Gym at Home: 1900 Beacon Military Academy Gymnasium-Turned-House in Beacon, Dutchess County, NY
An artistic couple transforms a onetime gymnasium into a streamlined home
Floor show: Minimal furnishings and an open plan show off the building’s architecture to full effect in the main living area. Thermal blinds at the windows allow the owners to control passive heat from the light that pours in all day. “It’s a bit like living in a giant sundial,” says Naomi Sachs
Photographs courtesy of Aryeh Siegel Architects
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In pictures, the red brick building set back from the street in one of Beacon’s residential neighborhoods looks cute, even compact, like a one-room schoolhouse. In real life, the outside looks a little bigger than pictures suggest, but it’s still a surprise to pass through the front door and find yourself in the expansive, sunlit space within. Although the interior wasn’t quite as soaring and open when Naomi Sachs and James Westwater first clapped eyes on the place, it was appealing enough that they “fell in love” on sight, Sachs says.
Sachs, a landscape architect, grew up in Storrs, Connecticut. Westwater, an artist, spent his boyhood in a village in Suffolk, England. Their paths crossed in Santa Fe, where each had gone to work. In 2005, after they decided to move closer to New York City, they considered Beacon (with its burgeoning art scene) as a possible new home; soon they were scouting properties online. “We were thinking of building a small, prefab house on a piece of land,” Westwater says. “We had a little dream of opening a B&B that would be lots of little prefab structures. We naively thought that Beacon was out in the woods.” In March of 2005, “we went on a reconnaissance mission,” Sachs says. A realtor had sent them a picture of the red brick house and viewing it, says Sachs, was “part of the plan of attack. We’d planned to go to Brooklyn and Manhattan, too, but we ended up not going. The house clinched the deal.” By early June, it was theirs.
Counter-clockwise, from right: The red brick, onetime gymnasium looks deceptively compact from the outside. The owners retained the original doors and windows; Sachs, a landscape architect, softened the surroundings with simple, graceful plantings. Under-counter cabinetry and custom-made stainless-steel countertops keep the kitchen sleek and understated. The concrete countertop in the roomy main bathroom is by Betonas
Constructed around 1900 as a gymnasium for the Beacon Military Academy, the building served as a factory during the 1940s. When previous owners converted it into a home, they divided the 2,300 square-foot main floor into rooms with 14-foot ceilings; the basement floor was unfinished. Sachs and Westwater decided they wanted to start from scratch. “We felt guilty about gutting it,” says Westwater, not very convincingly. “We liked what they’d done, but it wasn’t our style.”
Demolition began immediately, so by the time the couple made the move from Santa Fe with their dogs that August, the walls and ceilings were gone, leaving the brick shell with its web of rafters exposed. Inspiration for the interior came partly from the home Westwater grew up in — a pair of Victorian warehouses that his father, a modernist architect, converted into a dwelling for his family. Beacon architect Aryeh Siegel drew up plans for the interior — several times. “We had about 30 different designs, moving things around,” says Westwater. “Aryeh joked he was going to make them into a flip book.”
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