Extremes are easy. Over-the-top doesn’t require much discipline or discretion. But the middle path…that’s another story. Finding a balance requires an ability to turn a potential obstacle into a creative solution. Take, for example, the home of Peter Seng in the exclusive Cliffs at Walnut Cove.
With homes in New York and Florida, Mr. Seng is a man of refined aesthetic sensibilities — a world traveler and serious collector of exquisite objects that range from crystal and art glass to antiques to extraordinary examples of natural wonders, such as butterflies, shells and geological specimens. In architecture and interiors, his taste is for contemporary — clean lines, expansive windows, blond woods.
The Cliffs, however, is a community geared towards a more traditional European presentation, with guidelines in place to maintain a sense of continuity in the development’s structural designs. It fell on Mike Pattullo and Shoreline Architecture & Design to create a plan that would comfortably integrate and harmonize the two perspectives.
The exterior of the house incorporates elements of both vernaculars, topping a curved column of large windows with a gable and offsetting the use of steel cable on the cantilevered, arched decks with stacked stone on the lower level. The supporting beams have a modern sensibility, but the substitution of timber for steel maintains a rustic feel consistent with the prevailing aesthetic. “Although the house is modern, it’s not conflicting,” notes Mr. Seng. “The simplistic design feels so appropriate.”
Bret Hartzog of Glennwood Custom Builders, who handled the construction of the home, agrees. “This could be a textbook case on how to integrate contemporary design into more traditional communities. The mountain feel of the materials and the natural tones on the exterior keep it consistent with the setting, but the architecture and the shape keep it tied in with the interiors as well.”
Ornamentation is kept to a minimum, but does include a few grand gestures. A re-circulating waterfall is cleverly integrated into the stone façade at the front of the house — an unusual and elegant presentation of a water feature. At the entrance, a radial timber portal, which incorporates an impressive custom curved beam, hovers over the stone terrace.
The interiors are a symphony of carefully selected materials: pale select maple flooring and clear maple wood paneling is complemented with accents of alder on the window frames and doors; a polished limestone surrounds a linear, cantilevered fireplace; dark blue-black, Aphrodite granite from Madagascar dresses the kitchen and bath. Mr. Seng has furnished the home with sleek, sculptural, minimalist appointments, chosen for their elegant simplicity and intended to complement, rather than compete with, his eclectic collections.
It is the use of glass the gives the home its singular character, and the furnishings enhance this underlying principle. A grouping of curved leather sofas flanks the fireplace, echoing the curve of the bank of soaring windows that punctuate the exterior — now revealing themselves as the defining element of the interiors, offering unimpeded views of the surrounding landscape. The black glass-topped dining room table, surrounding leather chairs and glass and lacquer sideboard blur the line between furniture and art.
In the kitchen, fitted with custom frameless cabinets by Advance Cabinetry, a glass breakfast bar seems to float above the opalescent granite on the free-form island. Stainless-steel appliances and light fixtures move the ambient light.
A sculptural stack of thick glass shelving, suspended on cables, hovers magically between the living and dining areas, providing display space for some of Mr. Seng’s impressive collection of Lalique, Baccarat and Swarovski crystal. Beside the fireplace, a splashless plate glass waterfall sings quietly. The master bath features a frameless glass shower and frameless matched glass corner window, affording an unobstructed view of the mountains from the sunken, rectangular tub.
But the ne plus ultra is a tempered glass staircase that descends to the lower level. Treads of triple-thick, diamond etched glass are punctuated by wood, steel and cable railings and lead to a frosted glass landing, lit from beneath, where Mr. Seng has displayed a massive rock specimen. “The structure is incredibly strong,” states Hartzog proudly. Although transparent and seemingly fragile, the staircase can handle 2,800 pounds of point-specific weight.
The stairway is a perfect example of the precision involved in giving the home its sense of integration and equilibrium — attention to detail and craftsmanship so fine as to appear almost effortless. “It’s like Chinese calligraphy,” explains Mr. Seng. “To make the character for ‘one,’ it’s just a single line. It seems so simple, but it’s actually very difficult to do it elegantly. That single stroke contains such power, strength and artistry.” And perfect balance.