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A Diversity of Styles

A New York City firm displays creativity in both restoration and new construction projects. By Dan Cooper

For more than 20 years, New York, NY-based BKSK Architects has designed a wide range of residential, commercial, educational and civic projects in both traditional and contemporary styles. Whether building new or restoring or modifying an existing structure, the firm brings a practiced eye to its award-winning work. In 2005, BKSK was recognized with a Palladio Award for the 124 Hudson Street Condominiums in New York City; three years later, the firm was recognized with a Palladio Award for the restoration of a residence in the Bronx.

Partner Stephen F. Byrns, AIA, LEED AP – who has served on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission since 2004 – leads many of the 25-person firm's traditional projects. That portfolio includes five residential projects around the country: the transformation of a spec house on Long Island; a new Arts and Crafts house on Lake Michigan; a new Anglo-Norman estate in Oklahoma; a new French Country home in Oklahoma; and an apartment renovation in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of New York City.

From Ranch to Federal to Shingle
On Long Island, BKSK transformed a mundane 1970s spec house into a sprawling Shingle Style residence. According to Byrns, the goal was to make the house seem like it was originally a late-18th-century Federal home that was renovated ca. 1900.

"When you look at the front, you see the symmetrical façade with the conventional eight-over-eight windows, but we then added the gambrel roof, dormers and side bay," says Byrns. "We used the diamond-paned windows found on Shingle Style houses. On the rear service porch, the design for the lattice work was inspired by the Newport Casino."

During the second phase of the project, the existing garage was demolished and rebuilt as a three-story tower topped with a belvedere offering magnificent views of a chain of ponds and the ocean. Because the owners wanted to create more of a country feel on the one-and-a-half-acre property, the large circular drive was eliminated, creating the impression of more land.

Throughout the home's interior, McKim, Mead and White's influence is clear, from the subtle tiled fireplace to the blend of Classical and Shingle influences. In a surprising departure from the classic "white" kitchens typically found in such dwellings, the owners selected pine-paneled cabinetry and black iron hinges to convey a rustic feeling.

While BKSK was compelled to utilize a steep, existing 1970s staircase, Byrns says the firm was able to embellish it with entirely new balusters and rails. "It blends in perfectly," he says.

Prairie by Way of England
For serious collectors of Arts and Crafts pottery, BKSK was commissioned to build a retreat on Lake Michigan that would display the architectural influences of the Arts and Crafts movement.

"We drew on Munstead Wood, the house that Edwin Lutyens designed for Gertrude Jekyll," says Byrns, noting that the length of the home's T shape addresses Lake Michigan.

The interior of the structure is a hybrid of robust rectilinearity and the expansiveness of English Arts and Crafts. The entry tower is capped by an octagonal monitor, and then squares off into a hallway. Light filters down from the skylight and through a 15-ft.-high spindle screen that shelters the stairwell from the foyer.

"It combines English and Prairie Style elements," says Byrns, "and the baluster spindles are fairly simple pieces of wood that were carved down and stained in a subtle two-toned treatment."

Throughout the first floor, BKSK employed a recurring theme: at the top of each wall is a frieze that ties the rooms together. The only place that this continuous line is broken is the living room, where an elaborate stone fireplace features a niche for displaying artwork.

Arts and Crafts wallpaper with metallic gold was used in the dining room, and at night the walls and ceilings glitter in candlelight. The doors are quartersawn oak with inset panels of birds-eye maple. The second-floor hallway, with its posts, beams and paneled timbers, echoes Munstead Wood.

Oklahoma Bound
One might not expect to find a 12,000-sq.ft. Anglo-Norman estate sited on a suburban lot in Oklahoma City, OK, but indeed, BKSK has produced just that.

"The front of the house is loosely symmetrical and more buttoned down, while the rear is more picturesque and romantic," says Byrns. "The gables are 'slated gables,' which means that the slate roofing bears directly on the stone façade with no wood trim whatsoever, producing a stony, but spartan look. We also wanted the chimneys to be very sculptural, and they are inspired by those found on some of Lutyens' works."

A long wing emanates perpendicularly from the rear of the house and is capped by an octagonal screen porch that overlooks the swimming pool. The porch itself is intended to play off of the octagonal stair situated behind the central section of the structure.

The interior finish continues the Anglo-Norman theme. Heavy exposed timbers or robustly corbelled mantels are featured in many of the rooms – with the exception of the grand stair hall, which is a delicately spiraled Neoclassical flight that leads upward to a colonnade.

French Country Home
Also in Oklahoma, the firm designed a French Country home in the Classical format. "The trim is cast stone, and was carefully detailed, giving both economy and beauty," says Byrns. "The segmental pediment and lead-coated copper bull's-eye dormers are especially well detailed."

Byrns says that one of the challenges of adapting traditional styles to more modern lifestyles is handling larger windows than those found in pure examples of the style. "The triple windows work because the more correct double windows above have shutters, which help out with the extra width," he says. "The right-hand triple window is actually a double with the third window a false window where it hits the stairs. This was done to balance the triple windows on the left."

The traditional floor plan was completely rearranged to accommodate the contemporary needs of the owners. "The design is for an empty-nester couple, so the master bedroom was placed on the first floor and there are not a lot of rooms on the second floor," says Byrns. "We manipulated the massing of the house so that with the use of double-height spaces and second-floor storage, the front of the house reads as a full two-story house, when in reality most of it is on the first floor."

An interesting and mandatory feature indigenous to the area is a reinforced "safe room" to shield the occupants from tornadoes. "Because of the clay soil here, we build on slabs with no basements, and it's a necessary part of the home," says Byrns.

Gramercy Grandeur
Back in New York City, one of the architect's most distinctive commissions is in Gramercy Park, where, working in the city's oldest cooperative apartment building, the firm transformed a flat with a railroad layout into a stunning Aesthetic Movement home.

"It's the oldest co-op, even predating the Dakota and the Osborne," says Byrns, "and it was designed by an almost unknown architect."

The original design included three apartments per floor with small rooms and many fireplaces; the apartment that BKSK was commissioned to renovate was laid out in an awkward, railroad configuration. Today, an oval entry hall of white maple basketweave with quartersawn oak accents screens the kitchen; a library is set off from the bedroom by pocket doors; and bright kitchen cabinetry features glass backs and doors.

The dining room/living area, which features a cork frieze, is an homage to McKim, Mead & White's renovation of Kingscote in Newport, RI. "We stained a third of the cork with coffee, a third with tea, and left the remaining third natural," says Byrns. "And during demolition, we found an original Japan-esque chrysanthemum stencil, which we used to decorate the ceiling."

 

 

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