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Dances with History
Architectural Digest
Architectural Digest
Architectural Digest
Architectural Digest
Architectural Digest
Architectural Digest
Architectural Digest

“We were constantly balancing the 1908 architectural-historical perspective with the more informal way people like to live now.”

Ralph Mackin

Dances with History

Architectural Digest

When the couple purchased a historic estate in the Hudson Valley, they did so with every intention of restoring, renovating and expanding the original 1908 house. But then came the opportunity to acquire the rest of the hill it was on, including a plateau at the crest that afforded panoramic meadow, mountain and river views. Their architect, Ralph R. Mackin, Jr., was quick to suggest that they leave the house as is (that is, as was), use it as guest quarters and build themselves a sister house (a big sister house, as it turned out—twice the size of the original’s 4,500 square feet).

Up went a symmetrical cedar-shingle-and-fieldstone structure (the stone came from old walls on the property), with 11-foot ceilings, a wealth of period detail and a classic deep wraparound porch. “Porches are important—they provide a transition point, and give human scale, to the great outdoors,” the architect holds. Artfully, without making the building too linear, he created view lines throughout, with the river foremost in mind. Altogether the house sits beautifully on its site and does full justice to the majestic property it crowns.

Classically inspired though it was, its floor plan and flow are thoroughly modern: Rooms open airily each to each and to the generous main hall—the great room, for instance, is separated from the very 21st-century kitchen by only a couple of columns, and what doors it has give way to the pool terrace. As Mackin explains, “We were constantly balancing the 1908 architectural-historical perspective with the more informal way people like to live now.” In fact, the owners’ entryway of preference is through the mudroom.

To attend to the interiors, the couple hired Campion Platt, who had done historical architecture before but never historical interior design (when he had earlier designed the owners’ Fifth Avenue duplex, it was in a style stunningly contemporary). Mackin recalls, “The husband had told me, ‘I want you to look at it this way—If I grabbed the house and shook it, everything that would stay put would be your responsibility, and everything that would fall out would be Campion’s. But in the end, of course, there was overlap.” According to the wife, Platt had “some very insightful ideas for uses of space, like the second floor’s double height sitting room for our three children.” Moreover, he worked with Mackin in making the period come through boldly in every facet of the detailing.

Platt found important Federal furniture, including a settee attributed to Duncan Phyfe and an 1810 Wood & Taylor tall case clock that took two and a half years to find (“I’m a real fan of marquetry, and it had to have the right amount of detail and not be overdone,” the wife offers). He also helped the couple build a considerable art collection that is understandably heavy on the Hudson River School, which celebrates the timeless and transcendent beauty of the valley (one of their Jasper Cropsey watercolors is of an island in the river, just a stone’s throw from their property). And he assembled stellar collections of scientific devices and handmade toys, as well as such artifacts as a homemade Civil War flag and the prototype for an 1865 boneshaker bicycle.

Ever faithful to the period in his fashion, Platt designed every piece of sumptuous soft upholstery in what he describes as “referential shapes.” And in terms of “materiality and construction,” he put his inimitable stamp on all manner of other things. For the bedroom of the large, self-contained master suite (its entire western wall is a glass bay, with a sleeping porch beyond), he created a suite of campaign-style furniture culminating in an ultra-stylish stepped highboy with a tambour surface topped with an inset clock: for the dining room, a superlong crotch-mahogany table that can seat 30 and a whimsical wool-and-silk rug incorporating the five family members’ signs of the Zodiac; and for the second-floor gallery, a table whose curbing stretchers cunningly evoke Hudson River bridges.

The palette can be described as agrarian—subtle browns, greens and taupes. The house as a whole has the old-world repose of the paintings that distinguish its walls. “Everyone believes it’s a renovated 1908 house,” says the wife, “and that’s music to our ears.”

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