Opulence With An Ethnic Flair

May 12, 1991|By Yolanda Garfield

TWO LUXURIOUS HOUSES WITH AN ETHNIC flair express the international influence (not the clean boxy look of the International Style) now beginning to appear in home design. As in fashion, which for the past two decades has clearly seen a trend toward ethnicity and ornamentation in costume, home style is now often reflective of the individual owner's culture.

The influence of past generations has helped to form these owners' tastes. The result is a new style of American home: a design hybrid that acknowledges its roots, borrowing from the past while looking to the future.


When one thinks of Maryland architecture, Mediterranean isn't the first style that comes to mind.

The owners of this elaborate Mediterranean-style house in Howard County came to their architectural ideas through visits to Florida, while their interior design ideas were formed by extensive travel and their Asian cultural heritage. Several years ago, after buying a lot, they returned from one of their trips to Florida armed with ready-made blueprints. When they discovered that the plans weren't compatible with their site or its views, they began interviewing local architects.

After several fruitless consults, the owners approached the Columbia architectural firm of Kaplan Sutton & Associates. The firm has won a number of prestigious residential design awards, as well as a reputation for its architects' ability to communicate with clients and respect their ideas.

Kaplan Sutton & Associates has designed many houses that emphasize pure shapes and simple, sculptural structures. Yet these clients loved opulence and grandeur, and insisted upon a house in the Mediterranean style. They had already selected a staggering array of materials considered to be luxurious, including glass block, five different kinds of marble, and numerous exotic woods.

The firm accepted the challenge of translating the clients' tastes and the melange of materials into a cohesive whole, at the same time designing a spectacular residence that would take advantage of views and appear at ease in the suburban Howard County area.

"We understood that what these clients liked about their house plans was the way individual spaces related to one another," says Patrick Sutton. "We tried to implement this on their lot, which is very beautiful. We took the plan and fanned it out, so that spaces would relate to each other as the clients desired, yet still take advantage of the panoramic views."

The house might have been dark if not for the introduction of a cupola encircled by clerestory windows in the center of the 24-by-24-foot living room. The cupola has become a focal point of the exterior architecture.

A spectacular atrium at the back of the house allows a graceful transition from the main floor to the lower level. The atrium's blue pearl granite floor glimmers in the sunlight. This is the level for casual entertaining. A glassed-in state-of-the-art home theater complete with an 8-by-8-foot movie screen, four TV monitors and complete surround-sound stereo system, as well as a separate video game arcade for the children, offers a variety of entertainment. Here, ease of access to patios and lawns makes entertaining flow naturally from indoors to out.

A customized home lighting system was integrated into the design to enhance drama and mood. Features include colorful fiber optics that transform the glass block into a light show at the touch of a switch. The owners' collection of exquisite Morano glass, exhibited in niches and on pedestals throughout the house, has been expertly highlighted so that light appears to emanate from within each piece of art glass.

The result is a harmony of formal and informal spaces, executed in both foreign and domestic materials, to create the best of the old world in the new.

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