When Jack Bamberger, a 40-something Manhattan resident, started to yearn for a weekend place near his friends’ house in Ulster County, he took the usual approach — looking at houses for sale. His partner, Bradley Jacobs (a magazine editor known as BJ), was not all that enthusiastic about the whole house-in-the-country idea, but he gamely went along. “It was my dream,” Bamberger admits. “We’d go and explore, and we ended up seeing a lot of houses that weren’t great quality and were very overpriced.” Then their broker showed them a piece of property in Mt. Tremper with a wonderful view of the mountain — and at a price that Bamberger says was “not ridiculous.” Bamberger, a media executive, had once considered becoming an architect. “My creative juices started flowing about creating a house instead of just buying one,” he says. The couple purchased the land. A bonus, Bamberger merrily notes, was that building from scratch would take a while, so “it gave BJ a chance to digest the fact that we were getting a house.”
At the time, Woodstock architect Barry Price was designing what Bamberger calls “traditional Woodstockian houses.” But, Bamberger says, “I saw immediately his desire to do something more contemporary and stretch himself. He has a love of modern architecture, but he’s grounded in the area. I told him: I want a house in the country, not a country house. I want something modern, but not cold. And I want it to fit with the environment, so not one of these crazy-modern houses that would be an eyesore.”
Windows in the expansive main room (left) frame the mountain view to the north, while exposed steel beams and angled ceilings help define the kitchen, dining, and living areas. The owners chose comfortable, contemporary furnishings in a neutral palette to suit the country setting. Apart from Jonathan Adler pottery, there is no art to distract from the scenery. In the kitchen (at right), honed bluestone counters and a backsplash of earth-toned Bisazza glass tiles add rustic polish
Price was interested in the challenge, but he’d already refused a commission for a flat-roofed, California-modern house that he thought wouldn’t be appropriate in the Hudson Valley, where we have to deal with snow and rain. To be certain that the project would suit both him and his clients, Price had Bamberger and Jacobs define what they were after. “He made us write a proposal as to what we wanted the house to be — how we’d use it, what we wanted it to feel like — before he even chose to work with us,” Bamberger recalls. “It was basically a brief, and he took that content to create a proposal for us, to show what he was capable of. It was hard, but once we got that done, we talked about details. I’d collected hundreds of pictures and tear sheets from magazines, so it was easy to point to what I liked.”
“What my studio is trying to do is make a regional modernism — that’s our guiding principal,” Price says. “This was the first real opportunity to make the kind of house — stylistically — that I’d been wanting to make. I’m interested in how you take the lines and elements of modern architecture and translate that into something that works in this region,” he goes on. “In this house, I did it in very simple ways using a palette of local materials: rough-sawn cedar siding, finished to look liked it had aged naturally; dry-laid bluestone; galvanized aluminum on the roof and on the trim band that’s like a belt that cinches the whole building together. The metal refers to barns and agricultural buildings. The critical thing was to take the language of flat-roof modernism and literally tilt it up and create a sloped-roof solution.”
There were a couple of challenges in creating the two-story house. One was the constraints of the site, which had already been cleared for another house that burned to the ground before construction was completed. A roughed-in driveway that zigzags up the slope like a switchback proved to be an inspiration. “The siting was a given,” Price says. “So to make the house feel integrated with the site, with views on both levels, it seemed natural to make the rooflines slope up to a high point, and then slope up again, so the roofline looks like a switchback,” and mirrors the driveway, he notes.
Ribbon corner windows are a Price signature, but the view perfectly framed in the clerestory window above the dining area was a “happy accident,” he says
Another problem was that the house had to face north, toward the view. “Technically you want as few windows as possible on the north side,” Price notes. “It would have been easy to make the north wall all glass, but you have to think about performance and sustainability, and make a house you can heat and cool efficiently. The trick was to make the house feel like it had a lot of glass on the north side without actually having a lot of glass on the north side.”
Price accomplished that with ribbon windows in the kitchen, and one glass corner wall to frame the mountain view on the north side, and capture the sunset on the west. “The idea was that as you move through the house the mountain will always be there,” the architect says. “My favorite is when you’re walking downstairs — midway there’s a view of the mountain through the horizontal window above the dining area. It’s a happy accident, but don’t tell anyone.”
The driveway ends at a carport and the entrance. “I abhor the notion of a house with a formal front entry, but everyone comes in through the garage,” Price says. “I like to make the entrance be the door everybody uses, to carry in groceries or welcome guests — both formal and everyday.”
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Master plan: One of the owners’ favorite aspects of the house is waking up to the stunning view from the master bedroom. A doorway leads to a balcony atop the carport
Inside, the kitchen, dining, and living areas flow into one another in one expansive space. The slope of the ceiling helps differentiate each area. A media room, a bathroom, storage, and utility areas occupy the rear of the ground floor. Upstairs, there are three bedrooms, two more baths, and plenty of storage.
At the end of the living room, what looks like a door to the outside leads to a screened dining porch. It, and the patio in front of it, make the most of the view, but the porch is tucked away so discreetly that “in winter it’s gone,” Price says. “Screened porches are dead spaces, and can be an obstacle to the outside. Here, they can rediscover it every year. I usually like to put them closer to the kitchen, but it’s just a short walk with a tray.”
The master bath (left) overlooks the wooded property in the rear. At right, a patio (just visible through the glass corner wall) and a screened dining porch are discreetly tucked beyond the end of the living room so that they are not obtrusive, “dead” spaces in winter
Bamberger chose furniture from companies like Room & Board and Desiron, with beds and basics from Pottery Barn and West Elm. “I wanted comfy modern that’s affordable,” he says. “Not too modern, so semi-mid-century modern-esque, with clean lines that would work in the country.” The whole house is painted white with contrasting dark wood floors and cabinetry. “It’s simple without being stark,” he notes.
Apart from fanciful Jonathan Adler pottery on counters and end tables, there’s very little art — and nothing hanging on the walls. “We wanted the outside to be the art,” Bamberger says. “One of my favorite parts of the house is the view from the master bedroom — it looks like a big-screen TV of the mountain.”
Ramping up: Price designed the award-winning, 2,800-square-foot home so that its sloped rooflines — necessary to shed water — reflect the switchback driveway that approaches it
Price is proud of his first Catskills modern house, which in 2008 won the High Honor award for best new residence from the Westchester/Mid-Hudson chapter of the AIA. “The best houses are collaborations,” he says. “Jack was really engaged in the details. We spent a lot of time on the phone, looking at Web sites. I didn’t want them to feel that they designed it — I’m arrogant enough to want that myself — but it needed to reflect them.”
Bamberger is delighted with the result. And Jacobs, who first had misgivings, now considers the house “a wonderful escape,” he says. “I love waking up in nature and seeing the stars at night. We bring up friends, cook big dinners, have too many martinis, then wake up and see a big mountain. It’s fantastic all year long.”