Let there be light

Not the most tangible of dividers but natural light defines and informs the interior of this decidedly open-plan, long-span mountain home

Designed by HGX Design

From the architect:

Illuminating approach – harnessing light to define boundaries

This ground-up home built on a ridge overlooking the Catskill Mountains was commissioned for an owner with multiple residences who envisioned a retreat providing scenic views of the surrounding mountains, serenity, and a gathering place for family.

The centerpiece of a 14ha property, the elongated home runs from north to south on the highest point of the property, with views of the mountain range to the west.

Set among the rolling hills of primarily rural farmland, access to the home winds its way up a hillside to a front entry court on top of a ridge. 

Expansive glass panelling immediately draws attention into the home, while simultaneously framing the mountainous horizon beyond. 

In contrast to the vertical ascent, and the massive verticality of the mountain range to the west, the home itself extends horizontally along the entirety of the ridge. 

Comprised of a series of utilitarian, simple form buildings with a repetitive vertical rhythm, the home’s elongated footprint is reminiscent of the long, low-lying characteristics of agricultural buildings that dot the surrounding regional landscape.

Hal Goldstein, AIA, founder and creative director of HGX says there are many ways to form relationships with nature, including by juxtaposing or by blending in.

“After exploring multiple design possibilities, we decided to embrace this project as a sort of typology of its own, without any preconceptions of what that typology must look like.”

A seamless blend of earth and sky

Custom-stained external cedar siding, a classic and durable material, provides an inspirational nod to the character of the home’s agricultural neighbours. 

The siding harmoniously blends with 4m glass panels that provide the home with breathtaking transparency, and the materials interact with the sun to capture the colours of the surrounding earth and sky.

“The house meets the sky in a very minimal way, while remaining lightly seated on the ground,” says Goldstein. 

“It’s a predictable system that flows like a piece of music, with subtle tone-on-tone interactions with the elements that bring the colours and material palette to life throughout the day.”

Devoid of any roof overhang, the cedar siding, the glass panels, and their interactions with the elements collectively ensure minimal separation between the interior and exterior, and contribute greatly to the ambiance of the residence. 

On hot, sunny days, natural light filters through the expansive windows to interact with the silvery wash of the interior’s custom-stained walnut flooring, infusing cooler accents of blue into the interior. 

At night, or when the weather outside is cooler, warmer tones emerge from the colour and material palette.

Through its floor-to-ceiling windows, and an elongated skylight, the home is laid out to capture morning sunlight from the east, and the setting sun to the west, helping define distinct spaces within a wide-open floorplan.

“Daylight casts shadows throughout the home, creating natural separations and boundaries that provide a sense of privacy in the designed spaces,” says Goldstein. 

“Privacy is created by distance, and every step of that distance presents a unique moment, whether it be a view, a piece of art, or a ray of light projecting onto a wall.”

Transparent boundaries

The intimacy of the home’s smartly laid out spaces defy the traditional expectations of an open plan, with 3.5m ceilings throughout. 

Each space is just one-room deep, or approximately 8.5m wide, injecting a uniform purity into the totality of the volumes. 

Separations are defined by sunlight during the day, and artificial light at night, and the free-flowing spaces benefit from airflow from east to west, as well as north to south. 

There are no barriers to the visual or physical flow of the home, and a series of internal textures, including brickwork and exposed ceiling beams, further soak up the elements to introduce their unique interactive qualities.

Bookended by a master suite at one end of the home, and a series of three guest accommodations at the other, the interior includes a dining room, a kitchen, and a living room in the central portion, as well as a basement with a gym and media room, and a garage. 

Weaving through the central living spaces, select works of art from the owner’s private collection are strategically positioned to provide surprises at every turn.

Distinctions of light

In the evening, the home’s external façade blends into its surrounding environment, while the interior comes to life like a carefully curated gallery. 

A warm glow emanates from pools of light within the larger volumes; creating focal points that extend beyond the spaces they occupy to greet visitors arriving from the external entry court.

Artificial lighting is kept to a minimum, with recessed lighting focusing on the art, walls, and centre of activity within the house. 

Between the living spaces, lighting levels drop off, further contributing to perceptions of separation between a series of intimately lit spaces. 

A few decorative fixtures are also strategically placed to provide added focus and intimacy to the spaces they illuminate.

“The land, the views, and the architecture combine in ways that contribute to a very spiritual place,” says Hal Goldstein. 

“The overall flow is truly musical, like individual notes of a musical composition, which was the goal of our work from the beginning.”

Credit list

Scott Frances; aerial shots by Peter Aaron
CofH Builders Inc.
Landscape architects
Wagner Hodgson

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