In a world gone digital, we’re all staring at screens. But when sister architects Gisue and Mojgan Hariri set out to design a country house in the Hudson Valley, three hours north of New York City, they thought analog, even though their client makes his living in IT and wanted a smart house he could manage by pushing buttons back in Manhattan.
So the Hariris, co-founders of Hariri & Hariri Architecture, started the design process by walking the wooded 140-acre property. “We wanted to see what the site had to offer,” Gisue says. “The materials, the juxtaposition of things, the poetry.” The architects put on their boots to wade into what had been, judging by rocks piled in rows, a farm long since reclaimed by nature. Gradually decisions about where the house would best be sited added up to a master plan that structured access, views, and the placement of features like meadows.
Then there was the issue of character, just how the house should feel and make common cause with the landscape. The wrinkled bark of the property’s many centenarian trees hinted that any building should have tactile surfaces. “The textures were gorgeous, down to the bunches of mushrooms sprouting on fallen trunks,” Gisue says. “We didn’t want to make an elaborate structure that looked as if it had been beamed from the moon.” The architects looked at surrounding farms where outbuildings mixed with houses and barns in a friendly klatch of structures. Older buildings tended to list under the strain of years and bales of hay.
Listening to the land, reading its forms, and acknowledging vernacular buildings, the Hariris avoided the notion of a house that dominated the land like a McMansion. As a bachelor, the client didn’t need a big family home, but to scale the place down even further, the architects divided the residence into components, organizing what they called “pods” into a cluster of shapes that reduced its overall profile.
To the sound of gravel crunching under tires, owner and guests now arrive at the center of a wagon train of one-story, wood-paneled buildings that pinwheel around a motor court. On one side, there’s the 4,500-square-foot main house, which includes the living and dining areas and kitchen, with an attached master bedroom, guest room, and garage, the parts hyphenated to each other by a connecting structure with a slightly lower roof. Two outbuildings—a 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom guesthouse and a combination gym and equipment pavilion—complete the circle of buildings.
Abstracting rather than mimicking the shapes of neighboring vernacular buildings, the Hariris designed straightforward, boxlike sheds with open ends and corners. These offer plate-glass views toward the 18 acres of meadow they staked out on the original site, tagging trees they and the owner wanted saved. The low-roof connector between the boxes gives the ensemble a second, more intimate scale. One wall per shed leans at an angle, which recalls lapsing farm buildings while bringing dynamism to the composition with a contemporary gesture. The architects also abstracted the textures of the surrounding woods, cladding the sheds in ipe, a rich, dark Brazilian walnut, and wrapping
the two fireplaces—one in the living area, the other in an open loggia next to the pool—with interlocking panels of stacked slate.
For the interior, the client turned to Thom Filicia, a Manhattan-based designer who also has a weekend place in upstate New York. He reinforced the house’s relationship to the landscape with colors and textures that established an indoor-outdoor kinship. “We wanted to make sure the
interior was clean and simple enough not to fight the architecture or the views,” Filicia says. “We mixed natural materials—stone, wood, woven grass cloth—to create a layered, organic look that makes the house feel warm, comfortable, and inviting.”
But these days, nature is no longer simple and local. The house that looks so appropriate for the site also fits into a larger, greener picture. The architects tapped into geothermal wells for heat and, with a Minimalist eye, arrayed a bank of large solar panels at the edge of the meadow. They used sustainable materials and passive building techniques to reduce the carbon footprint; computers monitor temperature; and the compound generates enough electricity to give back to the grid.
Centuries ago debate raged about whether nature is better cultivated or left to its own devices. Today, in a time of global warming, building architectural smarts into a project is a tool of sustainability, so the house the Hariris designed draws not only on nature but on IT. Their country retreat may be more natural than nature because they deployed technology to achieve a deep working relationship with the environment, creating a smart ecosystem within the sensitive larger one. For anyone driving into the motor court, the ipe and slate may signal the environmental intentions of the house, but for the gentleman pushing the buttons back in Manhattan, the house is green down to its fastest chip.
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Project Team: Markus Randler: Hariri & Hariri Architecture. Melanie Dennis: Thom Filicia. Wagner Hodgson Landscape Architecture: Landscaping Consultant. Precision Audio Visual: Audiovisual Consultant. Robert Silman Associates: Structural Engineer. IP Group: MEP. Patrick J. Prendergast: Civil Engineer. M.J. Larkin & Co.: General Contractor.
Product Sources: From Top: Doris Leslie Blau: Rugs (Living Area, Master Bedroom). Holly Hunt; Donghia: Sofa Upholstery (Living Area, Media Room). Dennis Miller: Bench (Living Area). Lee Jofa: Bench Upholstery. Through 1stdibs: Vintage Armchair. Ja Designs: Armchair Upholstery. MOS Design: Coffee Tables. Christopher O’hayre: Andirons. Holly Hunt: Chairs (Dining Area). Donghia: Chair Upholstery. Lindsey Adelman: Chandelier. Wyeth Home: Custom Table. BDDW: Sideboard. Lobel Modern: Lamp. Amuneal: Custom Cabinets (Kitchen). Elkay: Faucet. Julien: Sink. Sedgwick & Brattle: Custom Light Fixture (Master Bath), Nightstands (Master Bedroom), Sink (Powder Room), Table Lamp, Chandelier (Media Room). Lepere: Chair (Study). The Future Perfect: Pendant Fixture. Hygge & West: Wall Covering. Bright Group: Mirror (Powder Room). Caba Company: Wall Covering. Phoenix Custom Furniture: Custom Bed (Master Bedroom). Moore & Giles: Bedhead Leather Upholstery. Zoffany: Curtain Fabric. Walters Wicker: Chaise Longues (Pool Terrace). American Pool: Pool, Spa. Aero: Side Chairs (Media Room). Saba: Lounge Chair. Kravet: Coffee Tables. Through Olivier Fleury: Cabinet. French Accents: Area Rug. Studio Four: Custom Pillows. Jim Thompson: Curtain Fabric. Throughout: Abs Wood: Siding, Rainscreen. Artistic Tile: Tiles. Arcadia: Windows. Cardinal Glass Industries: Glazing. Alfredo Salvatori: Flooring, Countertops. Phillip Jeffries: Wall Covering.