated aluminum stools for me. A lot of time gets spent on those stools.

On my buying trips to Italy, I became friends with Bruno Gambone, the son of ceramist Guido Gambone. The more colorful pieces in the house are by Guido, and the brown-and-white piece is by Bruno. I bought it from him personally at his studio in Florence. I showed him photos of the house under construction, and he loved knowing that one of his pieces was going back to this modern space, where it would live alongside his dad’s work.

The dining table we found at Tortoise on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California; it was living in the courtyard there, and the owner, Taku Shinomoto, reluctantly agreed to sell it. I assured him it was going to a fantastic modernist home back East.

Wooten steel screen

Wooten asked Massie to incorporate a 1960s steel screen by Don Drumm into the house; Massie placed it on a central pivot so it acts as a gate, a privacy barrier, and an architectural gesture. “We actually changed the whole roofline of the porch to accommodate the screen being able to pivot,” says Massie. “The screen also allowed the building to have an immediate history.” dondrummstudios.com

When I see the table in the house, it feels so architecturally inspired, and so many people ask if the architect who designed the house also designed the table. It worked out so beautifully. It’s the heart of where all the socializing happens. When I think about the things in the house, there are vintage pieces I have hand-selected, but most of what lives there are gifts from people who have spent time at and enjoyed the Skull. It’s a cyclic thing—they’ve given a little something of themselves to the house. I can connect the dots between all the pieces and create a map of my years of searching for things and connecting with people. It’s really cool to look around the house and see all the stories.

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