What Do You Get When You Bring Modernism to a Faux Farmhouse? This Cozy Family Escape

What Do You Get When You Bring Modernism to a Faux Farmhouse? This Cozy Family Escape

Tucked away on a quiet road in Dutchess County, New York, sits an unassuming white barnlike structure, built with a previous century in mind. The 5-bedroom, 3½-bathroom house, with its simple white columned porch and unspoiled view of Stissing Mountain, seems like the perfect encapsulation of 19th-century charm. But it holds a secret: It was actually built in 2005.

A Brooklyn couple in search of a weekend getaway fell in love with the property, despite some of its mid-aughts quirks, such as a double-height great room and a much-too-grand staircase. So they brought on Brooklyn-based firm Frederick Tang Architecture to renovate it. The clients—a startup founder and bioethics professor—had fallen in love with a nearby home the studio had designed for the husband’s cousin. For their new country place, the pair wanted an update that put function, friends, and their growing family first.

The house, which was originally built in 2005, sits on a pristine rural plot.

“This is a funny, quirky couple,” says principal Frederick Tang, referencing the extensive collection of books and games that usually clog the family’s shelves. “Entertaining was one of the first requirements they voiced.”

“They’re very intellectual, but also have this deep appreciation for design,” adds the firm’s director of interiors, Barbara Reyes.

Though the clients originally enlisted the architects to renovate some bathrooms and rethink the main entertaining spaces, it became clear that this was a bigger job than they reckoned. Primarily, the design team had to transform the farmhouse into, well, more of a farmhouse.

“There were these awkward proportions, with a strange, triple turn back staircase and a massive colonial-style fireplace on steroids,” Tang remembers. “It wasn’t right.”


Rather than continue with the 19th-century pastiche, Tang and Reyes turned to the modernist movement for inspiration, specifically the buildings Finnish-American architect Eliel Saarinen designed for the Cranbrook Academy of Art in the 1930s. “I love Saarinen’s work at Cranbrook because there is a historic vernacular to the work but also a clear modernist perspective,” says Tang. “When we started this project we knew it could not be slick.… It wasn’t a full gut renovation and much of the farm house quality was remaining, so we knew we had to find a language for our work that could play nice with the surrounding details.”

Tang’s team began in the great room—the double-height heart of the home that holds the entrance; open-plan living and dining areas; and the main staircase that connects it all. “A double-height space is not typical of a farmhouse,” says Tang. “We simplified the staircase so that it took up less space and opened up the living room.”

Tang designed the custom oak tambour staircase in collaboration with Matt Hogan of Reliquary Studio.

The new version, which references one of the teaching buildings Saarinen designed at Cranbrook and is milled from white oak, “celebrates what’s happening in the room spatially,” Reyes explains.

Now as guests go up and down the stairs, their hands fall comfortably into a pocket carved directly into the banister—smooth, curved, and designed to wear beautifully with use. “It took a lot of mockups to get right,” Tang says.

Once the stair was addressed, Tang’s team turned to that so-called colonial-style fireplace on steroids. The designers reimagined it as a sleek, gently curved volume, clad floor to ceiling in black Belgian terra-cotta brick—a dramatic tone that’s echoed in the foyer’s inky floor tile and black front door. “At first the clients weren’t sure about redesigning the fireplace,” says Reyes, “but when they saw the possibility of what it could be they were super excited.”

Similar references abound through the rest of the house. In the lower-level breakfast nook, for instance, the base of the table mimics the staircase’s millwork. Upstairs, teal paint on the primary bedroom’s walls appears again on the moldings that outline the nursery. “There’s a lot of cohesion in the house because of the overlapping colors,” Reyes explains.

The walls are painted in Hague Blue from Farrow & Ball. The bedside tables are from Design Within Reach, and the ottomans at the foot of the bed are from West Elm.

The client’s desire for comfort is another central theme in the home, with requests for an upholstered headboard (the better to sit up and read at bedtime) addressed in the primary bedroom, as well as a two-person tub (perfectly appointed to take in the unblemished country views) met in the adjoining bathroom.

In fact, the house is blissful whether the family’s alone or whether guests are visiting. Though the clients spend most of their time in Brooklyn, this house has become an important getaway for them. They love to host their respective big families for visits, so much so that they hosted Thanksgiving dinner without a hitch. Who knows? This house might be the entry to a whole new project for another cousin.


Originally published in Elle Decor
Text by Camille Okhio


Work With Us

Are you planning on buying or selling a home in the area? bouHAUS properties is here to help you navigate coastal Orange County's exciting real estate market. Specializing in mid-century modern and modern eclectic homes, the team's success in built on their passion for rare,one-of-a-kind properties that exemplify the best that the OC has to offer.

Follow Me on Instagram