An immense record collection is the centerpiece of this home
The Perlmans’ sizable living room offers space for thousands of jazz records, as well as multiple windows to the beauty of the world around them and entrance to the screened-in porch and wraparound deck, perfect places to enjoy the spring and summer months.
Photos by Peter Peirce
Creating a home can be accomplished in syncopated harmony between architect and client, playing off each other’s solo to achieve the unexpected and unique. One Monterey house is a realization of that dynamic relationship, a showcase of the work of architect Stephen Dietemann, whose creations will be exhibited along with those of three photographers who have documented his work, from March 5 through May 22 at the Berkshire Museum.
Built for Al Perlman, a writer specializing in technology and business, and his wife Carol, a therapist practicing in New York City, the house replaced a lake cottage the couple bought in 2002 that was hanging on for dear life. “The caretaker for the house had been keeping it propped up,” Al says. “Literally, he would go through the house every year and put up two-by-fours to keep the house from collapsing.”
In 2010, the cottage was on its last legs, and a new house was on the horizon. The Perlmans came across photos of Steve Dietemann’s work and knew right away that he was the architect for them. When the three met, the connection was immediate and strong.
Because the new house was to be built on the imprint of the old cottage, there was a limited area to work with. Dietemann’s talent for utilizing space appealed to the couple, and they had other considerations as well. “I wanted to feel like the outside is inside,” Carol says. “I wanted that feeling of spaciousness, that feeling of light. That was important to me. And the second most important thing was space for the records.”
That came first for Al. Vinyl records are his passion, which he shares on his popular website, jazzcollector.com. A record collection the size of Al’s is a consideration most architects never grapple with. With 8,000 discs in total (6,000 of these in Monterey, another 2,000 in a New York City apartment), Dietemann’s challenge was to include them in the space without having them dominate it. That got the architect thinking about the music itself as an organizing principle for the design of the house.
“That notion of jazz could be the metaphoric organizer of the house,” Dietemann explains. “Architecture needs something around which it’s built, not just conceptually. What is jazz? Jazz is structure and whimsy. Structure and serendipity. That’s good jazz. We wanted to do a house that wasn’t predictable but had structure.”
In the expansive main room, Al’s record collection achieves a unique status—it anchors the space but never overtakes it. The room is illuminated by a grid of large windows and sliding doors along the high ceiling and wall, which also frames various perspectives of lake, woods, and sky that alter with the viewer’s vantage point, offering visitors a chance to take in what Carol describes as “a living piece of art.”
The wall-mounted record cabinet was custom designed by Dietemann. It’s comprised of steel casing and bubinga wood, requiring construction even before anything else was in place so that it could be fitted for installation, not
ched into one of the beams of the house. Below it is a matching cabinet with drawers filled with more records—actually several hundred duplicates of albums Al already has in his New York apartment that he just can’t live without in the Berkshires.
The room is adorned with signed photographs of Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker taken by Bill Gottlieb, as well as photography by the Perlman’s daughter and a family photo of Al’s grandmother, Dolores, who sang in a family-owned speakeasy and went under multiple stage names, including Natasha, the Russian Blues Singer. “This is one of the first things we put up in the house because we wanted my grandmother looking over things,” explains Al.
Other rooms surround the living room, including the master bedroom on one side and, diagonal to that, the screened-in porch leading to awraparound deck, both of which become the prime living space for the couple in the summer. Next to these are Al’s office and spare bedroom, both containing more records.
“I’m trying to keep the records at bay, at least not in the master bedroom,” says Carol.
One thing that did make it into the master bedroom are a couple of record players, including an old Califone used especially for 78 rpms. There is a similar setup in Al’s office; and in the living room is yet another turntable matched with an RCA Orthophonic, antique, wind-up record player from the 1940s. It is a house teeming with jazz, accessible from any room.
Along with the vinyl-filled house of the couple’s dreams came a friendship. The end of the project did not mean Dietemann’s exit from the Perlmans’ lives. If anything, he has become more a part of it, most notably as a bandmate in The Clients, a group that plays around casually, including a house concert in the Perlman’s big living room that has brought live music into the home.
Music and jazz have wrapped themselves around the entire structure the Perlmans and Dietemann have created, bringing a richer experience for all. The couple might spend part of their time in New York City because of their work, but their heart lives year-round in Monterey.
“This house is our home,” Carol says. “When we come here, we come home.”