The history behind THE MODERN BARN®

"Life is in the details." Alfonso Giaquinto

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The Modern Barns       Sustainability       Surroundings       Design Process       The Future       Materials

 

The Modern Barns

After the success of the barn room on Jericho, Al and Mary knew The Modern Barn® concept had functional appeal. Al started evaluating floor plans with this concept in mind. He found inspiration from the Caribbean and the South Pacific, where houses were open to the outside. Because even though this is Long Island, his clientele was primarily a summer community looking for something that harnessed the joys of summer living.

"The Modern Barn® made sense." Al said, "because they brought the outside in and the inside out. They let a lot of light in, and had some shaded places. There were places outside to eat and entertain and cook. Al Giaquinto met with an architect he'd worked with before, Alexander Gorlin, FAIA. Gorlin was an AD 100 architect, and together, the two began work on the first devoted Modern Barn house. They discussed the elements that would make The Modern Barn®. 

“A Modern Barn has to have an expansive front entry,” said Al, "introducing you to space and light. Perspective is a priority and volume is key." The Hamptons market was growing weary of the cedar shingle gabled mansion, and there was a movement back towards the traditional barn structure. "This Hamptons is about the surf and sea, but it's also horse and wine country and the barn was well suited to that."

 
 
 

While they wanted a rustic, open feel, it can't be forgotten that this is the Hamptons and the market is always going to cater to high luxury. Even though formal dining rooms and overly detailed decor may not have been the priority, people were not looking to reduce comfort. Rather, they wanted to redefine comfort. The Modern Barn®, with its wide plank mahogany floors, huge sliding doors and giant slabs of marble in the kitchen, was oversized, unadorned luxury.

The exposed beams, the oversized barn doors, the breathtaking entry, the powerhouse kitchen: these were features that identify The Modern Barn®... "People wanted big, open spaces and something a bit more artistic on the outside," Mary said. 

Once the tone has been set and a sense of expansiveness achieved, then Al Giaquinto turns his attention to the way the outside and inside interact. "It's about the positioning of glass, the positioning of the space relative to the activity outdoors and indoors," he said. 

The massive front door, on a pivot hinge, is striking. The stacked slabs of stone is carried from outside to in. The immediate views into the back yard upon entering the front door give the house a feeling of openness, light, and space.

What's most important to Al is how all the materials come together, and the unique details chosen for each house. This communicates the intention that people feel when they walk into the barn room. "People come out here for a feeling of serenity," said Al. "This is not a city apartment. It's meant to be a relief from that convention. It's meant to be fun, relaxing, and rejuvenating." 

By the time work began on a third Modern Barn, Al had established a signature style. The striking entry, the immediate views outside, and the staircase with its solid planks of four-inch thick oak and custom designed handrail, had become quintessential elements of The Modern Barn®. These homes delivered the sense of awe and drama that Al had been seeking. 

 

 
 
 

By 2015, Plum Builders had constructed two new Modern Barns on a winding, wooded East Hampton road. Both welcome the visitor with double story barn rooms upon entrance. Sliding glass doors surrounding the room bring in light and give an immediate connection to the outside. Warm materials, like dark wood and stone fireplaces, contrast with bright white walls. The stairway in these designs is the centerpiece, like a geometric spine that holds together the whole house.

While a primary foundation of The Modern Barn® is the grandeur of the common space, Al knows that the homeowners need a place to withdraw. This is especially true for the kinds of clients that are usually attracted to The Modern Barn®, precisely because the home becomes a place for extended family and friends to gather. Therefore, the master suite needs to be a decadent escape. Plenty of space for clothing storage and luxurious time in the bath help to create a sanctuary for the heads of the household to recharge. 

"We build his and hers dressing areas with lighting, fixtures, and finishings that make them feel like they're in a high-end boutique." said Al. "The space and light in the bathroom create warmth, luxury, and pampering. Their whole experience in the intimate space becomes like a spa retreat." 

Some of the more recent Modern Barns, tucked away in the woods of Southampton, fused lessons learned from the earlier models. The majesty of the entryway begins from the moment you enter the long pebble driveway. The dark outlines around the windows make them pop against the bright facade of the house. The double gables are a nod to the barn heritage, and from the driveway you can see straight through the house to the pool in the back yard, connecting outside to inside and back out in a streamlined way.

The entrance, with a two story foyer and a massive barn door, is grandiosity manifested. Again, it's about detail. "The barn doors are oversized," said Al, "9 feet tall, 5 feet wide, and 3 inches thick. The floors are old growth white oak, with an average length of 10 feet, though 20% of the boards are 16-footers. This gives a linear look and adds to the glamour, the drama, and the luxury." 

The L-shaped house beckons you left for the living/dining room space or right for the kitchen and living space. Either way you go, walls are lined with retractable doors. These doors, which virtually disappear, harness the use of modern technology to remove yet another layer between outside and in. Manufactured by Western, out of Phoenix, Arizona, these doors are custom designed for The Modern Barn®. "These disappearing walls are really the piece de resistance," said Al. "They bring the outside in and the inside out." Spaciousness is the operative term here, and that is achieved in large part due to the details.

"Life is in the details," Al said.

 
 
 

Al Giaquinto tends to select materials that wow. This is certainly true for the fireplace in one Southampton Modern Barn, which is one massive piece of Calacatta marble. “It could have been done in four pieces, and that would have been easier to install and less expensive to ship,” said Al. "But it doesn't have the art of that piece." Al felt he wanted to subtly rein in the movement towards ultra-modern, and to bring back more traditional elements. He sees this is a way to create balance in the space.

"We started to go back to classic fenestrations," said Al. "It was more modern in the earlier generations, and we wanted to juxtapose modern and traditional. It's a balance." While most of the house is modern, they try to stay traditional with color, and often employ the use of traditional finishes. In the master bath, for example, the tone is sleek and the lines clean, but the tub is a modern take on the classic freestanding claw foot tub. "We don't get faddish with color," said Al. "We don't get faddish with detail." Large panes of glass are critical to the brightness of The Modern Barn®, but Al also learned that his clients often have art collections. They want spaces to show them. 

"We give a full wall with no windows - 24 feet long and ten feet high - for art," he said. But directly opposite that is a wall nearly entirely comprised of high-tech sliding glass doors that practically disappear when opened. Outside, covered patios with slow rotating ceilings fans are designed for outdoor entertaining, and the pool sits in the center of the L, all the living space oriented out to the calming water oasis. 

"We try to use fire, water, light and sound," said Al. "The sound of water, the feeling of heat from the fire, it brings all the senses to life. People are drawn to that and we spend as much time designing the exterior as the interior. People really enjoy living outside." 

When it comes to kitchens, Al is always looking to innovate. “Al is always ahead of the curve on kitchens," said Reckson. “He was the first to do the sink with the pull-down hose that I saw." There's a reason the kitchens in The Modern Barns are so spectacular. Al Giaquinto cherishes cooking and eating, and sees these acts as ways to connect with our personal histories as well as each other. 

"The preparation of food in many cultures is almost a religious experience," said Al. "Dishes are used that have been prepared for generations. Not only the eating of the food, but the way the food is prepared." The process of preparing food is a remembrance, and with the brightness and the easy, comfortable seating in the kitchen, people want to participate. "When I make a sauce," he said, "I remember the way my mother prepared it and I do it the same way. It's a cultural link." 

That's the inspiration for the spacious islands, the Italian ovens, the lively glass tile backsplashes: to make the kitchen a place where you want to spend your time. It's why he spends so much time thinking about the way the kitchen is designed, and the way the cabinets and the storage and the appliances fit together. "There's an emotional, visceral connection we have to food." said Al. Part of the mission of The Modern Barn® is to stay ahead of the times, to predict what the market will be looking for, and then be able to adapt to change. For example, Al got feedback, particularly from the younger buyers that were beginning to comprise his market, that stone had limited appeal. He had used New England stones in earlier incarnations tor entryways and fireplaces. It was a hearkening back to colonial structures, which used stones for foundations and built walls in the barns of stone. 

"They used to make the south wall out of stone," explained Al, "so in the winter the sun would warm the stone and keep the barn warmer in the evening." There wasn't much stone on Long Island, and they would source most of their stone directly from a Connecticut quarry. "Millennials think of stone as upstate," said Al. "So in most of our later models, we use limestone but not classic stone.”

 
 

Sustainability and Environmental Awareness

As open spaces give way to human development worldwide, it is not only the responsibility of the builder to consider the environment: it is also good business. Al Giaquinto knows this, and he factors environmental awareness into all his decisions. "We are entering a revolution in energy," said Al. "Elon Musk is the Thomas Edison of the 21st century, breaking new ground. Houses built in this decade that don't seriously consider their carbon footprint will be irrelevant by next decade." 

In fact, he believes that any house built today that isn't energy efficient and forward-thinking could well be torn down in ten years. 
"There's no price point that safeguards a house on the East End," he said. "There are properties bought for $50 million and the houses are torn down." This is ironic, of course, if the purpose of the tear-down is to build something more sustainable, but that's beside the point. Recalling the Plum family from Cincinnati, Al Giaquinto builds his constructions to last. 

"The key to protecting well-designed architecture that accommodates modern lifestyle will be sustainability," he said. "Elon Musk is way out in front. Conservatives and Wall Street are afraid of him because he's taking us into the unknown, but it's where we need to go." There are three main ways that The Modern Barn® considers sustainability in its design and construction. "If you're sensitive to the carbon footprint, energy is number one," said Al. 

The newer Modern Barns are fitted with solar panels on the roof and efficient water systems for heating and cooling. This not only means the houses put less of a burden on the environment; it also means that bills for electricity and heat will be a fraction of houses that rely solely on oil or natural gas. "The next thing you need to consider is the envelope," Al said. "You need to look at how the house is insulated, how the glass is oriented, and the total efficiency of the envelope." 

Finally, Al looks at the actual construction of the house. When he selects materials, he does his best to source local and renewable whenever possible. That means all The Modern Barns are built with solid wood frames instead of steel. "The cost of shipping and manufacturing steel, as well as the energy used to make steel, give it a large carbon footprint," he said. "We try to design our houses with all wood and rarely use steel. Some engineers and architects love to use steel, but I believe that's backwards." 

The wood they use for construction is from renewable farms, and it's grown domestically. The farthest wood will travel for a Modern Barn is the cedar, which now must be sourced from the Pacific Northwest. Long ago, cedar grew locally, which is why cedar shingle became a quintessential Hamptons finish. But by the early 1800s, local cedar was completely depleted. Now, Plum Builders sources cedar from sustainable cedar stands in the Northwest. Other materials are also domestically grown, and Al Giaquinto thinks about the distance they have to travel. Stone is sourced from Connecticut or Indiana, wood floors from the Midwest, and even glass and plastic from local dealers. 

For certain accent pieces, like a marble countertop, Al will sometimes source from Europe, but he does that sparingly and only when it's for a specific reason. "We might buy stone from Italy." he said. "but at a minimum. We've found product to supplement that's made locally, within a five hour truck drive to the East End. We see this as another point in the reduction of the carbon footprint." 

 
 

Surroundings

Modern Barns have been built in farm fields and in woods, on waterfront and in the heart of the village. And the homes adapt to reflect where they are. While there are elements of The Modern Barn® that echo from one to the next, each one seeks to relate to its own surroundings in a harmonious way. "You have to consider the whole personality of the lot." said Al. "From that point forward, all our other values take place." 

For example, in their third generation of Modern Barns, they bought a property in Southampton Village, just a stone's throw from town. "The house at Pulaski fits a footprint that could only be used on that lot." said Al. "We designed the house on that footprint, then used our principles, like minimizing the carbon footprint, the style of architecture." 

While light still pervades every corner of the house at Pulaski, even spilling down to the basement by way of the three-story window, there's more of an urban feel overall. The house is more compartmentalized, from the entrance to the barn room to the staircase. And yet, it is unmistakably The Modern Barn®. Each room connects to the outside; the concepts of light, bright and white rule; and spaces that foster communal living are a priority.

 
 

The Design Process

Al Giaquinto has been fascinated by designs, plans, and drawings since he watched his father pour over them late nights in his sturdy old house in Queens. But he also loves the execution. He loves to be at the construction site, he loves the sound of the materials physically coming together. That's what makes the design-build process at Plum, with the builder at the helm, work. 

Most of the time, the architect does the drawings, and often, the Giaquintos say, that's it. The drawings are handed off to the construction team, who then has to figure out how to execute the plan. Since everything at Plum is now done in-house, with architects on staff that work directly with Al to design The Modern Barns, it's a cohesive process. "When we design with our team, we are building it as we're designing it," said Giaquinto. "That's the big difference." That affects every part of the process, not least of all the budget. 

"Some people can afford to go double their budget." says Al, "but most people can't. Through the design/build process, we can make sure we stay very close to the budget. If the family decides they want a three-car garage instead of two, we put the number on the table right away. We talk about all that before we put a hole in the ground, and our customers find that dialogue critical." 

 
 

The Future

Technology has spurred such rapid change that it's difficult to predict where exactly we will be in ten years. The promise of advancements in clean energy, renewable building sources, and technologically integrated homes and cars means builders need to look ahead to what their clients will need in an ever-evolving world. Al Giaquinto looks to luminaries like EIon Musk as he shapes his business model moving forward. It's about user-friendly living. Like a smart phone is to the phones of yester-year, so The Modern Barn® strives to be to the center-hall Colonial. This isn't just about providing shelter; it's about creating a living experience that enhances life. 

"What we see in the future is that technology has taken over our lifestyle," said Al. So The Modern Barn® facilitates a lifestyle where people can be on their devices, together in the same space, but separate in their experience. 

"The Modern Barn® gives all these generations much more of an opportunity to interact," said Mary. "Granddaddy is going to sit over there reading his newspaper and having his coffee, but he's going to look up and see his grandson playing on a tablet, and they're going to interact." 

In more traditional floor plans, the Giaquintos believe, the already isolating activity of being on the screen is amplified by being separated by walls. The open floor plan of The Modern Barn® allows people to stay connected to one another. With the kitchen at the heart of it, mealtime remains a time for people to reconnect to one another. The Modern Barn's emphasis on a connection to the outside is also a response to the technological age. Because people are so connected to their devices, they crave getting back to nature. 

"The barn is connected to the pool, spa, tennis, outside living room," said Al. "It's about light, sound, fire, and water. Those are the things that stimulate our senses going back to primeval times." Outdoor fireplaces are set up beside the pool, invoking the elements. "You have a body of water in front of you and next to the water you have fire," said Al. "When the sky darkens and that fire twinkles in your eyes, it's transporting." 

Another major cultural shift impacts that way The Modern Barn® is designed. Looking to buyers of the future in the millennial generation, The Modern Barn® places a high value on healthy living. ''As fitness becomes more of a way of life and nutrition becomes more important to people," said Al, "there's a demand for gyms, yoga rooms, and fitness centers connected to places where nutrition is readily available. To have three or four beverage coolers in a house is more common, and they're not filled with soft drinks. They're filled with drinks that have nutrition and are healthy. People are constantly thinking about their health.”

 
 

Materials

Just as people want to feel a connection to the outside even when they're at work on their computers, they also want their surroundings to evoke the natural world. "The future sees materials continuing to become more natural or organic in their responses," said Al. He believes that the human psyche responds positively to natural materials, and people need that when they are connected to technology all the time.

"Oak flooring should really look like oak flooring," he said. “If the flooring is so perfect that it looks fake, it's out. What's in is oak flooring that looks natural." Still, people want to feel clean and free of germs, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms. "When it comes to countertops, they're interested in something that is clinically pure," said Al. "It needs to be serviceable in the laboratory that is the kitchen." 

The most important considerations when it comes to materials, said Al, are that they are sustainable and low-maintenance. This will be more and more important in the future, and in the interest of ensuring the longevity of his houses, he stays at the forefront of the evolving market. When it comes to windows and doors, there are constant improvements to technology. In terms of aesthetic, the windows are getting bigger and the frames smaller. The doors are on tracks and operated on the same systems as the music and the heating and cooling systems. They can fold silently into the wall, virtually disappearing.

In addition, technology is improving in terms of insulation and sound proofing. "Houses will be super-insulated and sound proof," said Al. "Air quality will continue to be a priority, and managing the overall carbon footprint and energy usage will become majority interests whereas right now it's still a minority interest.”

Eliminating steel from the construction process has been a priority for Plum Builders for years, because to Al, steel has no place in a modern, environmentally conscious construction. Other technologies, like LED, wind, and solar, are all a part of his new designs. "We are living with 150-year-old technology." said Al. "Twenty years from now almost every new house will have that new technology."