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Living Through Legend: Robert A.M. Architects



Most design aficionados would not scoff at the idea of calling the work of Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) “legendary.” After all, the Manhattan-based firm has appeared on Architectural Digest’s famous biennial list seven times since 2002 and has been the recipient of countless awards during its 45 years of existence. A Stern home has become a status symbol of sorts—a way of expressing one’s appreciation for history and precedent. However, firm partner, Roger Seifter, takes issue with the word, “legendary.”

“I think it is the wrong word,” says the 35-year RAMSA veteran. “We like to think of our houses as ‘timeless’ or ‘classic.’”

Jordan Residence

House on Buzzards Bay, South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, 2007. Photo Credit: Peter Aaron / OTTO for Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

Timeless…as in a Napa Valley vineyard estate inspired by the homes of Provence. Classic…as in an American Georgian farmhouse adapted from New England and reinterpreted for the shores of Lake Michigan. The 15 traditionally inspired houses featured in the firm’s newly released book, “Designs for Living” (The Monacelli Press), manage to capture both timelessness and classic appeal through their unique vernacular architectural heritage and natural surroundings. In other words, the book illustrates how the firm is “able to design very different houses for clients with very different requirements for different lifestyles,” explains partner Grant Marani, who along with Seifter and two other firm partners, Randy Correll and Gary Brewer, was interviewed for the 400-page monograph.

Oakville Res

Residence in Napa County, Oakville, California, 2008. Photo Credit: Peter Aaron / OTTO for Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

The four architects recently spoke with Previews® Inside Out about the book, their fascination with the past and why their homes remain the preeminent standard for good architecture.Legendary or not, this is what they had to say: 

Previews Inside Out Architecture critic Paul Goldberger said that one of the goals of this book is to explore what it means to work under the umbrella of Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA). Why is that important to you?

Roger Seifter  Certainly the name on the door indicates a level of quality to our clients and prospective clients, which to some extent transcends us as individuals—we’ve become more than the sum of our parts—and we’ve each been able to leverage that to take on opportunities that might not have come our way if we practiced by ourselves.

Randy Correll  We’re part of something bigger, more interesting, more varied, than a small firm that designs only houses. Single-family residences make up about 20% of the work of the firm as a whole. This affords us resources that make us the envy of smaller firms: a first-rate library, state-of-the-art technology and other advantages that only a large practice can offer.

Previews Inside Out  “Designs for Living”—what does that phrase mean in the context of the homes featured in the book?

Roger Seifter  No matter how large or small our houses are, or how ambitious or simple they are, our houses are for families, and they support everyday living as much as any client’s desire to build an architectural showcase.

Grant Marani  The book illustrates how we’re able to design very different houses for clients with very different requirements for different lifestyles. It makes it clear that although there are common threads that run through all our work—the care we take in establishing relationships between rooms, for example, or the way we handle daylight and views—each house caters to the goals and aspirations of a particular couple or family.

Randy Correll Of course it’s also a riff on the old Noel Coward play “Design for Living.”We like the reference to swank and sophistication.

Previews Inside Out What makes a home livable?

Gary Brewer Our houses offer a variety of spaces that accommodate all the variety of life’s events.  

Previews Inside Out What distinguishes a RAMSA house?

Gary Brewer  Beyond careful planning and passionate, exacting attention-to-detail, there’s our ability to interpret historical styles creatively, rather than blandly reproducing older houses.

Randy Correll Our houses have personality. Our designs are narrative; each house tells a story, both about how it fits into its surroundings and about the people who live there, both the rituals of their daily lives and frequently, their penchant for entertaining.

Quogue Residence

Residence in East Quogue, East Quogue, New York, 2013. Photo Credit: Peter Aaron / OTTO for Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

Previews Inside Out In the book, Roger Seifter mentions that you have seen RAMSA knock-offs—usually when a house comes on the market. Why do you think the Stern name carries such a premium?

Roger Seifter  It happens when we drive around nice neighborhoods that we see a house where clearly the owner showed his architect a picture of a RAMSA house and said, “I want it to look just like that!” And they went ahead and tried, but not so well. The images of our houses are so strong, so evocative, that people try to duplicate them without even knowing what they’re aiming for. I also get the sense that people haven’t seen the plans of the houses they knock off. They just build the facade they want to see when they come home.

Previews Inside Out The book crisscrosses the United States—from Bel Air to East Hampton. Has designing in such diverse settings, neighborhoods and climates been a challenge? Or do you see it as an advantage?


Roger Seifter There’s richness in diversity. None of us wants to do houses all in one style or in one place.

Gary Brewer We love visiting new places and learning about their culture and architectural traditions. I’m fascinated by how regional styles have developed in relation to climate and topography.

Nesbitt Residence

House at Seaside, Seaside, Florida, 2006. Photo Credit: Peter Aaron / OTTO for Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

Previews Inside Out Which cities or regions have been your favorites to work in and why?

Gary Brewer Both urban and country settings with a strong sense of history and place.

Grant Marani  All of the cities we work in are interesting.

Robert A.M. Stern Architects

Folly and Pool Cottage, Glen Ellen, California, 2006. Photo Credit: Peter Aaron / OTTO for Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

Previews Inside Out Are there certain amenities or design features that all of your clients seem to want, across all cities?

Roger Seifter Our clients all want amazing kitchens and really great master bedrooms, even if they aren’t big: wonderful bedrooms with great closets and master baths that don’t need to be cavernous but do need to have a sense of luxury.

Gary Brewer Wherever we build, the relationship between indoors and outdoors is very important: people want porches, high ceilings and abundant light in beautifully detailed rooms.

Roger Seifter And air conditioning! But in fact there’s also variety from place to place: everyone in Chicago wants a wine room, and in Los Angeles everyone wants a large dressing room. People in East Hampton, whose New York City apartments offer limitations in terms of baths and other amenities, love to indulge in those amenities at their beach houses.

Previews Inside Out Where do you draw the line between regionalism and design freedom?

Grant Marani   Is there a line?

Roger Seifter Design freedom should never mock regionalism.

Gary Brewer Reinterpreting local architectural styles in an imaginative manner has built-in freedom for both the architect and the client.

Previews Inside Out Has a client ever wanted a house—either in size or style—that you felt uncomfortable designing? How did you approach that situation?


Randy Correll Abstractions of Modernism can be a challenge, which I deal with by pursuing a somewhat less abstract Modernism with recognizable forms and rich materials that give the attributes of our more traditional houses.

Roger Seifter I was asked by a client to design an apartment in Russian Imperial style. I sort of blanched at first but then thought, “Well, someone’s got to do it.” I worked to understand the underlying architectural principles of what is, in fact, a very specific style of architecture. Understanding breeds respect.

Nesbitt Residence

House at Seaside Seaside, Florida, 2006. Photo Credit: Peter Aaron / OTTO for Robert A.M. Stern Architects

Previews Inside Out Are there particular styles that you’re more comfortable with than others?

Randy Correll The Shingle style is so closely associated with our office that we’re all adept at it, so comfortable with it that it’s almost second nature. With other styles, we do more research and spend more time studying precedents.

Roger Seifter We also have a thorough understanding of the Mediterranean style, and what the differences are from one type of Mediterranean to another, just as we know the difference between Queen Anne and Colonial Revival. This depth of understanding ensures that our houses are never generic.

Grant Marani  We all enjoy the opportunity to work with unfamiliar styles—for example, I’m working on a house in Singapore, which is an interpretation of a very specific black-and-white Colonial architecture. It’s been fascinating to work in that language because the houses historically have been relatively small and our client’s program is fairly large. The trick was how to make a large house feel like a bungalow. It’s a wonderful challenge and the outcome is quite successful.

Winnetka residence

House on Lake Michigan, 2007. Photo Credit: Peter Aaron / OTTO for Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

Previews Inside Out How far do you go in researching the historical context for an architectural style?


Roger Seifter There are styles we’re very familiar with, so our natural reference points are there. In those cases—Shingle style, for example—the research we do is more in the way of brushing up. Occasionally we’re asked to design in a style we’re not as familiar with—even Modernism as a style—and in those cases we take it very seriously and will be fairly academic in our approach—not in the execution of the design, but in the way we educate ourselves.

Gary Brewer  We share books and precedents, and we also travel with our clients to visit important houses and towns.

Roger Seifter We’ll go as far as our clients will let us go.

Previews Inside Out Your firm is known for being fluent in traditional styles, but there is also a contemporary quality to your houses. What is “modern” about them?


Roger Seifter  The most obvious modern aspect of our houses is the systems that go into them. No matter what they look like, technologically they’re usually at the cutting edge. Most of our houses are “smart” houses, using smart technology that is ever evolving. We and our engineers stay out in front in these things.

Randy Correll And even though our houses are based on traditional precedents, our plans open up rooms to one another to endow our houses with an open, modern feel.

Gary Brewer Our houses also open to the views, with windows that are much larger than you’ll find on older houses. Older homes tend to feel dark inside, while ours are suffused with light with touches like French doors that bring the outdoors in.

Roger Seifter Yes; we have a very 21st-century aversion to the dark. The relationship of our houses to the landscape around them is very important; whether we’re working in California or in the Northeast, we create a natural flow between outside and inside.


Previews Inside Out How important are the “felt” aspects of design—that is, the way a house “feels”? How do you translate the intangible into the tangible, i.e. architecture?

Gary Brewer We design our houses to capture a sense of place and more importantly, to support our clients’ lifestyles. By looking at earlier houses with our clients, and showing them models and drawings, we’re able to create an appropriate ambience.

Randy Correll Our houses feel like your home, not just anyone’s home.

Roger Seifter And importantly, your home and not your architect’s home.

Robert A.M. Stern Architects is a 300-person architecture firm in New York City with extensive experience in residential, commercial and institutional work. The firm’s most recent monograph, “Designs for Living,” is available for purchase at

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Living Through Legend: Robert A.M. Architects

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