project name : Chatham House
location : Chatham, New York
year of design: 2002-2003
client: Name withheld at owner’s request
architect: George Ranalli
associates: Robert Silman Structural Engineer
design team: Mario Gentile, Kimberlae Saul, Hayden Marrero,
The house is set on a four-acre site amid rolling green hills outside the village of Chatham, New York, at the northern end of Columbia County. Originally named Groat’s Corners, Chatham was incorporated in 1869 and by 1900 was a bustling center of rail traffic from New York to Albany and Boston. Although most rail traffic has long since been routed elsewhere, trains still pass thru the town daily, giving it the aura of a still-vital transportation hub, and the memory of the station stop lingers in the town structures. The house site is just outside this setting, a short distance into the landscape, with spectacular views of the Catskill and Berkshire mountain ranges.
The clarity of form expressed in the house’s organization interprets the owner’s desire for serenity and calm. The design balances the highly defined specific program requirements of the client and an appropriate environmental response, setting a strong, clear form of weather-resistant stone, wood, and copper into the bucolic site. Each space within the house exploits the opportunity to create a unique and specific design for a particular function. At the entry to the house, for example, there is an oval reception room with small, enclosing stone walls and spindly columns supporting a copper enclosure above. This room has a hidden stair that takes one up to an observatory at the tallest point in the house. A large living hall just off the oval entry partakes of the magnificent view yet has a striking sense of enclosure and material finish. An outdoor courtyard at the center of the plan, designed as a space of contemplation, is fitted with two cypresses at each end.
One of the most elaborate sequences of spaces is the large indoor pool and Jacuzzi spa. Finished in exquisite materials including color-infused plaster, pear wood trim, and copper elements, these rooms offer a strong sense of place while providing a magnificent glimpse of the outdoors. Beauty is a driving desire of the client, and the building embodies that dream in its materials, forms, and detailing.
As scientists have come to appreciate, sustainability in building is primarily a function of the long-term durability of the building itself. Construction that proposes a long time-line is thus critical to a concerted and deliberate sustainability effort; buildings that can remain viable for a century or more offer a real contribution to the ecological balance between the natural and the manmade.
This house is made to withstand the ravages of time through its selection of materials, detailing, and other appropriate responses to a cold, snowy climate.