Sidnam Petrone Gartner Architects designs a house adapted to a naturally terraced site in suburban New York.
Abby Bussel -- Interior Design, 9/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Some clients haven't a clue what they want. Others can picture their dream domicile in Technicolor; they look for inspiration in magazines like this one, they look to design tomes and reference volumes, to landmarks of bygone eras and icons of epic design movements. The owner of a rocky site in Westchester—the tony county just north of Manhattan—was clear, if rather ambitious, about the inspiration behind her new house. "She wanted Fallingwater," says William Petrone of New York-based Sidnam Petrone Gartner Architects.
In addition to lots of glass and cantilevers, reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's 1936 masterpiece, his client also wanted privacy from neighboring houses that sit just a stone's throw from the long, relatively narrow parcel. The architects resolved to give their client, an antiques dealer, the drama and privacy she wanted, if not the overhangs and horizontal orientation of Wright's design.
Like Fallingwater, the connection between the built and the natural drives the design of the three-level Westchester house. "We tried to sit lightly on the land," says Petrone. Large rock outcroppings form terraces across the 1.5-acre site as the land slopes to the stream at the east end of the site. The outcroppings were left largely undisturbed, although some blasting was required to accommodate an on-grade entrance into the house.
Rising from the rocks on the site's largest natural terrace, the house exploits the contours of the land. Varying degrees of privacy are achieved as the house steps down and away from the street toward the stream. The 4,260-sq.-ft. residence is organized into two interconnected volumes that link the upper and lower levels of the rock ledge. (Porches and terraces add an extra 1,600 sq. ft. of living space to the house.) The upper, stucco-clad volume, which sits closest to the street, shields the interior from the surrounding neighborhood. The lower volume is wrapped in glass, opening the house to the wooded landscape and the stream below. Nestled between this glass box and facing the rock ledge is an open-air extension of the living area. The glass "great room" contains common areas—kitchen, dining room, and living room—in a 16-ft. volume that offers three exposures. Private spaces, guest rooms, and service functions are housed in the upper volume, perpendicular to the rock ledge. The main stairway, which connects the entry level at the top of the ledge to the floor of the great room at its bottom, is a "ghostly," semitransparent element, Petrone says. Its perforated stainless-steel plate risers and stainless-steel wire railing create a transitional link between the transparency of the glass box and the opacity of the stucco-clad bedroom wing.
The client also had specific ideas about the interior. She wanted exposed steel and unadorned surfaces, including windows without coverings. "She didn't describe it as a warehouse, but that was the idea we had," explains Petrone, who designed the interiors with Mark Gould and Kathryn Walton. The trusses exposed in the great room are a mixture of galvanized tubing and steel top and bottom cords. Beams and columns were allowed to rust a little bit, sealing in the milling process. The gallery-like concrete floor and industrial quality of the raw structure highlight the client's collection of furniture, which includes pieces by Mies and Le Corbusier.
The slope of the perforated-metal pan ceiling in the great room was calculated "to gather and reflect light from the setting sun into the living areas." During the winter months, the slope filters western light through the room, casting shadows of the great room's structure across the lawn—an ephemeral connection between the natural and the constructed.