Meet Architect Thomas Kligerman
CTC&G sits down for a Q&A with the architect known for his Shingle Style homes.
Growing up with art-patron parents who moved frequently, Thomas Kligerman had lived in six different locales—from Connecticut and New Mexico to England—by the end of his first decade. “I was learning by osmosis—I saw a wide range of architecture before I ever knew what I wanted to be,” he says. After earning an architecture degree from Yale, a chance encounter with his former professor led him to a job with Robert A.M. Stern. In 1989, he partnered in the firm Ike Kligerman Barkley, creating celebrated residences until a “conscious uncoupling” this year resulted in the launch of solo practice Kligerman Architecture & Design. His handsome book Shingle and Stone was published last fall. Kligerman lives with his architect wife—mother of their three grown daughters—in New York City and recently built a home in historic Weekapaug, Rhode Island. A sailor and watercolor hobbyist, he is a member of the Whisky Watercolor Club, which travels and paints in locations around the globe.
Your favorite Shingle Style house is Stanford White’s Isaac Bell House in Newport. What are some of its features you admire?
It’s almost but not quite symmetrical, two shades of brick on the front, the double-stack porch wraps the first floor and pops up on the second, the free-flowing interior, the metal colonial bed warmer covers incorporated into the dining room paneling, the abstract bamboo motifs for the columns, the cupboard-like Breton beds reassembled around the centerpiece fireplace, the dolphins that leap out as you go up the porch to the front door.
Why is a Shingle Style house the “equivalent of a soul mate”?
There’s a certain amount of comfort in them. A Shingle Style house absorbs its environment and reflects it in a really nice way. Shingles change appearance, they begin to weather, they evolve and change over time. They have moods the way people do.
What did you gain from your 2017 fellowship at the American Academy in Rome?
I was teaching myself watercolor, and what struck me was looking at the incredible sculptural architecture in the Italian sunlight—the importance of sunlight and shadow in showing off the forms of the building. It reinforced for me that architecture is sculpture.
How does that manifest in the “calico” effect?
It’s the shingle palette of grays and browns. Exposed surfaces have a different shade from protected areas under the porch or window wells. They look one way, silvery, in the sun but then if it’s drizzling, they’re dark. It’s the same family, but a little different—there’s a softness to it. There’s something nice about the variations across the surface on every different side of the building.
You feel your “blade chimney” may be a lasting contribution to the design canon. What inspired it?
It’s a way to reduce the mass of a chimney and make it less bulky. Like the Flatiron Building, it is wide and narrows to a point. So, it changes as you walkaround it, and the pointed side seems weightless.
Why should a house be a “declaration of independence”?
You shouldn’t follow the crowd too much. You can’t be totally outlandish, but within some historical context it behooves us to make some sort of personal statement. Be willing to take some risks, do something that is rooted in the neighborhood but can’t be interpreted as a copy.
What is a building you’d like to design?
I’d love to do a church or library. Both have a ceremonial core, the sanctuary or reading room, a very focused purpose that can be broadened through use.
What do you love about sailing?
It’s beautiful in so many ways: The boat is inherently beautiful, the sail goes up like a beautiful white plane, the sounds of the water lapping and the wind in the rigging, what it’s like to handle the ropes, the wonderful aroma of the teak and the ocean. It is something to almost all of the senses; there are not many things like that. It’s like a good house, sitting on the porch in the sun with the aroma of the wood.
The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Meet the Architect.