A Classic Conversion
A Beacon architect transforms a 19th-century carriage house and stable into a stunning contemporary home
Paneling, pillars, a coffered ceiling, and French doors were scaled large to suit the airy living room, while textured sage-green walls, an oversized carpet, and comfy sofas make the space inviting. The opening in the ceiling was once used to haul carriages to the second floor. Now, a Chinese Chippendale railing surrounding the skylit balcony is one of many Asian accents in the house
Photographs by Philip Jensen-Carter
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Back in 1892, the Schuyler family — for whom money was apparently no object — commissioned the illustrious architectural firm McKim, Mead & White to design a carriage house and stable on their Rhinebeck estate. The architects already had many grand Beaux Arts buildings to their credit, so it can have been no surprise that they presented plans for a gracious brick structure of classical proportions, with two wings set at 45 degrees to angle around the road that was then there. (It has since been moved.) The main wing included a skylit block-and-tackle manual elevator to haul out-of-season carriages to the second floor; the stable wing had horse stalls, with a hayloft and living quarters above, where grooms could survey the countryside through charming Gothic dormer windows. As stables and carriage houses go, this one was undeniably a beaut.
In the dining room, Philippe Starck’s Louis Ghost chairs surround a tiger maple table designed by the architect. It expands to accommodate up to 20 people. An altar table, a series of Japanese woodblocks, and an antique Chinese robe rack are among the Asian touches. Chinese figure tiles (made in the U.S.) make a whimsical fireplace surround
Just over 100 years later, in 2002, the present owners of the handsome building (now separate from the estate) engaged Beacon architect Jeff Wilkinson to transform it into a comfortable home. Former owners had done what Wilkinson calls “a bad ’80s, quickie renovation” of the carriage house, and the second floor in the stable wing had been converted into an apartment, but the unheated stables still held the horse stalls.
The owners, a couple, wanted to reconfigure badly planned rooms in the main house, and incorporate the stable wing, turning the apartment into a master suite and adding a dining room (with butler’s pantry), a media room, and a small powder room where the horses had once lived.
“It’s a very masculine structure, bold and large,” says Wilkinson, who estimates the total square footage at around 6,500. “So one of the biggest challenges was scaling it for a residence.”
Clockwise, from left: Vintage wallpaper looks like architectural wainscot in the second floor hallway; a well-appointed mudroom has granite counters and a low sink for washing the dogs or rinsing muddy boots; Brunschwig & Fils wallpaper pretties up the powder room and the butler’s pantry
Both he and the owners were respectful of the building’s pedigree. “It’s got real organization and geometry, a classical language, so it suggested what to do,” says the architect. “I wasn’t trying to make it say ‘Jeff Wilkinson’s been here.’ ”
The couple, who had just returned from a year in Hong Kong when they moved in, already had some ideas about what they wanted to do. “But we lived there for a year before we finalized the plans, because you don’t know how you’re going to use a house,” says the wife.
Although the work was to be tackled in stages, Wilkinson drew up a complete set of plans before renovations began. “Think it through, so you won’t waste money,” he advises.
Phase one was “damage control,” says the owner — replacing all the doors, and installing new double-paned windows (including the Gothic dormer windows) custom-made to look like the original, rotting ones. A new roof — a top priority — resembles slate but is actually material made of recycled tires. “It’s a 50-year roof and maintenance-free,” says the lady of the house. “Not quite as beautiful as real slate, but it costs much less, and we were facing such a major renovation.”
With necessities taken care of, work began on the stable wing. (“These horses lived better than a lot of people,” Wilkinson remarks.) The stalls were torn out, and the brick walls lightly sandblasted to remove old white paint. Three windows were enlarged into French doors to let in more light. Radiant heat was installed beneath new bluestone floors. After the rooms were framed, Wilkinson added paneled wainscoting, window casings, and crown moldings — signature woodwork that unifies the house.
Upstairs, a paneled floating wall in the master bedroom suite serves both as a headboard to the built-in platform bed, and to separate the sitting and sleeping areas. The master bath is a sybarite’s delight. Pietra cardoza (an Italian soapstone) surrounds the deep tub, with white-gold quartzite on the floor and the walls of the large, unenclosed shower. “The rest of the house is so traditional, I wanted it to be more modern, more of a spa,” says the owner. As for that open shower: “At first we thought we’d have to put glass doors on it, but we didn’t. It’s lovely — you can stand in the shower and look out the window.”
Another luxury is a breakfast bar with a microwave, coffee machine, small sink, and fridge tucked along a wall in the hallway. (“It’s a long way to the kitchen,” remarks the owner.)