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Tradition: Conversation with Ferguson and Shamamian



“Good design survives the test of time.” This is a phrase Mark Ferguson and Oscar Shamamian recite regularly in their Manhattan-based office—so much so that it made it into their 2011 monograph, “New Traditional Architecture” (Rizzoli, $75).

The AD100 architects are experts at capturing tradition and giving it a twist. A Palladian-style villa in Malibu has a double-story retractable skylight to let in the Southern California sun and a sit-up bar in the kitchen to encourage guest interaction. A Shingle-style estate on Martha’s Vineyard has an inspiring dining room, carefully oriented to take advantage of ocean views. A re-envisioned Manhattan pied-à-terre has a showstopping sculptural staircase. All of their homes are united by a keen sense of the present, ever mindful of how the modern-day homeowner lives, works and entertains.

Whether designing a kitchen for the gourmet chef or a great room for the entertainer, Ferguson and Shamamian find their roots in the past, yet always manage to branch out to find a context that is distinctly modern and distinctly the client’s. That’s because a “home is not just a practical place of comfort”—it also “arouses emotions, associations and memories,” they say. And with that knowledge, they have continued to find admirers who want nothing more than to create memories with family and friends in the comfort of their home.

These memories are perhaps more likely to happen during the holiday season, so that is why Previews® Inside Out spoke to Ferguson and Shamamian this month. We asked the classically trained architects to share their thoughts on tradition, beauty and designing “warm” and “friendly” homes that the entire family can enjoy.

Previews Inside Out Your homes have also been described as “more friendly than formal.” Why do you think that is? 

Mark Ferguson We design houses for durability, comfort and beauty. We strive for balance and harmony, so our clients can forget about design and focus on living.

Oscar Shamamian We design our houses for our clients, not for ourselves…and our clients happen to be very friendly.

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Photo credit: Scott Frances

Previews Inside Out Do you think traditional styles of architecture, and working in the vernacular, provide a family with a deep sense of roots?

Mark Ferguson Yes! Curiosity about the past and understanding how history leads to the present offer people the possibility of bringing about a better future. We selectively bring forward old ideas. Heritage is essential to one’s identity and sense of belonging. Architecture memorializes our heritage as well as our aspirations. If we get it right, people will preserve our buildings for a long time. I own an old house, and it feels good to be the steward of a place. 

Oscar Shamamian It depends on the family and how they associate with traditional and vernacular architecture; whether it reminds them of something in their past or their family’s past or maybe is something to which their taste is evolving.  

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Photo credit: Lisa Romerein

Previews Inside Out What makes a home “a family home,” in your opinion?

Oscar Shamamian  There are two types of family homes: those that are closely knit together architecturally, where all the bedrooms might be very close to each other and where the family room, kitchen and domestic services all flow from one to the other so everyone is generally together most of the time; and a second type, where the bedrooms and family spaces are segregated architecturally, but where the family gathers in one or two specific rooms to be together. 

Mark Ferguson Families require places to gather for social occasions, such as meals, games and conversation, as well as places to retreat for rest, work and solitude. A good house offers both, with sufficient flexibility for a family to grow old together without discovering that the usefulness and comfort of the house have diminished.

Previews Inside Out The kitchen and the great room seem to be two modern spaces that appeal to families. What’s your approach to these spaces in general?

Mark Ferguson  The combination of cooking, dining and sitting in one room is a very old idea. It recalls the medieval English hall house, where these activities were combined with business and sleeping. Rooms dedicated to a single purpose are a relatively modern idea. With the advent of modern appliances, our idea of bourgeois comfort can be achieved without household staff. Now, the family occupies the kitchen. It is a place to cook, dine, relax and engage in other social activities.

Our approach tunes the degree of openness and separation between areas to allow multiple activities to occur with a level of privacy or integration that the family expects. It is the center of gravity for daily life. Although other rooms are sometimes reserved for entertaining, we encourage multiple uses to occur in public rooms so the entire house is enjoyed on a regular basis; for example, keeping a table in the library for dining, a (hidden) TV in the living room for entertainment, or a computer in the kitchen for homework. 

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Photo credit: Lisa Romerein

Oscar Shamamian  The approach depends on who you’re working with and how the family lives in these spaces. My personal sense is that people are veering away from the big double-height “great room” and back to a more single-height human-scaled space. 

Previews Inside Out Which of your projects illustrates an ideal kitchen/great room concept, in your view?


Oscar Shamamian This kitchen in Westport illustrates a great kitchen for a large family that likes to be together for cooking and dining.

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Photo credit: Scott Frances

This is the quintessential great room for a couple who entertains often and also has children and grandchildren frequently in the house.

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Photo credit: Scott Frances

Mark Ferguson I like the idea of rooms supporting multiple uses. I prefer options, a variety of places for the same activity—a cozy place, an open airy place, a secluded place, etc.—a range of qualities for different times, occasions and moods. The more accommodating a room can be to different uses, the better.

Previews Inside Out Are there other kinds of spaces that encourage quality time and togetherness?

Oscar Shamamian  The master bedroom…and game rooms…

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Photo credit: Scott Frances

and wine rooms…

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Photo credit: Lisa Romerein

Mark Ferguson Furniture, properly designed, scaled and arranged so people are invited to gather anywhere and everywhere, is key. Without the right furniture in the right place, no space is comfortable. A freestanding, open-air loggia or porch with a fireplace, kitchen and terrace is perfect for relaxing, dining and throwing a party.

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Photo: Mick Hales

Previews Inside Out What is the most unusual space or feature you have been asked to design for a family?

Oscar Shamamian  A pistol range and a mausoleum…and not for the same family!

Mark Ferguson We all live like kings today, so the amenities one can imagine have few boundaries. Private parks, spas, entertainment facilities and sports facilities are in increasing demand. Entertaining guests, both formally and informally, in a garden, a lounge or a traditional living room, library or dining room is an activity we anticipate in all our houses.

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Photo: Scott Frances

Previews Inside Out When you’re designing a home for a everyday family living, how do you give it a feeling of luxury?

Mark Ferguson High ceilings, tall windows, multiple exposures to the outdoors, doorways enfilade, multiple porches, well-organized closets, a bathroom for every occupant, ample lighting, finishes that get better with age, wide plank floors, solid doors on good hardware, comfortable stairs…these are some of the things that make everyday living comfortable and gracious. Perhaps it is best that some of the ultimate luxuries, the truly spectacular places and things in the world, remain aspirational.

Oscar Shamamian And radiant heat…

Previews Inside Out What is the one feature every modern family needs?

Oscar Shamamian  An attractive common space to which everyone is drawn.

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Photo credit: Lisa Romerein

Mark Ferguson  Our basic needs are timeless, but our desires change with fashion. As we distance ourselves from subsistence living and subdue threats from nature and neighbors, we become secure and seek greater freedom in our environment—comfort not only inside our houses, but also outside our houses. Glass rooms and infinity pools are a manifestation of a fully domesticated landscape. A safe and inviting landscape leads us to expect convenient access to more places, more culture, more nature, more of the time. Despite increasing access to so much of the world, every family needs a semi-enclosed outdoor space, or at least a view with a bit of nature, to relax the mind and a collection of books to open the mind. 

Ferguson & Shamamian Architects, LLP is widely recognized for residential design in traditional styles, particularly those with classical origins. Since 1988, the 75-person firm has built an extensive body of work, with projects ranging from city apartments to suburban houses and country estates across the country.


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Tradition: Conversation with Ferguson and Shamamian

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