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After years spent living and working in a densely populated city like New York, many people begin flirting with the idea of packing it all in and moving somewhere with a little more elbow room and a lot less noise. As was the case for a couple of Manhattanites nearing retirement, whose exhaustive search for the perfect property led them two hours outside the city to Dutchess County. And while the 24 acres of pastoral land they found boasted rolling hills, a large pond and covetable privacy, they were still somewhat unsure of what their transition from city life to country living would look like – would they feel compelled to spend every weekend there? Would they still travel to other places? How many visitors would they need to accommodate? 

To help address and overcome these concerns, the couple turned to GRT Architects. The Brooklyn-based firm co-founded by Tal Schori and Rustam-Marc Mehta in 2014 proposed an initial small structure akin to a “field office” that would provide the basic comforts of a well-appointed home while giving the clients an opportunity to live on the land for a while before undertaking a more extensive build. The team developed a “master plan” that involved schematic designs for an eventual three-bedroom house, workshop, swimming pool, fire pit and dock (with shared utilities including a septic system, well and electrical). 

Rising like a sculpture from the land, the home is comprised of three low-slung volumes set in a pinwheel arrangement to maximize views without overwhelming the landscape. Equal in size, the single-storey structures amount to 74.3 square metres of indoor living space with the exteriors all clad in the same textured black brick and natural cedar shake shingle roofs; clerestory windows top the individual formations, each rotated 180 degrees from the next to flood the interiors with ever-shifting natural light. 

While compact, the interior feels generous thanks to masterful planning and material selections. Locally sourced white oak planks cover the ceilings and are contrasted by three black steel I-beams that support the roof structure of each unit. Meeting at the centre of the pinwheel, the girders both divide and unite the overall space. The function of each space is subtly implied through custom millwork and built-ins that create dedicated spaces for living, sleeping and cooking without the need for walls.

In the main living space, custom built-ins contain open storage and a murphy bed for guests (and conceal the mechanical systems), while in the sunken sleeping area taller closets create a sense of privacy for the owners, but set at the lower elevation they don’t block sightlines. In the kitchen, the wood forms a 4.5-metre-long counter with an integrated cooktop, dishwasher, fridge/freezer, more storage and a washer and dryer.

Dramatically speckled terrazzo from Kaza tops the counter – and the sleeping area’s closet – to add pattern and colour. Rounding out the cohesive environment, all walls are white-painted sheet rock and the flooring is poured concrete with radiant heating. Jet-black wall sconces by Workstead and custom pendants by GRT Architects punctuate the pristine interior. 

The only discernable diversion to the materials palette is in the bathroom, where the designers opted to use a pink-tinged tadelakt finish on the walls. The traditional Moroccan plaster technique introduces an unexpected hand-hewn touch, adding warmth and colour to the intimate space.

“The house includes everything but in a compact and concealed way,” says Schori. “Every module is low slung and linear and all set on the same plane to present division without closing off any area.” And with this clever attention to detail it’s no surprise the owners are ready to begin the subsequent phases of GRT’s master plan to turn the vast property into a welcoming destination to mark their next phase of life.

An Upstate New York Studio Maximizes Its Intentionally Small Footprint

Brooklyn firm GRT Architects crafts a compact studio to serve as a weekend home for a couple contemplating a full-time relocation.

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