The inviting 1,200-square-foot house, eventually built for $228,000, is designed around an unusual system of industrial steel brackets bolted onto vertical columns. Sturdier than wooden posts and beams, the $7,000 skeleton holds up the roof and second floor. Masi devised other adjustable brackets on which he hung a catwalk, light fixtures, the fireplace mantle, and the kitchen cabinets. And to keep costs down, the exterior was clad in fiber-cement panels, plywood, and preassembled wood screens. The attention it received—a Grand award from residential architect, two AIA awards, and coverage in The New York Times—stems from the firm's talent for pushing the limitations of common building materials to create something very specific. “The quality of the Upcher house is directly related to the choice of the lumber racks,” says Luis Boza, an assistant professor at CUA's School of Architecture and Planning—and Masi's former college roommate. “They free the house of any visible load-bearing partition and create a completely open space that gets back to the way the client wanted her house to act. There's a connection between materiality and experience.”team spirit
“Harry's experience is probably the most valuable thing to our office,” Masi says. “Forty years of building on the ocean has taught him what works and what doesn't, and it's something you can't get anywhere else.” Bates has been designing homes in the Hamptons almost since the start of his career at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in New York City. He spent 10 years there, and worked with architect Gordon Bunshaft on Bunshaft's landmark Travertine House on Georgica Pond. In 1965 Bates struck out on his own, opening an office first on Madison Avenue and then at 57th Street and Lexington Avenue. Soon partners Dale Booher and Bob Lund joined the firm. As more and more projects on Long Island's East End began coming their way, the partners pulled up stakes in 1987 and moved to Water Mill, N.Y. When Booher and Lund left in 1993—one to practice landscape design and the other to return to his hometown of Minneapolis—Bates moved to Sag Harbor. Three years later, Masi appeared. “I thought I might retire but I don't think I ever will,” Bates says. “When Paul came for a summer job, I thought, ‘This is a wonderful opportunity for me to learn more,' and I have.”
From the start, he and Masi shared a proclivity for a strict sense of order in the way jobs are run. But Bates credits Masi for bringing the office into the computer age and introducing new ideas for model making and presentations. The architects and their four interns model much of the design process for clients, building as many as 20 per project. For Masi, partnering in a seasoned firm freed him to push design farther than he might have had he started from scratch. And in a business that can become a nightmare for clients, Bates had established a loyal following. “Most of Harry's best friends are former clients, and I think that says a lot,” Masi says. “He's so positive and makes it a fun experience. He picks his battles, and if something's not going in the right direction, he knows how to steer people back on course without being confrontational.”
Those skills are absolutely essential for architects whose buildings tend toward the idiosyncratic. The firm has just completed Landfall, the renovation and expansion of a 4,000-square-foot house on three acres in East Hampton, N.Y. Inspired by the client's interest in Native American arts, the project explores how architectural elements interact with nature. Portions of the façades are wrapped in a mahogany dowel screen that is threaded with copper pipe at strategic points. The gutters are perforated above the pipe to create a waterfall effect when it rains, producing movement and water patterns over time. To emphasize the wood-and-copper screen, the architects stripped the existing house of its trim and painted it a slate gray. At first the owner was dubious about the screens. “When they started putting dowels across the windows in front of the house, I was afraid it would cut down on the light,” she says. Now that she lives there, however, she's pleasantly surprised by the effect. “It gives a wonderful feeling of intimacy inside, yet you can see outside.
“Paul and Harry have a very open attitude,” she continues. “They really paid attention to what we needed, and the house moved along quickly because their attention to detail is incredible. Harry is a true southern gentleman and Paul is this young, enthusiastic person, probably a lot like Harry was when he was young. There's no pretense.”a restrained hand
While 90 percent of Bates Masi Architects' work is residential, its recent commissions have also included a private school and small commercial projects. Whatever the parameters, the process is always the same. Bates and Masi spend a lot of time getting to know the clients, involving them in the design, and researching materials and methods. “The clients are the ones pushing us in certain directions. We're not going down the same path every time, and that way you're always learning,” Masi says.
It was no different when Masi began designing a house for himself, his wife Liz, and their young sons in Amagansett several years ago. Instead of focusing on the different kinds of rooms they needed, he asked Liz to create a list of things that inspire her. As they discussed the items, they realized that the changing seasons were a backdrop for the activities they loved best: ice-skating on the nearby lake in the winter and kayaking in the summer, outdoor barbecues, and the warmth of a fireplace with friends.
Those ideas took the shape of two intersecting volumes covered in concrete panels dyed a deep red, with contrasting rough-sawn cedar that will mellow with time. Masi chose materials that could go from inside to out, like the mahogany decking that flows into the entry hall and up the stairs. Rolling garage doors open the living room in summer, and a two-sided outdoor fireplace also warms a den. The Masis and several other families take turns hosting Friday night get-togethers, and a friend commented that the house feels completely different from season to season. “That was our goal, and I think that's what I enjoy,” he says. One of his favorite elements is the aluminum “fins” that score the home's red siding. In the high summer sun they create dramatic shadows; in the winter they almost disappear.
Boza observes that Bates and Masi have a good eye for restraint, resulting in architecture that looks deceptively simple. “What's there is the bare minimum of what's needed to create the experience,” he says. “It's not heavy-handed or overdone.”
It's a skill Bates has been perfecting for an extraordinarily long time. “Someone said to me not long ago that my work looks different now than it did 25 years ago, and I said, ‘I would hope so,'” Bates says. From his vantage point across a half-century of practice, he notes that when he started out in the business, the number of material and product choices were a fraction of what they are now. On the other hand, he still routinely uses traditional materials, combining them in new ways—pairing rough shingles with aluminum and glass, for example, or creating patterns with street grates, wire mesh, or snow fencing.
Indeed, Bates seems to be having a good time working hard and solving new problems. But does retirement ever look tempting? “Sure, every morning,” he says. “But I get up and I go to the office. I'm very old, but I don't feel it, and I still like what I do.” It's clear that Bates and Masi's clients like it, too.