Author: Photographs by Peter Aaron/OTTO

In the 1970s, world-renowned architect Richard Meier and a younger colleague, Michael Harris Spector, were both interviewed as finalists to design a home on a five-acre property in Old Westbury. Meier ultimately won the competition, adding the striking “White Castle” to his modern portfolio.

Ordinarily, when architects discuss contextualism, the conversation focuses on design—that is, how a new building will relate, aesthetically, to its surroundings. Here we concerned ourselves with contextualism of a different sort. As is often the case in highly desirable communities with much sought-after building sites, the project came with challenges.

On the hilltop, the couple envisioned a writer’s retreat and a place for al-fresco entertaining, which they named the Ahwahnee after the legendary National Park Service lodge in Yosemite, a favorite of theirs. For inspiration, we drew on the work of California architects Bernard Maybeck and William Wurster, and the vernacular barn and shed buildings found throughout the region.