This house is an oasis of privacy, with elements of restraint on the facade and wonderfully expansive spaces within and behind the house. Could you tell me how you achieved this?
This is not one of those Southern houses with big columns that say come on in over the door. You have to follow a circuitous path just to get to the front door. So much of the Spanish tradition of architecture is all about the courtyard. The streetside facade is often quite severe in contrast to the courtyard facade, which traditionally has a lot of interesting porches, fountains, columns, wrought iron. So I followed that model, directing motion through the house to these inviting, private spaces behind the house. Within the house, I used very thick walls, splayed door surrounds, varying ceiling heights, and different types of wall coverings the paneling in the library and the plaster-like walls of the great hall to create the experience of being sheltered and protected. Even in the outdoor spaces, there are a variety of experiences, from the architectural solidity of the porch, to the open feeling of the patio, to the very cloistered feeling of the small courtyard beside the breakfast room and guest suite. This space has high walls, with a splayed opening with a typical Spanish quadrefoil shape that offers a glimpse of the landscape while maintaining a sense of privacy.
You speak of the Spanish style as being emotional, compared to other more rational European styles. Tell me what you mean by that, giving some examples from this house.
Perhaps because of the Moorish influence, Spanish architecture is often disconnected from the Classical and Renaissance traditions of enfilade and symmetry. Spanish colonial houses, and early-twentieth-century Spanish revival houses, have a quirky approach to space that is about asymmetry and circuitousness. They are romantic, emotional, and sensual, and that is what I wanted this house to be. Spanish houses have a lot of mysterious passageways, so I invoked that in the entrance hall of this house. The passage leading to the great hall is not very long, but it has a sequence of gradually lowering ceiling heights that create a sense of compression, until suddenly there is a release into that light-filled room with the very tall ceiling. Space, light, materials they all evoke emotions. The floors of the great hall are covered with hand-glazed tile floors, which are earthy and more sensual than, say, the stone floors of French houses. You’ll notice that this room has a lot of undecorated wall mass with flourishes of detail: carved stone, the plaster chimney breast, arched doors. The plain walls create a backdrop for the more emotion-inspiring details. It’s all about contrast.
There are a lot of wonderful materials in this house that contribute both to its emotional resonance as well as to its antique appearance. Could you describe some of these materials, and explain why you chose them.
One of the first things you see is the terracotta tile roof, which is made from barrel tiles salvaged from several early-twentieth century Spanish style houses. I wanted this house to resemble one from that period, such as one might see in Coral Gables, and these tiles provide a wonderfully authentic material enhancing that resemblance. They came from several different houses and have aged to different colors. The stone door surround on the front of the house is a replica of one I saw in Palm Beach, carved from Mexican fossil stone, as opposed to coquina, which was used in the early-twentieth century. I employed carved fossil stone for details throughout the house. There is a difference between the feel of cut stone, which I use in more rational, Georgian-style houses, and carved stone, which has a more emotional, Mediterranean feel. I selected Portuguese glazed terracotta tiles for the floors because they have an irregular surface that is very human, sensual, and inviting. They are laid in a variety of patterns through out the house, changing as you move from room to room, inviting you to move through the house. If you look at old Spanish porches, you’ll see heavy, hand-hewn beams, rafters, and rafter tails made from dark wood that is never pickled or painted. The appearance of the dark, sturdy wood is comforting. For the porch and patio floors, I selected pavings cut from fossil stone that has a lot of pits, which help it to age quickly and gain that patina of time.
You’ve mentioned the stories of Jorge Luis Borges as an inspiration for this house. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Borges’ writing is very non-linear, and contrary to western rational intelligence. He had a fine understanding of mystery, and he was also very sensual. His descriptions of quintessential Latin American spaces are exquisite. It is lovely to live in the dark friendliness of covered entrance way, arbor, and wellhead. I thought of that line as I designed the dark friendliness of the porch. The whole experience of entering and walking through this house is a bit like reading a Borges story. There is a narrative that unfolds as you move through dark passages toward bright, wide open spaces where the soul expands, the mind breathes, and the senses take over or toward duskier ones, filled with contemplation and interior dialog. I was aware of employing materials, colors, light, shadow, and sound to evoke emotions and states of awareness on a subconscious level. The house is so compressed like a Borges story that these experiences occur in just a second or two, before anyone even realizes what is happening. Much of the experience of living in this house resides below the level of conscious thought.
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