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21, 2013 26 | March Home Hudson Valley

BUILT TO LAST Local architects highlight projects with one foot in the past

Sharyn Flanagan


ast year we asked three local architects to tell us about a favorite residential project they’d worked on, one that had been particularly memorable and rewarding from their point of view. Recently we continued that conversation with three other architects in the region. This time we heard about projects that were memorable because they allowed the architects the opportunity to connect the past with the present while looking forward to the future. Each tale is different. But a common thread runs through their stories. The first involves a “carpenter’s special� that had been modified so many times and in such odd ways that had features worth keeping even though it didn’t work as a modern living space. Another architect was asked to create a new house that functioned in tandem with an old, existing cabin on the property. The last involves an architect and designer who revisited a project from their past: a house that had burned to the ground, leaving only

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its foundation and the opportunity for the creative team to rebuild it for the family, adapting it to the owners’ current needs and contemporary energy efficiency standards. Reconnecting past and present “My ideal project is not necessarily a completely new, from-the-ground-up structure,� says Catherine Paplin, who has practiced architecture in the Northeast for over 18 years. “I actually like to inherit something to work with, because my view is that with modern architecture we live with a severe break with the past. One of my essential ideals is to reconnect with traditions and to bring them into the modern world.� But it’s not about “aping� the past, contends Paplin. “I call it ‘reconnecting the broken spine of architecture,’ to start with something that’s there and figure out how to transform it to be something that’s not only satisfying for the client but appropriate to our time, something that makes a whole of the past and present.� Paplin earned her master’s degree in architecture from the University of Virginia and does much of her work in New York City, Her first project in the area, a 2006 cottage renovation for a client in Woodstock. led to a residential renovation project in Phoenicia that satisfied Paplin’s credo for reconnecting the past with the way we live today. “The house in Phoenicia was really a mish-mash,

a carpenter’s special,� Paplin says. “It was originally a very simple kind of cabin built in the Fifties, but added on to in that gradual way that happens.� Nothing in the house was developed in a way that made sense, she says. Many of the changes done to the house made for awkward living. A kitchen peninsula with fixed bar stools allowed very little clearance to get past them, and yet a person had to go through that area to get anywhere else in the house. “Then there was this sort of catwalk balcony in the area that the kitchen was in that led to a room where you stepped down into it and could barely stand.� Paplin and her team kept the catwalk, but rebuilt it as a simple balcony, opening up the space completely so it could flow properly. The kitchen floor was concrete (with radiant heat) and the countertops wrapped with zinc sheet, chemically-treated to achieve a verdigris finish. The renovation involved using a lot of reclaimed wood, including three types of pine, wormy oak and chestnut, along with pine mill flooring, a live edge oak slab and antique oak. (“It was like a festival of wood,� says Paplin.) The exterior was re-clad with wavy-edged board typical of the region. The original house had utilized a lot of wood in its rustic design, but neither the materials nor workmanship were of good quality, says Paplin. “You could see what they were reaching for, but we brought very good-quality carpenters in there, including somebody who’d been trained in Japanese joinery techniques who used that knowledge to inform how things were put together.� (Japanese carpentry is characterized by the use of interlocking joints created without the use of nails, screws, or power tools.) At the threshold to the dining room, a framework was built of reclaimed hand-hewn oak barn beams. “The idea behind that was almost as though we’d found this skeleton of the old house in the walls and had exposed it,� says Paplin. “And in fact, we did find the remains of the frame of the original house in about that location, so in a way it was like we were