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South Salem Renovation
The HOME Monthly
The HOME Monthly

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“Ralph just got it. He has an awesome sense of taste, space and really understood what our needs were, and that we also wanted to keep the integrity of the house... I’m really finicky about how things work, and I have a strong sense of design—we both do—and Ralph knew how to work with us and to give us everything we wanted, and more than we expected.”

South Salem Renovation

The HOME Monthly

The current owners affectionately call their twice-expanded lakeside home “a Jekyll and Hyde house.” From the street, it still strongly resembles the weekend home built in 1937, which was a replica of one the builder’s wife fell in love with on their Cape Cod honeymoon. It retains the cottage feel that is appropriate for the site and surroundings.

From the back, however, aided by the sloping property, it is a contemporary two-and-a-half-story home, open to the sun and outdoor living and spectacular views of the lake and sunsets.

In 1991, when Cindy and Jonathan Rodgers purchased the three-bedroom, 1,260-square-foot house on South Salem’s Lake Truesdale from the estate of the original owners, it had never been updated. Many old papers and pictures were left in the attic, including the blueprints. As a young working couple, however, they did not do too much inside. “The house had good bones,” Jonathan noted. “It was solidly built; it just needed some polishing.” Instead they decided to enjoy the lake views while working on the landscape, which had become quite overgrown.

Once a child was on the way—the couple has two daughters, aged 12 and seven—Cindy and Jonathan decided it was time to expand and update the house, especially the kitchen with its original General Electric range, which had only two working burners. The couple’s goals were to add light, family space and “to create a terrific kitchen as we both love to cook and to bake.” They also wanted to create a more user-friendly back entrance by connecting the garage to a mudroom and to add a library/den for Jonathan, whose work requires him “to be wired for every possible need.”

The couple began interviewing architects but stopped after they met Ralph Mackin (Ralph R. Mackin Jr. Architects, PLLC, AIA) of North Salem.

“Ralph just got it,” Cindy said. “He has an awesome sense of taste, space and really understood what our needs were, and that we also wanted to keep the integrity of the house. He and I had the same design sense, and, let’s face it, it is all about a beautiful view out of every window.”

“I’m really finicky about how things work,” said Jonathan, “and I have a strong sense of design—we both do—and Ralph knew how to work with us and to give us everything we wanted, and more than we expected.”

The first addition and renovation, in 1998, was completed in about six months and created the mudroom and library/den on the ground floor. On the main level, the kitchen was expanded and updated, and a deck was included, which overlooks the lake and gardens. A windowed dining room with vaulted ceiling was added over the library/den.

Phase Two, completed in 2003, was spurred by the desire to give the daughters their own rooms and the adults a larger bedroom and bath. The two upstairs bedrooms, plus bathroom, which were virtually untouched except cosmetically, are of an adequate size, but the third bedroom, which was off the front hall, was tiny.

Naturally, Ralph Mackin and crew were called upon to do the second addition as well.

The third bedroom was eliminated, opening up the foyer, which now accommodates Cindy’s baby grand piano. A closet was added and the attached bathroom converted to a powder room. The biggest change, however, was adding a master bedroom and bath to the side of the house.

Asked about his approach to design, Ralph said, “When it comes to renovations, we try to make it look as if we’d never been there. We can change the total look of a house or enhance what was there in a way that looks organic, which is what we did at the Rodgers’.

“We ask our clients, ‘What would you like to achieve?’ And then help them achieve it. In renovations, we want to be sensitive to the scale of the community, and in this case, to the lake vernacular. Given a house that needs to be added onto, we try to maintain the integrity of the original house, to make any additions an integral part – to become a complete thought.

“We strive to give clients what they want as well as what will work. Sometimes we steer them gently, noting: Here are the things that this decision will affect; what provides the best view; or why this should be there. As long as you can get owners to specify what they want, you can meet their needs.”

“Ralph kept giving us options,” Cindy said, “many of them significant improvements over what we thought we wanted.” The layout of the kitchen, for example.

“We came from the city. I wanted storage and thought I needed cabinets on every wall,” she said. “Ralph reminded us that we said the views were a priority, and that by giving up cabinets on the outside wall, we could have French doors opening onto a deck. He was right, of course, and now we take many of our meals outside.”

In creating the master bedroom and bath, said Ralph, “we were constrained by the lot size, setbacks and wetlands regulations; every inch mattered.”

To be less obtrusive from the street, the addition has less depth and is shorter than the original house, with a swooped roof line that reinforces the cottage look. To create both a large bedroom and large master bath, the rooms were stacked, and a wall of closets serves triple duty. In addition to holding clothes, it creates a barrier to the front windows, decreasing street noise and increasing privacy, while serving as the wall to a staircase leading to the 18-by-24-foot bathroom.

“If you’re putting the bathroom on a different level, it has to be done creatively,” said Ralph. “The cabinetry used in the closets, for example, is detailed the same on front and back, so when going downstairs you have the sense of being en suite, not in a public hallway.”

What was the outside stone wall of the previous library/den addition has become an inside wall of the bathroom. Part of a full-wall vanity, the sink was placed below a window overlooking the lake. There is radiant heat beneath the flooring and what Jonathan calls “the James Bond element” – a switch at the bottom of the staircase that quickly drops the window shade, ensuring privacy when desired.

One wall of the master bedroom overlooks the lake through an 11-foot-wide bank of French doors that leads to a mahogany terrace. Ralph explains that “the small balcony and open door connects you with the lake; with a window you would feel detached. There is a big difference in the feeling of sliding open a window and opening doors. You can feel and hear the lake—bring the outside in. From the outside, the balcony breaks up the vertical wall of the house.”

The Rodgers love living in their now 3,000-plus-square-foot house. Said Cindy, “The house is open to the sun, the views, the light and is a wonderful place to enjoy the outside from the inside every day, no matter the season. It always surprises us!”

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