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Issue Date: April 2003 Issue

Where the Wild Homes Are

Diane DiPiero

Cool on the Outside, Warm on the Inside

How can something so stark be so warm and appealing?

Owner : Pankaj & Neelam Shah
City : Avon
Built : 1999
Extremity Factor : 10

From the outside, it looks like a giant square cake frosted with smooth white icing and topped by a domelike crown. Inside, the 8,000-square-foot Avon home reveals curved walls, gently carved niches, thick pillars and bumped-out walls and windows that seem to extend the rooms into the surrounding woods. A massive circular skylight in the center of the open-plan living area casts a warm glow on patterned granite flooring from India. A glass ceiling in the dining room makes for dramatic eating, rain or shine. Custom seating in velvety purple and orange fabrics flows with the lines of the walls.

Bold yet subtle, cool and inviting, the contemporary house owned by Dr. Pankaj Shah and his wife, Neelam, sits at the end of a row of traditional homes. But the Shahs didn't build the house to show off or stand out from the crowd; they say it suits their tastes and needs.

"We wanted steel framing and we wanted the house to be open and light," explains Pankaj. Unable to find an existing home that matched their requirements, they contacted architect James Rappaport of Daroff Design in Philadelphia.

Daroff Design, which specializes in commercial design, typically takes on one residential project a year. After meeting with the Shahs, Rappaport excitedly agreed to work with them. "We think it's a very important house," he says.

In addition to steel framing, Rappaport and builder SM Fox of Elyria employed 4-inch-thick concrete flooring, commercial-grade windows and a state-of-the-art heating system that distributes warmth through the floor. Each of the four bedrooms on the main level boasts a skylight, and tall windows line up on the house's north and south sides. Custom mirrors and vanities in the hall and bathrooms mimic the design's curves and circles.

The house bears signs of vastu, the Indian equivalent of feng shui. All of the beds are situated so that a person's head faces south. According to vastu, a body goes against the natural flow of energy if it faces north. "We tried to follow [vastu] as much as possible," says Pankaj.

The Shahs and their two children especially enjoy the house at night, when the starry sky seems to poke through the skylights. Because the house is nestled in a wooded area, the family doesn't feel as if they're living in a fishbowl. "There's lots of glass and yet there's total privacy," says Pankaj. Just one more delightful paradox in this house of contrasts.

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