Creating a Classic
Old and new blend harmoniously in an updated interpretation of a Georgian Revival farmhouse
By A.J. Loftin â€¢ Photographs by Rob Karosis
Husband wanted new. Wife wanted old. So the couple turned to Crisp Architects, a Millbrook firm with the knack for making new look if not exactly old, at least not glaringly nouveau. The result is an 8,000-square-foot Georgian Revival farmhouse on a high plateau in northern Dutchess County, with porches facing spectacular northwestern views of rolling farmland. And everyone’s happy, so perhaps our story should end here. But don’t you want to know the details?
“Tom and I had been looking in the area for at least a year,” says Jennifer, an attorney turned stay-at-home mom. (At the couple’s request, only first names are being used.) “We both like traditional New England architecture, and I really wanted an old farmhouse. But Tom didn’t want all the problems, so eventually I gave in. We’d seen Jimmy Crisp’s work on other houses in the area, so we knew we could trust him to build something that would fit into the neighborhood. We told him we wanted it to look like it had been there a long time. We also wanted a certain amount of quirkiness, some nooks and crannies. We didn’t want ostentatious spaces. Beyond that, we didn’t have any specifics.”
Putting that amount of trust in an architect can be dangerous, as Frank Lloyd Wright’s clients often discovered. (“You have too many clothes, anyway,” Wright retorted, when one of his clients complained of no closets.) But above all, Jimmy Crisp aims to please. It must be his Southern background, all those years spent in Pumpkin Center, Louisiana. Growing up where life is slow, Crisp learned to respect tradition and the comforts of home. Despite protestations of being frazzled from the recent arrival of a third child, he appears genially calm, evincing not a trace of spit-up on his navy blue blazer or Brooks Brothers tie.
“Jimmy really listens,” Jennifer says. As Crisp heard it, the design challenge was to make a classic clapboard-and-shingle house look like it had evolved over time, perhaps to accommodate several generations of a prospering family. To suggest a series of additions, the architect used numerous rooflines and gables, breaking up what might otherwise be a monolithic faÃ§ade. Copper slides on the roof, and copper roofs over porch and breezeway sections, will add charm once the bronze turns to green.
Visitors can choose from three front entrances, depending on their business. For family members, there’s the mudroom stage right, which leads into the hall off the kitchen. Guests may enter through the front door, a handsome 18th-century reproduction with hand-forged iron fittings; while a third entrance off to the left, connected by a breezeway to the garage, leads to a library and bath that could potentially become a granny wing.
“This house is all about family,” observes Crisp, as I admire the relatively modest scale of the living room, where lowered wooden beams, a bluestone fireplace, and traditional wainscoting help create a cozy feeling of home. The walls are subtly brushed to look textured, like linen or silk. The wide-board floors are cypress, a wood that, Crisp says, “has a warm, soft character.” The multipaned windows and French doors gently enforce the temptation to curl up inside rather than rush outside.
A gracefully colonnaded wooden porch, painted gray, travels the full length of the back of the house, offering the view once exclusively enjoyed by dairy cows. The obligatory two-story main entry hall is framed by a narrow, wraparound balcony on the second floor, the kind of semi-secret space children love. “The detailing takes from vernacular architecture here and in Connecticut, as well as from Greek Revival homes,” Crisp observes.
This house also possesses something seldom seen in new construction: a dining room. The room is intimately scaled, with a ceiling whose expanse is broken by two unfinished 18th-century barn beams, an example of the recycled materials Crisp likes to employ. “We wanted the traditional division of rooms, rather than have everything flowing into the kitchen,” says Jennifer. “We really use the rest of the house. The kids eat in the kitchen, the adults go and have cocktails in the living room and eat in the dining room.”
The kitchen is larger than the dining room, bright and airy, but not glitzy: bead-board walls and ceilings give it a traditional country feel. “In a turn-of-the-century home, you’d find this kind of woodwork in the butler’s pantry,” says Crisp. The kitchen island looks like an antique table, but in fact was custom-made from the same cypress as the floors. The windows above the kitchen sink overlook the swimming pool.
Not far from the kitchen, Crisp built a large, handicapped-ready bathroom. For the moment, since nobody’s handicapped, the family Labrador has shaking rights in the room, after coming in coated with mud and being showered clean.
The upstairs rooms are sensibly laid out along a wide hall. In the master bedroom, 10-foot ceilings and tall picture windows make possible an imaginative trip to blue heaven. Little nooks bring the space down to earth, as does the small sitting room tucked into the eaves that was built as an office for Tom.
The children’s rooms, well-defined along gender lines (airplanes, boys; horses, girl) are also under the eaves, giving that attic feeling one associates with childhood haunts. There’s a playroom invitingly stocked with finger paints, crayons and the like. At one end of the hall a wide, child-friendly staircase leads back down to the kitchen. The guest room, under the eaves facing front, has dormer windows.
“One thing about this house — it does get windy,” remarks Crisp. So he insulated it with Icynene, an environmentally friendly spray foam that keeps the house warm and very quiet. “During construction we were perfectly comfortable, even though we didn’t have heat, and the wind was howling,” Crisp says. Up in the attic, the nontoxic Icynene appears to swell and billow across every surface, giving the delightful impression of walking through a well-lit cave. Crisp used a hydro-air system for heating and air-conditioning, which has air cleaners and humidification built in. He added radiant-floor heat downstairs for winter warmth.
It’s a house that will age well, especially once the landscaping comes into its own and the frame weathers a bit. Crisp declines to take all the credit, citing clients “who couldn’t have been nicer,” contributions by other architects in his practice, and builders and craftsmen whose high standards were self-imposed. “My office is very collaborative,” he says, “and it doesn’t matter to me who comes up with an idea. When we were working on this house, Lin [contractor Linden Chamberlin, of Millerton] would sometimes say, â€˜What do you think about doing this?’ and very often we’d say â€˜That’s a nice idea, let’s do it.’ We’re not about egos.”
Next on the couple’s to-do list is a guest house. “We started off with the idea of a pool house,” says Jennifer, “but then we realized we don’t need a pool house. The one thing we miss is having a great room, like the ones in Adirondack lodges, with a big stone fireplace. We could have a pool table, a fun place to hang out after dinner. And we could have guests who might not be all that comfortable staying in a six a.m. household.” ●