You come upon it from below—a gleaming chocolate-and-plum-colored crystal nestled on a pillow of New England hillside. Acres of scraggly woods have been cleared away, leaving a few ancient oaks, a low stone wall, and a vast cascading meadow. The house sits in a fold of the slope, tucked away beneath the crest. At first blush it looks too low and cramped for an adult to enter, like the den of a particularly stylish Hobbit. But its stature is deceptive, as with almost everything else about it. The first private residence designed by Daniel Libeskind is at once modest and palatial, private and theatrical, inviting and aloof. It’s a little enclave of exhibitionism stowed out of sight. “You don’t need to impress with size,” Libeskind says. “You can keep it modest but still make it a spectacular place to live.”
As you climb the steep driveway, the stainless steel panels, which get their color from a soak in a chemical bath, take on a dappled look, darkening nearly to black or bleaching to a pale violet, depending on how the sun glances off each angled surface. A line of rough flagstones leads to an opening in the shell. The exterior skin folds over to form one side of the hidden entry porch; a wood-clad interior wall pushes out past the front door to form the other. Even before reaching the threshold, the visitor is standing simultaneously outside and in.
The house is a ravishing objet, balancing the exuberant and the analytical. And while its bristling protrusions offset the air of comfort, the owners accept that architectural brilliance imposes certain rigors. Libeskind designed the weekend retreat for an art-world couple who live in New York and who wish the house to be known but not where it is or who lives there. Yet it’s difficult to separate the space from its inhabitants. To start any project, Libeskind likes to say, you must first fall in love with the client. For an architect who has weathered the rough-and-tumble process of planning the new World Trade Center site, Berlin’s Jewish Museum, and a mammoth shopping center in Switzerland, this tiny project offered a chance to focus a complex work of architecture around a single, intense relationship. This time he didn’t have to navigate teams of developers or committees of bureaucrats—only two kindred spirits who rewarded him with a congenial combination of practical requests and expressive freedom. “We told him we wanted a place to sleep, to eat, and to cook, and all we would ask was to make it extreme,” says one of the clients.
A work of life-size origami, the house is a continuous ribbon of wood and steel, folded 18 times so that walls tilt like errant eaves or jut out toward the landscape. One of its 36 sharp points comes so close to stabbing a tree that a squirrel could step onto the roof. The interior comprises just 2,000 square feet—except that none of its rooms are, in fact, square, and the number doesn’t do justice to the concatenation of tight and suddenly open spaces, divided by partitions that list and turn. It takes a while to orient yourself in the unpredictable terrain. A ramp slides down from the entrance to the high-ceilinged living room, whose floor slips beneath a glass wall to a covered outdoor deck.