To accommodate an active brood of four kids, a visionary Pound Ridge couple embrace an open floorplan, modern design, and a breathtaking view.
By Julia Lange
Photography by Thomas Moore
Sweeping views of the 4,700-acre Ward Pound Ridge Reservation are seen from the deck.
Sometimes, the only thing standing in the way of a spectacular home is, well, the house.
In 1996, a certain Pound Ridge property had all the makings of paradise found. The 4.2 hilly acres boasted a private brook-fed and frog-festooned pond accessible by a pair of footbridges. Ledges offered sweeping views of the untouchable 4,700-acre Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. A toboggan-ready trail snaked down and across its steep slope. Guests wouldn’t be faulted for imagining they saw fairies frolicking among the lichen-covered boulders.
The spare, modern three-story staircase sets the tone for the home’s design. The artwork and the entryway table—a modern twist on Ming style—are whimsical touches that greet guests.
But inside the house, one would never have known such a wonderland existed. Inside were a rabbit warren of small rooms, tiny hallways, and ill-positioned walls that all but obscured the vistas out back. Not to mention that the house, built in 1982 as a retirement retreat for an older couple, and its two meager bedrooms could hardly accommodate an active family of six, or so its present homeowners, who toured it 11 years ago, concluded.
A sculptural Ultrasuede sofa from Vladimir Kagan takes center stage in the living room. An ottoman is covered with a woven Donghia fabric and topped with a lucky find: an Indian brass tray in the exact same size. A Barbara Barry chair from the owners’ previous home was reupholstered in a velvet eggplant-colored fabric from Larsen. Rough-hewn chestnut columns were swapped for ones of elliptical polished walnut.
“It was a lot of wasted space,” says Laurel Bern, a Goldens Bridge-based interior designer who has worked with the family for a decade.
The three-story staircase, with its modern wood screen that soars from the basement to a large second-floor skylight, doubles as the home’s artistic focal point. The banister is an arched piece of ash, and oak-and-steel risers support steps created from murado, a black-streaked, rich brown wood from
The estate looked more like paradise lost—until the spring of 2002, when the patriarch, a literary agent with A-list clients, was on the prowl for more space than his increasingly cramped Katonah ranch would allow. After spying an ad in the local paper for a spacious Pound Ridge home, he checked out the place, not recognizing that it was the same dark house he had walked through six years before.
A swirled mocha Paul Smith rug complements Holly Hunt’s comfortable reading chairs—a must for the owner, a top literary agent—and an ottoman covered in dotted Osborne & Little fabric. The ceiling is papered in coppery, lizard-print vinyl.
The architects extended the master bedroom by eight feet, raised the roof one-and-a-half feet, and added a curved window seat. Gold silk dupioni drapes behind the bed create a stage-like setting; the color of the walls was inspired by the fabric shade. Side tables by Barbara Barry flank a custom-made bed with a headboard covered in Ultrasuede.
In the master bathroom, tiled in taupe and brown marble, a built-in piece not only houses bathroom accessories and toiletries, but the bathtub’s faucet and spout. Stars are visible through the window when using the Philippe Starck-designed tub at night.
Interim owners had torn down enough walls to open up the space. Walking into the first floor, the prospective homeowner could see through to the daffodils dotting the lawn. He was sold.
riginally owned by a cartographer, the house had, not surprisingly, been designed with the land in mind, says architect Robert Zagaroli III of New York-based Lynn Gernert Architects. It’s “just that the inside was wrong,” he explains. Thus, during more than two years of design and construction with its new homeowners, Zagaroli, Gernert, and
Deep brown cabinets with contemporary brushed-nickel hardware and poured concrete countertops are a just-right fit in this modern kitchen. The kitchen island has a raised edge meant to evoke a serving tray. The natural textures and colors provide a neutral background for eclectic accessories such as bar stools by Philippe Starck for Kartell and Mercury Glass pendants.
They continued to open up the main living area. The eight-foot ceilings, however, were untouchable because of structural limitations. “How you make a house feel more expansive without going tall is to go wide,” Zagaroli says. So they ripped off the moldings, which at six-to-eight inches high “were way out of scale” with eight-foot ceilings, Gernert says. They moved and modernized columns from their square, rough-hewn chestnut state to elliptical polished walnut.
(One stood awkwardly where a dining-room chair would naturally sit.) They enlarged the windows and installed steel doors with large glass panes to let in even more light and view—and sound. Sometimes the family has to shut the windows because the bullfrogs croak so loudly.
Upstairs, the team raised the roof, adding nine dormers to let the bedrooms share in the scenery. For the four kids, today ages 11 to 17, they divided the space into two wings: the first, for the two girls, looks directly over the pool and down to the pond, and the second, for the boys, is nestled among the treetops. The master suite moved to the second floor, above the garage (but a safe distance from the kids’ rooms).
The marble-topped kitchen table is used for dinner, homework, and Saturday-morning pancakes. A built-in bookshelf holds cookbooks and pitchers.
Zagaroli, Gernert, and
Other decidedly non-country components include the powder room’s gold-leaf wallpapered ceiling and the library’s persimmon woven cellulose window seat “for just a punch of color,”
Bern designed the custom-made dining table 10 years ago for the homeowners’ previous home. The Barbara Barry chairs were reupholstered in a Donghia fabric for the new residence. The sideboard is by Baker.
Although the majority of the homeowners’ furniture was purchased new, there’s at least one antique, tweaked to give it the trappings of modernity. In a corner of the polished granite, sleek stainless-steel, and cast-concrete kitchen is a loveseat that the matriarch would curl up in as a child, the horsehair stuffing poking into her, a special piece that once belonged to her great-grandmother.
One unifying design factor is the MirÃ³-reminiscent runner that greets guests as they walk through the formal entrance. The colorful, random ovals are balanced by a subtle, ornate scroll print. Like the rug, “the whole house is very contemporary, but you have these traditional elements throughout,”
A Moss chandelier has crystals suspended vertically, like icicles.
Here’s another structure that joins the house together, literally and stylistically: the three-story main staircase. The original switchback stairs looked like something out of a college dorm, “almost like fire stairs,” Gernert says. Now, “it’s a mini-representation of everything in the house,” Zagaroli says. A wood screen wall, painted crackled off-white like faux shagreen, rises from the basement to a generous second-floor skylight. The banister is an arched piece of ash and oak. Steel risers support steps made of murado, a black-streaked, rich brown wood from
An Indian chest is covered in pressed silver from Odegard.
But as aesthetically interesting as the staircase may be, the family soon discovered its open plan had a functional limitation in terms of muffling noise. Originally, the kids had stationed their drum set down in the basement by the foosball table, and the beat would bang throughout the house. So Gernert and Zagaroli created a garage-band practice space of sorts in an auspicious location: above the new, oversized two-car garage, a structure that sits apart from the house. The spacious hang-out-cum-drum room—which brought the living space to 10,000 square feet—has already hosted a 40-child party and an Irish step class and will soon shelter a pool table. With its curved wood ceiling and capacious use of glass and metal, the room replicates many of the details of the main house.
Sliding glass doors offer views down toward the crimson canoe and sturdy wood bench parked by the pond. The pond has performed as an ice-skating surface for the family during the winter, while in spring the rolling lawn serves as grounds for Easter egg hunting. The soundtrack to the festivities is the neighbors’ waterfall. No wonder mom is loath to kick out the pipe-smoking, paint-flecked gnome who lives in the yard among the lounge chairs and the sundial. He’s probably frolicking with the fairies.
Julia Lange is a freelance writer who lives in