When clients approached Brooklyn–based Office of Architecture to create a 6,000-square-foot summer house in the oceanside town of Southampton, New York, the team was initially worried about the brief. "Our immediate concern was that the lot—located in a FEMA floodplain, on a property that is approximately 50% unbuildable wetlands—wouldn’t deliver the square footage or the living spaces required to create a ‘Hamptons Home,’" explains the firm's founder Aniket Shahane.
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Yet after further research, the team saw the limiting conditions as a source of inspiration. "A bit of a double-edged sword, the natural wetlands that cut through the property were both beautiful and fragile. As such, they came with restrictions regarding how and how much we could build—but, that's actually what forced us to think creatively," says Shahane.
The result is the Watermill House. Built as three gently lifted boxes surrounding a central courtyard and infinity pool, the sleek new residence gracefully straddles the floodplain while creating a variety of interstitial spaces between the building and landscape.
The adjoining zinc-clad volumes separate the 6,000-square-foot abode into three sections: the public wing, the guest wing, and the family wing. Each wing is strategically elevated to allow all the heated areas and critical infrastructure to rest above the floodplain.
"These volumes organize the primary indoor areas such as living rooms, bedrooms, baths, and mechanical rooms, while interstitial spaces between the house and ground foster a series of outdoor rooms including a carport, a courtyard, a pool pavilion, a terrarium, and roof terraces," adds Shahane.
"Good design isn't always about how a house ‘looks.’ It's also about how it ‘acts’; the flair with which it overcomes problems." —Aniket Shahane
"To incorporate the requirements of the owners in a way that didn't shortchange the design of the house or disturb the wetlands was a real challenge," continues the architect. "We had to be resourceful with the various municipal restrictions on the property in order to give shape to both outdoor as well as indoor rooms."
Builder: Aran Construction
Structural Engineer: Blue Sky Design
Landscape Design: Summerhill Landscapes
Cabinetry Design: Shearman Cabinets
Furnishings: Friedman Moore
MEP Engineering: Altieri, Siebor, Wieber