Traditional Building Portfolio
Palladio Awards

Project: residence, Bronx, NY

Architect: BKSK Architects, LLC, New York, NY; Stephen Byrns, AIA, LEED AP, principal in charge; Esther Hong, Guy Willey, Alex Shkreli, AIA, project architects

Interior Decorator: Eclectic Designs, New York, NY; Kathie Kessler, president

Contractor: Hudson View Construction, Bronx, NY



Restoration & Renovation

Winner: BKSK Architects, LLC.

Withers Inspired

By Martha McDonald

In 2002, the new owners of an historic house in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, came to New York City-based BKSK Architects, LLC, to sort out the home's complicated history and to restore it to the appropriate period. One of the original houses in the Riverdale Historic District of the fashionable suburb of New York City, it was built in the mid-1800s following a cruciform plan. There is no known architect for the "Downing-esque" style clapboard house.

In 1881, a major renovation by Frederick Clarke Withers added a shingled third floor with a steeply pitched slate roof, a candle-snuffer round tower at the northwest corner and a second-floor bay window on top of the south bay window, taking it into the High Victorian Gothic style.

The next style to affect the home was Colonial Revival. It occurred around 1910 when the new 20th-century owner put stucco over the original clapboard and added a curved porch and a roof balustrade. At some point, four bay windows were attached to the front of the second floor and an original bay in the center section was removed. Over the years, the house declined as various additions appeared at the rear and aluminum siding was added to the tower. The sides of the front porch had been filled in and the center portion was removed.

The current owners and BKSK decided to restore the house to the 1881 Withers era, which they considered its greatest period. "The house was a disaster when we first saw it in 2002," says Stephen Byrns, AIA, principal in charge with BKSK Architects. "We decided the Withers period was the most important era for the house and we respected that. We bought it back to the cruciform shape as much as possible, but pumped up the scale."

One of the first tasks was removing the stucco, the additions on the rear of the house, the four bay windows on the front of the house and the aluminum siding, as well as other accretions. An unsightly concrete-block garage was also demolished, revealing a view of the Hudson River from the street.

Since there were no existing photographs available of the Withers house, the architects followed period-appropriate styling and other clues gleaned during the restoration. There were many surprises along the way. For example, BKSK had selected a subtle color scheme for the exterior, which was approved by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. "Then when we removed the stucco and found that the house had been red, green and brown colors, we decided to follow this color scheme," says Byrns. "These are the romantic earth-tone colors of the Hudson River."

The expansive porches on the front and rear of the home are important features. Both were expanded and carefully designed to fit the Withers era. "We looked at other villas in Riverdale for styling on porch posts and other details," says Byrns.

Another exterior feature, an original bay window on the second-floor on the front of the house, was restored, based on traces of a previously existing one. The original shingles on the third-floor exterior were kept.

Once the additions were removed from the rear of the house, Byrns and his team reorganized the floor plan to accommodate contemporary needs while subtly reasserting the cruciform shape. A new two-story ell was added to the rear of the house and the kitchen was moved to this corner. On the first floor, the former kitchen became the family room and the former family room at the front of the house was renovated as the foyer.

BKSK tucked a bathroom and coat closet into the foyer, which allowed for the removal of a powder room from one corner of the living room. Once the powder room was removed, this living room was expanded by removing a wall and extending the room toward the front of the house. This large room with the tower in the corner now opens directly onto both the wraparound front porch and the back porch.

Another pleasant surprise was the discovery of Minton encaustic tile, which the architects found stacked on the porch. They used this to create a large ceramic "rug" in the foyer. "This tile had probably been removed when the original small foyer had been expanded years ago," says Byrns.

On the second floor, the master bedroom is now situated in the new ell above the kitchen and extends into a master bathroom and dressing area that was the former master bedroom. The wall of the bedroom in the central portion of the house was pushed back to make room for the large back deck and the wall of the adjacent bathroom in the northwest corner was also moved so it is further back than the center portion of the house. "We pushed both of the sections back here, to maintain the cruciform shape," Byrns explains. A new garage was discreetly located below the new ell.

In addition to the master bedroom and bathroom, the second floor comprises three additional bedrooms and two additional bathrooms. There are also four bedrooms on the third floor.

The interior was thoroughly restored, carefully revealing elements from various periods of the house's history. Kathie Kessler, president of New York City-based Eclectic Designs, was the interior decorator for the project. In addition to the encaustic tile, roof rafters and two layers of plaster crown moldings were revealed. A delicate plaster crown was also uncovered and reproduced and late-19th-century hardware supplied by Olde Good Things of New York City was used throughout the house. Windows were supplied by Marvin Windows & Doors of Warroad, MN. Metal roofing ornament was supplied by W.F. Norman Corp. of Nevada, MO.

The Withers Library in the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the inspiration for much of the interior restoration, including the elaborate new wainscoting that was created for the foyer, as well as for the staircase. Both were fabricated from two wood species, following examples found at the museum.

When renovating the staircase, BKSK stripped and salvaged the 1850s balusters, which were discovered to be mahogany. "We used quarter-sawn white oak and mahogany to rebuild the staircase, which was widened and turned," says Byrns. "We also found the ghost of scroll figures in the risers and so reintroduced this original element." Another feature Byrns and his team discovered at the Metropolitan Museum was the striped maple/walnut flooring; this technique was used in the living room and kitchen.

After eight months in the design phase and 15 months of construction, the restored 150-year-old home is ready to begin a new era in the 21st century as it overlooks the scenic Hudson River.  



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