[Decor] Redefining contemporary rural style
ELLE DECOR: You say your house was a collaboration, built by a group of friends. Who are they?
Frank Webb: In addition to my partner, Steven Schroko, there’s architect Eric Gartner of SPG Architects and landscape architect Mario Nievera.
ED: Eric worked on your New York apartment, too, right?
FW: Yes, but Eric is a real modernist, and the apartment is in a historic Stanford White building so we wanted to respect its ambience. At the country house, we gave him free rein.
ED: What did you tell him you wanted?
FW: I wanted it clean and simple, but warm. I’m a summer person, so I wanted to be reminded of summer even in the winter. And I wanted it open and tied to the land, which we fell in love with the first time we saw it. One of my specific references for the house was Japanese
architect Tadao Ando, which explains the vaguely Asian feel of the place.
ED: What were the guidelines for the interiors?
FW: I wanted them peaceful, but happy, with color—hence the apple-green Vladimir Kagan sofa in the living room and the periwinkle guest room. How can you not be happy pulling a novel out of a magenta bookcase?
ED: But you clearly weren’t going for typical all-American country.
FW: I wanted it to be casual, which is certainly traditional for a summer house, but also chic, even a little industrial. Overstuffed sofas and patchwork quilts are not our style. So I mixed midcentury and modern pieces with a smattering of antiques.
ED: And a couple of pieces from the furniture collection of your design firm, White Webb.
FW: Well, no home is complete without at least one!
ED: You have some major design names in the place, but a lot of your furnishings are more arcane.
FW: Pedigree is not the most important thing about a piece of furniture. How it looks and how it functions and how it makes you feel are much more important. You should have a personal connection to everything in your home.
ED: What makes all the pieces go together for you?
FW: They all have clean lines, sculptural qualities, and subtle refinement—although not everything is expensive: There’s a real mix of high and low. To me there’s a lot of beauty in contrast, like the rough-hewn birch cocktail table by Fredrikson Stallard, which actually sheds. But it’s sitting on a shearling rug, which is incredibly plush and feels really good under bare feet.
ED: The house seems very green, in the eco sense.
FW: We weren’t trying to get LEED certification, but we tried to be mindful of the environment. We used local stone for the retaining wall, including boulders from the property. The “stucco” on the exterior is a man-made product from Sto that has insulating properties. The deep eave of the roof keeps out the sun in summer but lets it in during winter, when it’s lower in the sky. That conserves energy, as do the radiant-heated floors. Inside there are a lot of natural textures, like the grass cloth in the master bedroom, and the blackened-bronze mantel and fireplace bench.
ED: Your kitchen has gorgeous teak-veneer cabinets, but you used a synthetic material for the countertops.
FW: I love those countertops. They’re Chroma, a back-painted resin from 3form. The way light hits them is amazing. But you can’t put a hot pot down on the surface. Luckily Steve, who is a private banker, is as careful about cooking as he is about his work. We’ve got some Corian, too, but it’s not in the kitchen. Eric had the wraparound staircase handrails made from it.
ED: You had fun with the house, didn’t you?
FW: Yes! I love the way the very modern leather Anziano chairs from Donghia, which are based on a classic form, go with the midcentury Fornasetti table with its design of Roman coins. The pendant lamps are Italian too—11 Angelo Mangiarotti acrylic tube lights from the 1970s that I arranged as one fixture.
ED: What’s unique about having yourself as a client?
FW: You can experiment without worrying that the client won’t like the result. I don’t usually work with the color green, but I do love the Manuel Canovas fabric on the sofa—it has little blue nubs in it. So I can see more green in my future. And I used a paint line I wasn’t very familiar with, Fine Paints of Europe, which has some great colors, and I was pleased with the result.
ED: What’s your favorite thing about the house?
FW: I just find it incredibly beautiful and uplifting. I walk in the door and sigh. We come here and instantly relax and recharge, and it’s only an hour and a half from the city.
What the Pros Know
• Architect Eric Gartner installed structural steel columns and allowed them to weather naturally during construction; once they achieved the right amount of rusting, he sealed them to prevent further oxidation.
• Gartner and Webb customized the color of the polished-concrete floor, experimenting with different aggregate stones until they got a mix that dried to a warm brown tone.
• Instead of opting for custom windows, Gartner used stock Marvin windows and installed aluminum-covered wood frames around them, which gave him greater flexibility in configuring the fenestration.