BELSEY & MAHLA: Upstate New York Stone House

The back of the house includes a Shaker-style porch for gatherings and dining. The western windows offer views of the sunset. The private study on the second floor overlooks a 400-year-old oak tree.

While this is not a 19th-century small form-follows-function stone house, it is an amazingly practical home designed by the Manhattan firm of BELSEY & MAHLA.

Few would be surprised to find a classic, stately stone house set atop 300 acres of land in upstate New York’s Columbia County. But most would be shocked to find the house is brand new.

After five years of design and construction, Belsey & Mahla completed the house in 2016. “Our client wanted to have a house that looks like it’s always been here,” declares architect Erika Belsey. “He wanted to give you that incredible sense of place when you walk into a stone house.”

In addition to that sense of place, but unlike century-old stone houses that have always been here, this one maximizes the terrain, utilizes modern building techniques and controls all elements of construction. For starters, the house is wood-framed because earthquake codes now prohibit traditional stone house construction. The exterior walls are 26 inches thick. It has a geothermal system and the stones for the façade were brought in from Pennsylvania, rather than dug up from the property, an earlier practice dictated by necessity.

Unlike stone homes that are genuinely old, this home will actually stand the test of time. “This house is built to last another thousand years,” explains Belsey. “All the materials are genuine all the way through and it’s a passive house for ecological reasons.”

According to Belsey, what you see is what you get. “Nothing in the house was supposed to be modern in a loud modernly way. We adapted old ideas into how we live today,” shares Belsey. “It’s really upfront – there’s no mystery to it.” The double-wide, red front doors open to a quiet, cool foyer, and the wood throughout is reclaimed. The center-hall house has a kitchen on the right and the living room on the left. But the deep, recessed huge windows offer natural light throughout – and views all around. Stissing Mountain is off in the distance and at the top of the stairs is a long skinny window, so looking upward all you see is sky. A window in the study frames a 400-year-old oak tree.The porch dining area offers an alternative to the kitchen.

Depending on the season and the light, there is always a room for relaxation amid the 2,000-square-foot ground floor, the three upstairs bedrooms and three baths. “It’s a house meant to be able to function very comfortably. You can have huge parties or be there with two or three people and not feel there are rooms you don’t go into.” The Shaker-inspired porch in the back of the house is perfect for spring and summer, and its westward windows offer grand views of sunsets. The study, which sits atop the porch, is only entered through the second-floor master bedroom – via a secret door.Purchased online, these portraits represent past officers of a local Belgian Chamber of Commerce.

The owner, a writer, envisions creating a greater community. One friend already bought an existing farmhouse and two other areas on the property are being sold to friends. The remaining property will be turned into a land trust.

“It’s a fantasy house,” expresses Belsey. “There’s the timelessness of it, but it’s also practical.”

Photography by Garrett Rowland.

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