The Great American House


The book “The Great American House” by Gil Schafer III is quickly becoming our “bible” for building a new house. Gil makes houses look and feel like they have always been there and that is exactly what we are  all looking for building this house in Concord.


Here is an article that was in Architectural Digest in June 2012 about the above house that really rang true for us.

If every house tells a story, then every architect is the author who sets the plot in motion. For a 400-acre working farm in New York’s bucolic Dutchess County, Gil Schafer has written a particularly captivating tale using a vocabulary of rugged fieldstone, painted clapboard, and weathered cedar shingles. Commissioned by a Manhattan couple with three children, all avid equestrians, the residence is an amalgam of styles that embodies a picturesque historical narrative. “My goal was to avoid a new-looking building in a bald field,” says Schafer, who is based in New York City. “Instead I tried to establish an organic sense of place, grown over time, by inventing a certain architectural mythology.”

The structure’s L shape unfolds sequentially, as if cobbled together by generations of prosperous owners. At one end of the building is a section that appears to date from the 18th century, calling to mind a once-freestanding granite farmhouse sprouting three modest dormers. Attached to this is a two-and-a-half-story Federal-style block graced with an expansive Greek Revival veranda—imagined evidence of an 1840s renovation—that takes a portion of the farmhouse into its embrace. Bookending the Federal-style segment is a small stone wing, which links to an elegant windowed passage (actually a glorified mudroom) that is connected, at a right angle, to a drive-through carriage barn clad in white clapboard. Of his inspired meldings Schafer observes, “It’s not quite higgledy-piggledy, but feels as if the carriage barn was added a century or so after the farmhouse was built.”

It is his imagination, grounded by a sensitivity to practical concerns, that has kept the clients, both financiers, in his thrall. “Gil balances aesthetics and functionality beautifully,” says the husband, who has enjoyed four Schafer-designed residences over the past seven years. “Working with him is an effortless continuum.”

After accepting this fifth project from his patrons, the architect considered siting the new dwelling in a variety of locations on the property, including some on hilltops and lowlands. The couple, however, was keen to make an existing pond the focal point, so Schafer opted for a plateau overlooking the water. Today a half-mile drive leads the way from a nondescript country road to the finished house, the pastoral approach rising sharply through a sun-dappled woodland and then opening onto a clearing with black-stained fences stretching in all directions. Winding past cornfields, a paddock, a barn, and that sparkling pond, the road finally reaches its destination: a 12,000-square-foot, six-bedroom manor set behind a gravel courtyard ringed by low stone walls and punctuated at its corners by a quartet of sycamore trees. (Garden designer Deborah Nevins, who frequently works with Schafer, developed the landscape plan.) A parterre with boxwood clipped into cloudlike mounds signals the main entrance; opposite the parterre, on the other side of the courtyard and facing the house, is an apple orchard. Nearby are a fenced cutting garden and a vegetable patch that spreads across a third of an acre. “We now grow 50 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and other organic produce,” the husband says, adding that Schafer is overseeing the development of a four-acre plantation of oak and hazelnut trees on the farm, for the cultivation of Burgundian truffles.

The house’s internal details are a tribute to Schafer’s neotraditionalist credo, each room and corridor contributing to a unifying sense of warmth and elegance, but with evocative twists. Stately enfilades, for instance, provide organized sight lines that belie the rambling façade. Solid-brass hardware, purposely left free of lacquer so the metal will develop a mottled patina, was used on all windows and doors, and even the woodwork was designed to appear venerable. “We sourced several 1820s Federal mantelpieces for the principal rooms,” the architect explains. “These determined the molding program.”

Entrusted with the decoration of the interiors, too, Schafer spiced the comfortable gentleman-farmer schemes with notes of worldly sophistication. In the formal dining room, sepia-tone scenic wallpaper portraying views of Moghul India makes an exotic backdrop for a gleaming Regency table. The quietly refined living room, accented by Gustavian chairs and jewel-hued fabrics, gets an unexpected jolt thanks to a large Walton Ford mixed-media work depicting a cassowary attacking an emu; the piece hangs above a sofa, precisely where an equestrian painting or a bosky landscape would customarily hold court. That outsize work of art might seem off-kilter to some visitors—especially in a space that otherwise exhibits all the attributes of traditional gracious country living—but in Schafer’s opinion, its curious subject lends just the right touch of personality. “I like a vernacular that feels slightly monkeyed with,” the architect asserts. “True authenticity is a lack of perfection.”


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