White space, according to Brian Messana, is calm and refreshing, like a breath of fresh air. “We love the way it is very honest,” says Messana, AIA, “and the way natural light changes it during the day.” He and firm partner Toby O’Rorke, RIBA, find richness in the subtle variations on white, like the Manhattan apartment whose kitchen mixes monochromatic materials: white marble countertops, white lacquered cabinets, and etched glass. Clean and collected, their projects read as peaceful respites from the city’s visual clutter.

“Architecture involves so many moving components—clients, program, site, budget,” Messana says. “We put each issue through a sieve to end up with a clear, concise project.” That approach is on display at the Ten Broeck Cottage, a simple 18th-century farmhouse in upstate New York. After stripping the house of some cumbersome appendages, a long, low addition was attached to the house with a continuous glass “gasket” and wrapped in deep red-patinaed Cor-Ten panels, providing point and counterpoint. Inside, century-old wide board floors and beams commingle appealingly with new materials such as limestone, glass, and stainless steel.

How people move through space, how a wall meets the floor, where a thermostat is placed on a wall—the architects attend to every design layer to create spaces that are pure, surprising, and pleasant to be in. “Being a reductive architect is not only emotionally but also intellectually engaging,” Messana says. “You have to want to be free from all the possibilities.”

What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?

We feel like we transform the way people live their lives. Once they see the physical space unfold in front of them and move through it, they are surprised by how it influences their life.

What is the most frustrating aspect?

When people don’t engage in the project.

What is your mission statement or firm goal?

To elevate the lives of our clients.

What is the most indispensable tool in your office?

The computer.

What software does your firm use?

Vectorworks and SketchUp.

Who is your ideal client?

Someone who is interested in design but not in running the project; they’re engaged, surprised, and excited.

What is your favorite building?

Seattle Public Library, by Rem Koolhaas.

If you didn’t have the time to design your own house, who would you hire?

John Pawson, Thomas Phifer, or Tadao Ando.