Traditional Building Portfolio



Hudson Valley Stronghold

A new house in New York State draws on Irish Palladian precedents.

Project: Residence, Cold Spring NY

Architects: Zivkovic Connolly Architects, New York, NY; Don Zivkovic, principal

General Contractor: Dave Heberling, Cold Spring, NY

By Lynne Lavelle

The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once claimed, "England and America are two countries divided by a common language." As the peculiarities of spoken and written English continue to perplex on both sides of the Atlantic, Shaw's remark has lost none of its satire. And as a comment on two cultures that share as much as divides them, it can be applied to an increasing number of modern examples. Of these, the reinterpretation of overseas precedents in the design of new homes poses a particular challenge – how to evoke there and then, but serve here and now?

The question was posed to Zivkovic Connolly Architects (formerly Zivkovic Associates Architects) of New York, NY, when a client approached the firm in 2004 to design an Irish Palladian-inspired residence in New York's Hudson Valley. The client had become interested in the style – as typified by Barons Court in County Tyrone, Ireland – during travel in the British Isles, and wanted to replicate its stronghold appearance within 15 acres of steep hillside overlooking the Hudson River and West Point. Though characteristic of Anglo-Saxon Europe, Irish Palladianism crossed over to the United States in the 18th century, where it was championed by, amongst others, Thomas Jefferson. One house in particular, the 18th-century Stratford Hall Plantation in Stratford, VA, has come to represent the domestication of the style, with its dominant chimneys and solid massing. However, firm principal Don Zivkovic used British examples as a point of departure for the new design. "When clients come to us and say they have a particular vision, our initial response is to show them something very typical of what they're asking for," he says. "In this case, the initial sketches are much more Classical and Palladian than the final result. We began very literally and then we superimposed the specifics, responding to the local conditions and to the functional requirements. We then looked to houses in the South – Virginia and the Carolinas – that were in that Palladian tradition, to domesticate the design."

Typical Irish Palladian exteriors are comprised of plain granite, with little or no detailing, and small, divided windows. Zivkovic's design is deliberately less austere and more open than a strictly Palladian design, and rather than dominate the surroundings completely – as an 18th-century Palladian house might – it references West Point across the river and incorporates the panoramic views, inside and out. "West Point is filled with buildings by the best architects from the last 100 years or more, mostly in granite with limestone detailing," says Zivkovic. "So we used granite as a basic ground to the building, and then highlighted the windows, doors, porch and string courses with limestone to warm it up a little." In addition to the limestone detailing, the granite itself was softened with modified quoin relief at the corners.

From a distance, the large expanses of granite disguise the true dimensions of the windows, which measure approximately 10x6 ft. on the ground floor and 7x5 ft. on the second floor. Not only are these considerably larger than traditional Palladian openings, they are also undivided to optimize the views. A wall of windows under the porch takes advantage of the vistas of the Hudson River, while at the opposite elevation, a set of doors in the kitchen/ dining area open up to the hillside. As the house is organized around a strong central axis, which runs throughout the site to the river and West Point, one can open these doors and take in the views on both sides from the stair hall.

According to Zivkovic, this ability to incorporate its surroundings is indicative of the "modern attitude" that distinguishes this house from its predecessors. "With traditional Palladian houses, the living areas were often piano nobiles, on the second floor rather than the ground," he says. "And so the door and window openings were typically smaller and more defensive, so one was contained. We wanted to let these views become a part of the interior, so, while the house looks like a solid mass of masonry, it is actually very inclusive of the setting."

To domesticate the exterior further, the firm designed four dominant, oversized chimneys, inspired by the examples at Stratford Hall. The 8-ft.-square chimneys give the exterior a fortified appearance, and are perhaps the purest reference to Palladianism in the entire house. While two are functioning, the others conceal modern amenities, including plumbing vents and mechanical equipment, and provide access to a widow's walk on the roof, via an elevator shaft and a staircase. "The non-functional chimneys were interesting to us, because they allowed us to maintain the purity of the Palladianism in the interior, without compromising it," says Zivkovic. "In addition to maintaining the purity of the form, we also managed to maintain a feeling of solidity, in spite of the large windows."

The common "enfilade" arrangement of Irish Palladian interiors – an axial arrangement of rooms – was the basis for the interior plan. Each room forms part of a series; each can be opened to the next to create vistas in all directions. On the ground floor, a double-height reception hall provides access to the kitchen on the right, the library on the left and the living room straight ahead, which opens to the family and dining rooms. As with the exterior, axes of symmetry and a maximized sense of scale pervade the design. A vaulted archway below a symmetrical staircase leads to the living room, containing an oversized antique fireplace. Custom stained casework and woodwork throughout, by Windsor Antique Restoration of Forest Hills, NY, are a deliberate departure from typical Palladian painted-wood interiors, and create a club-like atmosphere. "There is a lot of woodwork, and it is deliberately strong and imposing," says Zivkovic. "Stained woodwork is not typical in Palladian buildings, which are usually more delicate. This is quite distinctive to this house, and was a preference of the owner."

The kitchen provides access to both the dining room and an enclosed porch, used for summer dining. It features custom kitchen cabinetry by Rutt Handcrafted Cabinetry, of New Holland, PA, which complements the interior moldings and maximizes natural light and ventilation with two large windows.

Similar to the ground floor, the second- and third-floor plans are inspired by the views, which become more picturesque with each level. A central hall dominates the second floor, running its entire length and providing access to the south porch. As the bedrooms are situated in the corners, each has two exposures, maximizing natural light and cross ventilation. The master suite, including an en-suite bathroom, adjacent walk-in closet and balcony access, was sited at the southwest corner to capture views of the Hudson River and West Point. However, the best views can be found at the top of the house, where a seating and games area faces the river. Here, three joined dormer windows give the house a three-story appearance. "They are dormers, strictly speaking, because they come out of the roof," says Zivkovic. "But we joined them together, which is unusual, then we detailed the limestone around them so that the house took on a larger scale. It gives the house substance, and that stronghold presence."

The house is approached by a meandering, one-mile driveway, which leads to the granite arrival court. To counter the steep slope of the site, the firm established a series of terraces, which, together with the garage, breezeway and grand exterior stairs, give the site a hill-town quality. "As you drive up the hillside, the entrance court is almost like a piazza," says Zivkovic. "The subsidiary buildings, the walls of the building, the retaining walls holding the earth back to create terrace levels – the overall composition has a very picturesque quality." This urban form, set amongst the trees, reinforces the stronghold character of the house. And again, the central axis is strong – a line can be drawn from the exterior staircase through the fountain, the front door, the interior stair hall and living room, out to the porch, down to the pool terrace and down to the Hudson River and West Point. "You really 'borrow' the scale of the Hudson Valley," adds Zivkovic.

While it acknowledges Irish Palladian precedents, the house is very much of its time and place. "You've got to fit in to where you are," says Zivkovic. "Otherwise architecture would just be the same the world over. When doing Palladianism in America, there is an American history to refer to, and of course, time-specific functional requirements. This house could never have been built in the 18th or even the 19th century – it is appropriate to the beginning of a new millennium."  

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