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A house in NY designed to baffle the ear, not the eye.

Byline: Steven Kurutz

It took this reporter a few minutes to realize what was missing from the house that Paul Masi, owner of the architecture firm Bates-Masi, built two years ago for his family. While their three young children played upstairs, Masi and his wife, Liz, both 42, sat at a table in the open kitchen and living area, explaining their initial concern about building on the half-acre lot in the center of town, which they bought for $840,000 in 2012. It was when Paul Masi mentioned the proximity to the main drag that everything clicked.

This was Labor Day weekend in the Hamptons. Lines poured out the door of the town's coffee shop. Traffic was snarled for miles. The scene achieved Times Square-level chaos, only with trees and fresh-baked pies. And yet inside the Masi residence, it was silent.

The couple had even thrown open the sliding-glass wall that runs the length of the room, transforming the yard into a grassy extension of the living space. The only sound was that of birds chirping.

"When you go out into the driveway, you can totally hear the traffic,'' Paul Masi said. "In here, you can't.''

Sound, and its absence, largely informed the home's design. Anticipating the noise problems, he began to study acoustics, revisiting past projects and examining how sound affected the experience of the space. In discussing how they wanted to live, the Masis also became conscious of what they hadn't liked about their previous home in a wooded area nearby. It was small, with Sheetrock walls and hard glass surfaces. A noise box.

"We realized we didn't like to entertain groups of people, because they were louder,'' Paul Masi said.

Liz Masi added: "You get fried. Enough with the kids screaming.''

For their new home, Paul Masi created a series of stepped walls, starting with a free-standing wall along the exterior. They act as a sound barrier and cast the home in "an acoustical shadow,'' he said. As a building material, he used poured concrete, which he clad in cedar planks so the home would blend with the landscape.

Inside, the two-story, 3,200-square-foot house, which they built for about $2 million, has playful features that would delight an audio engineer. The stair boards, for instance, become thicker as they descend into the basement and thinner as they ascend upstairs, changing the frequency of one's footsteps as if turning the bass or treble knobs on a stereo.

And the walls in the living area are covered in gray felt overlaid with more cedar planks, in pairs connected by metal brackets. The felt helps absorb sound when the sliding glass wall is closed, and the planks are adjustable and even removable, allowing Masi to "tune the space.''

He had other reasons for experimenting with sound. As a modern architect, he wanted to disprove the commonly held view that modernism is cold, which he believes can be attributed to the echo-y quality of many modern spaces. Apart from the lack of echo here, there is an obvious warmth, because of the cedar and oak encasing the interior rooms, and the stylish use of materials like white marble (in the master bathroom) and weathered steel (in the stairwell and around a fireplace).

Still, the home does not escape another modernist cliche: emptiness. In the main living area, there is little more in the way of furniture than a table and several chairs. The couple's downstairs bedroom is also simply furnished. Even the children's bedrooms are miraculously clutter-free.

That's when this reporter noticed that something beyond noise was missing. Family members spend most of their time in the open kitchen and living area, yet there were no dishes, no cookware or utensils, no visible signs that food is ever prepared or consumed here.

"We don't eat,'' Paul Masi said, looking serious.

Then he burst out laughing and opened a built-in cabinet -- one of several throughout the house -- that holds the messy realities of domestic life.

"No,'' he said. "Everything is hidden.''
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Title Annotation:Homes
Author:Kurutz, Steven
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 2, 2014
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