“I want a house I haven’t seen before” was the mantra repeated by David Hu’s client. The idiosyncratic abode he designed for said client, on the Jersey Shore in Monmouth County, is a 1,030-square-metre behemoth that mimics the shifting mood swings of its natural surroundings.
Taiwanese native Hu is accustomed to working on large-scale projects. His practice extends to commercial developments, including a 162-hectare mixed-use complex in Wuhan, China, which contains its own museum of modern art.
After graduating from the University of Washington in 1982, he landed a job at Johnson Burgee Architects, where he worked with the modernist master Philip Johnson on 191 Peachtree Tower, a 50‑storey skyscraper in the heart of Atlanta. When he eventually opened his own office in New York in 1996, one of his first projects, the Wild Lily Tea Room, caught the eye of restaurateur Michael Weinstein, who invited him to submit a proposal for Lutèce, his then-touted restaurant in Las Vegas.
Weinstein in turn recommended Hu to a friend, a psychiatrist turned screenwriter looking to build his dream house. With Weinstein’s directive, the search led to two candidates – Hu, and Pritzker Prize laureate Thom Mayne of Morphosis – and Hu says he eventually earned the commission through dialogue. “The client liked the way I approached the house,” he says. “That’s how trust was established.”
Construction began in 2008 on the glass, stainless steel and concrete home, which sits on a 30.5-metre-wide beachfront property with neighbours on either side. The six years it took to finish the house resulted from various obstacles along the way, including two hurricanes, with Superstorm Sandy in 2012 inflicting the most damage: an entire wall of glass-panelled doors was demolished, along with the basement, and the ground-floor pool, which filled with water and 109 metric tons of sand.
Now complete, the blue stucco house is capped with an angled roof made of stainless steel, and eight variously sized triangular skylights that flood the interior with sunlight. The moment visitors step inside, the main level’s most striking feature grabs their attention: a narrow pool that stretches for 11.6 metres toward a two-storey curtain wall overlooking the beach, the ocean and beyond. A glass bridge across the sunken water feature, which doubles as a lap pool, connects the living area and a library at one end of the expansive space to a dining area and an all-white Boffi kitchen and pantry at the other.
On the second floor – accessed by way of a dramatic staircase built of exposed steel with glass risers (or via a glass elevator) – four bedroom suites are furnished with interior courtyards: one a water garden; the other designed for vegetation. On the top level, two master bedrooms with ensuites share full views over the shoreline, which are not meant for modest souls.
Gardens, bridges, even canyons and cliffs, are incorporated into the overall concept, as a way to connect the sub-spaces into a continuous flow. One cavernous angled ceiling extends up through all three floors, while natural light bounces off the white epoxy floors. With so much glass and exposed steel, the house could easily come across as too austere. However, the mechanical coolness is saved by natural light streaming in from all directions, and a collection of artful furnishings that give the living spaces a warm, playful feel.
“The house acts like a prism, deflecting light,” says former retailer Murray Moss, principal of the New York design consultancy Moss Bureau, who worked on the decor. The client’s collection of pedigreed furniture was purchased through Moss over 12 years, and includes iconic pieces by the Campana Brothers, Maarten Baas, and Studio Job. Edra’s polygon sofa in indigo takes centre stage in the living area. Moss positioned the furnishings throughout the house, much like creating a series of movie sets. “You don’t want to feel like you’re on Park Avenue and 74th Street,” he says, describing the relaxed look he was after. “The house itself is the work.”
Project: Jersey shore beach house
Location: Monmouth County, New Jersey
Firm: David Hu Architect, New York
Size: 1,030 square metres
Lot size: 2,400 square metres
Structural materials: glass, steel beams, stucco, concrete and white epoxy flooring
Other features: Kitchen by Boffi, Bathroom furniture by Agape