Architectural Artifacts - Design Bureau

Porter selected materials that would age well and did not require numerous chemical finishes: concrete, reclaimed wood, patinated steel, and limestone.


Architectural Artifacts

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

by Aryn Beitz
photos by Tim Street-Porter

Alex Scott Porter may have grown up in the heart of New York City, but she spent her summers in Maine on a farm with no plumbing. “We ate vegetables from the garden and used a hand pump for water,” says the architectural designer. “Yet, that had a certain luxury because the food was always fresh and the water always clean. I was brought up with the principals of sustainability—that respecting the earth was of great importance.” 

So when a client asked her to convert their traditional East Hampton house into a high-end country home—one that joined the existing structure with an antique barn frame—she jumped at the opportunity to redefine the concept of luxury. Porter worked closely with The New Jersey Barn Company, which salvages barn frames, to piece back together the frame beam by beam with wooden pegs. The frame was adjoined to the existing house via the kitchen. “The barn frame was really a ‘found object’ that inspired the design of the kitchen, master bath, and master bedroom,” Porter says. She was able to bring a warm yet modern feeling into the space by juxtaposing the vintage charm of the reclaimed wood against the sleek glass and steel kitchen.

Despite its rustic beauty, though, the addition of the barn frame did create a major challenge in the floor plan. “Barns are designed for farm equipment, hay, and housing animals—they are not scaled to people,” she says. “We had to bring the scale down and create cozy spaces while still keeping the majestic feel.” She designed a loft area over the end of the barn frame where the dining room is situated, which lowered the ceiling and counter-balanced the vastness of the frame. This created a more intimate space for entertaining. “It might have been cheaper and easier to knock the whole thing down,” Porter says, “but I always gain a lot of inspiration from what is already there, and it felt really wasteful to just start anew.” 

The barn frame also helped to connect the home to its natural surroundings, another important aspect to the client and a driving force of Porter’s design. “The goal of my practice is for the people inhabiting the spaces to feel connected to our planet and each other—to regain their feeling of connectedness with nature, rather than existing in opposition to it,” Porter says.  

Although Porter admits that she struggles with what sustainability means to luxury home design, she remains hopeful that people will continue to adjust their definition of “luxury.” “I hope that purity becomes the new luxury—that having clean air, water, soil, and food becomes what is luxurious,” Porter says. “The owners of this house often eat from their vegetable garden. That is luxury to me.”

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