Field Work in the Hudson Valley

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[caption id=”attachment_28596″ align=”alignleft” width=”300″]Alexander Gorlin Hudson Valley Farm Catskill NY Linking the original farmhouse with the modern annex of the home is a transitional foyer filled with wood, stone and glass.[/caption]

Alexander Gorlin never expected that his architecture career would include an archeological experience, but that’s just what he encountered when he undertook a renovation project in the Hudson Valley.

The owners wanted to modernize what had become a 1950s style home and to emphasize its scenic Catskills location.

“The house is perched on the edge of a hill that overlooks a river bottom; it’s framed with hills on either side in a triangular shape,” describes Gorlin. “It’s just filled with outstanding views.” And, they soon discovered, a lot of history.

Beneath the Formica and sheetrock home was a stunning 1761 stone farmhouse. “It was almost barely visible,” recalls Gorlin. “It was like an archaeological find.” Removing the ceiling revealed rough, huge, beautiful beams – one stamped with 1761 on the side.

They uncovered the insulation of the time – newspapers dating back to the 1800s – and Gorlin knew he’d found the focal point of his renovation. “Originally, the clients wanted to do things on either side of the farmhouse, but it would have been overwhelming,” he explains. “My idea was to create pavilions.” It was a way to defer to the historical significance and beauty of the site, and to complement a modern lifestyle.

Converted into a great entertainment room, the farmhouse became the engine in a train of buildings. The other structures focused on an entrance pavilion, a kitchen/dining area and a bedroom wing. They all relate to the other existing barns on the site, which is still used as a working farm.

“We wanted to be understated,” Gorlin notes. “Everything was to defer to the farmhouse and the views.”

[caption id=”attachment_28598″ align=”alignright” width=”300″]Alexander Gorlin Hudson Valley Farm Catskill NY Alexander Gorlin Hudson Valley Farm Catskill NY[/caption]

Now, visitors to this Leeds, NY home come upon structures that seem to be subtly nestled on the horizon, but upon entering the home’s main pavilion, expansive windows give way to the beauty beyond.

“The view doesn’t know what it is until someone knows that it’s there,” says Gorlin, “and that view can be framed by the architecture. It’s a very bold landscape.”

When initially built in the 1700s, the farmhouse provided shelter and protection. The land was where food was grown for survival. Small window openings allowed light in but kept cold out. Thick walls created a solid foundation, and a small living area meant less space to heat when fireplaces were the main source of warmth. Keeping the integrity of that original structure was something architect and client agreed upon.

So while the new pavilion, with its floor- to-ceiling windows, opens up to the view, it also mimics the old style. The main entrance is tucked away, giving deference to the older, bigger structure. The 4,000-square-foot home almost appears as separate buildings, a tiny village unto itself.

“It blends in, like the Hudson Valley,” comments Gorlin. “It grows out of the site. It’s best to relate to the site itself and catch the power of the site.”

Building upon the same beauty and sheltered property that lured a Dutch farmer to the region in the 1760s creates a unique responsibility.

“It’s easier, technically, to knock down buildings and just start over, but it’s more rewarding to the memory of the site to make conversions,” concludes the architect. “It comes imbued with memory, so why not take advantage of that? There’s a mutual obligation to historical buildings and to the client, so you try and do the best job for the project.”

[caption id=”attachment_28599″ align=”alignleft” width=”300″]Alexander Gorlin Hudson Valley Farm Catskill NY Alexander Gorlin Hudson Valley Farm Catskill NY[/caption]

Site Lines | In the Hudson Valley, such farmhouse conversions are becoming more frequent as city people find refuge in the sprawling, lush Catskills. However, they are building upon a long legacy of such escapes.

From this property, one can look eastward to Hudson and see Olana, the home and studio where Frederic Church solidified the Hudson River School of landscape painting in the 1870s. “Church really understood the light of the Hudson Valley and the views,” tells Gorlin. “There’s a natural landscape and a romantic view of the landscape that architecture can enhance or discover.”

Photography Courtesy of Peter Aaron/Otto Photography.

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