Building Stories: Vessels for Beautiful Lives

From Aspen to Tokyo, explore remarkable homes which blend individual passions with architectural acumen

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BY Matthew McLean in Collaborations | 29 JUN 21

The new ‘Building Stories’ video, in collaboration with Sotheby’s International Realty®, opens up the Mar Vista home of Japan-born, Los Angeles-based architect Takashi Yanai. Minimal, thoughtful interventions to the existing structure are testimony to Yanai’s experience as an acclaimed architect with a particular interest in domestic spaces. The residence embodies his personal fusion of California modernism and Japanese architectural philosophy, from simplifying interior spaces,  to creating a dramatic opening to an elegantly lush garden, and dousing the house’s exterior in a dramatic black. What was previously a typical building is transformed into a sublimely calm, joyful space – a testimony to Yanai’s own conviction that homes should be ‘vessels for beautiful lives.'

A breath-taking beachside house, designed as a family holiday home by seven-time AIA National Honor Award recipient William Pedersen, and currently listed with Sotheby's International Realty - Southampton Brokerage, similarly expresses a blend of individual passions and accumulated architectural expertise. Located in the unique community of Shelter Island in New York, the house’s design maximises panoramic views of the coastline and local landmarks, such as Gardiner’s Bay Lighthouse, reflecting Pedersen’s own personal love for the open sea and local history (with his late wife, Elizabeth, Pedersen spearheaded the restoration of the home of the Shelter Island Historical Society). This intimate attention to detail is further reflected in the interior spaces, finished with materials like Douglas fir, bush-hammered concrete and bluestone. Meanwhile, Pedersen’s deep architectural experience as founding design partner of practice Kohn Pedersen Fox – whose commissions include some of the world’s tallest buildings from Shanghai to Seoul – is apparent in the house’s distinctive silhouette: as striking as that of any skyscraper.

91 Ram Island Drive, Shelter Island, USA, designed by William Pedersen. Courtesy: Sotheby's International Realty - Southampton Brokerage. Photo: Michael Moran OTTO & Rise Media for Sotheby’s International Realty
91 Ram Island Drive, Shelter Island, USA, designed by William Pedersen. Courtesy: Sotheby's International Realty - Southampton Brokerage. Photo: Michael Moran OTTO & Rise Media for Sotheby’s International Realty

Of course, as Yanai’s reinvention of an existing California tract house shows, creating an utterly personal space does not require starting from scratch. The objects and furniture we choose to live with can elevate a space into an outstanding and individual home. In his ‘Building Stories’ video, Yanai states, ‘I always need to feel a very deep personal connection between myself and the objects in the house.’ He goes on to explain the personal significance of a Rudolph Schindler sling chair, originally designed for the Los Angeles architectural icon that is the Schindler House (now the MAK Centre for Art and Architecture).

Castle Creek Road, Aspen, USA, currently listed with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Realty. Courtesy: Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Realty
8720/8716 Castle Creek Road, Aspen, USA, currently listed with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Realty. Courtesy: Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Realty. Photo: Steve Friehon

With the same emphasis on distinguishing contents, an immaculate contemporary home in Aspen, Colorado, listed with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty, offers not only seven en-suite bedrooms, but also individual features such as a meditation room, a stargazing deck, and an array of furniture and furnishings ‘curated from sources around the world or specifically designed for the interior spaces,’ which are included in the purchase price. Alas, the art collection – such as the handsome Antony Gormley standing bronze sculpture that currently graces one stairwell  is not, though the listing does boast another ‘work of art’: a stunning, one bedroom guesthouse. Its exterior is clad in charred cedar wood (Shou Sugi Ban method) and an anthracite-zinc roof. Set in an aspen grove on the property’s 4,000 square metres plus of land, the striking dark tones of the building echo the matte black which Yanai painted his house’s exterior, creating an effect where, in his words ‘all the other things in front of it celebrate the light.’

Castle Creek Road, Aspen, USA, currently listed with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Realty. Courtesy: Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Realty
8720/8716 Castle Creek Road, Aspen, USA, currently listed with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Realty. Courtesy: Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Realty. Photo: Mountain Home Photo

Such touches indicate Yanai’s deep involvement with the principles of the Japanese architecture, a tradition in which interior and exterior are in intense dialogue, making spaces ‘vehicles for appreciating nature.’ In Tokyo’s Kitasando, The Kita is a suite of 13 homes in a single block. It is designed by the renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, whose projects range from the acclaimed V&A Museum in Dundee, Scotland to the Japan National Stadium, commissioned for the 2020 (now 2021) Tokyo Olympics. One of the most striking features of the building is its ‘screen’ of wooden elements, which allows inhabitants both privacy as well as an openness to light and contemplation of the outside: an aspect enhanced with outdoor terraces on every level. In each of the spacious apartments – a rare luxury in crowded Tokyo – Western influence is felt in open living spaces and an abundance of bathrooms, alongside traditional Japanese features such as washi paper walls. But here, too, personalisation is also the order of the day – the home in The Kita now listed by List Sotheby’s International Realty, Japan offers the opportunity to ‘craft with Kuma’s bespoke design services for a unique abode.’

The Kita, Tokyo, Japan, designed by Kengo Kuma. Courtesy: List Sotheby’s International Realty
The Kita, Tokyo, Japan, designed by Kengo Kuma. Courtesy: List Sotheby’s International Realty

Every home, says Yanai, should be ‘a portrait’ of its inhabitants: why not, then, make use of great materials, and even a great artist, to help paint your own?

Discover more remarkable homes worldwide with Sotheby’s International Realty®

Discover more Building Stories: Takashi Yanai’s Personal Fusion

Main image: 91 Ram Island Drive, Shelter Island, USA, designed by William Pedersen. Courtesy: Sotheby's International Realty - Southampton Brokerage. Photo: Michael Moran OTTO & Rise Media for Sotheby’s International Realty

Matthew McLean is Creative Lead, Frieze Studios, based in London, UK.

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