Gimme Shelter

The Shelter Island home of architects Michael Morris and Yoshiko Sato is all about geometry—and that’s the plane truth

Exterior of Shelter Island home
Fine Lines | The beveled horizontal siding on YN-13 is hand-bleached western red cedar. The main house and adjacent pool house/guest quarters overlook the chlorine-free gunite pool.

Manhattan-Based Architects Michael Morris and Yoshiko Sato had two things in mind when they imagined a weekend retreat of their own in the Hamptons: finding a place to escape to and building a dream house that would serve as a calling card. The couple, who met while studying at Cooper Union School of Architecture, launched their design studio in an East Village townhouse in 1996; a year later they said, “I do.” While searching for the perfect plot on the East End, they looked first in Amagansett, then extended their search north to Shelter Island, around the vicinity of Gardiners Bay, at the suggestion of a friend.

Shelter Island living room
Modern Mix | The living room includes reproduction 1950s Luigi Caccia Dominioni pieces (horsehair stools, glass lamp) alongside a white leather Facett sofa, chair and ottoman. Antonio Murado paintings flank the fireplace.

“Shelter Island wasn’t necessarily a no-go zone,” recalls Morris. “We thought about it and decided we would look.” As Sato is from Japan and Morris from Ireland, the idea of island life holds a special appeal, and the duo eventually settled on two acres overlooking the bay. They divided the property in half and immediately commenced work on their YN-13 house (a second house—named Soula, after their red fox Labrador retriever—is currently under construction). The moniker YN-13 is inspired by Irish architect Eileen Gray’s iconic E-1027 modernist house, which she built in the South of France in 1929. Y is for Yoshiko, N is for Sato’s sister Noriko, and 13 stands for M (for Morris), the 13th letter in the alphabet. According to Morris, YN-13 is “a simple form with a complex skin,” while Soula is “a complex form with a simple skin.”

“We wanted to make something that has a sense of openness
and coziness without being a modernist box.”
— Michael Morris, architect
Dining room

Dine In Style | A Murado painting hangs behind the Cavalletto dining table and Azucena chairs. Heated Kota limestone floors continue through the first floor.

The two-story YN-13 looks like a rectangular box that’s been stretched, “symbolizing the diagonal pull of sun and water,” explains Sato, whose spiritual and intellectual muse is Shiro Kuramata, the 20th-century Japanese designer she interned with as a student. With a nod to residential structures found in Kyoto or Kanazawa, Sato insists the house looks, well, a little Japanese. Design details like the exterior cladding (called shitami-bari, which translates as downward-facing boards), sliding pocket doors, Japanese cherry and holly trees and Toto toilets reinforce the Japanese aesthetic.

“We wanted the house to fuse with the local ecology,” adds Morris. “Although it makes a statement, it’s really not that far from a Hamptons shingle-style construction.” The beveled horizontal siding and exterior walls are made from western red cedar that’s been hand-bleached—providing a patina that matches the color of the roof. The terne-coated stainless-steel roof also boasts an environmental bonus by delivering non-contaminated rainwater to the ground.

Dining room

Suite Dreams | The master bath features a Chromatherapy tub, leather Biki swivel arm chair, Cassina side table in polished steel and silver blue slate flooring.

“While we were giving a nod to the vernacular, we wanted the house to be unique,” says Morris. “It’s got a lot of glass, yet we wanted to make something that has a sense of openness and coziness without being a modernist box.” At 6,000 square feet, the home is comfortably scaled and can easily accommodate a family of ten. The four upstairs bedrooms (there’s one more in the pool house, plus one in the basement) are painted in Benjamin Moore’s White Christmas, giving the house a luminous glow. “I have a painterly sensibility, but Yoshiko is very precise,” says Morris. “It’s a choice to stay neutral instead of idiosyncratic.” Downstairs, the Kota limestone floors are embedded with radiant heat.

Sato enjoys cooking, so the open living/dining/kitchen area has been designated the home’s social hub. The spare decor consists of a strategic arrangement of reproductions of 1950s Milanese architect Luigi Caccia Dominioni’s delicate designs, juxtaposed alongside contemporary pieces, like the white leather Facett sofa and armchair by French designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. The adjacent guest quarters are just as minimally furnished but equally inviting, with a shared view of the garden and 20-by-40-foot chlorine-free pool. Now comfortably ensconced in their modern Shelter Island masterpiece, Morris and Sato are getting into the local groove. In addition to regular visits to the organic farm at Sylvester Manor, Morris even foresees a sailboat in the future, and “God forbid, golf!”

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