An Architect Builds a Quiet, Wabi-Sabi Weekend Cabin in New York
The Pond House mirrors and honors its surroundings in both form and function.
Seeking respite from the hustle and bustle of New York City, Kyle Page set out to create a rural sanctuary for his family. The goal of the project would be twofold: Build a weekend cabin where their two- and four-year-olds could play and friends could visit, and experience the design freedom—sans "budget headaches"—of being both the owner and architect.
The hunt for land began in 2015, and after months of searching, Page came across a listing for 19 forested acres in Phillipsport, roughly 80 miles north of Manhattan. While investigating on Google Maps, his interest was piqued when he discovered a large pond. Page viewed the property that weekend and put in an offer, closing the following year at around $135,000.
He approached the land as a pioneer, developing with surrounding materials while honoring the existing environment. The wooded property features wetlands, old stone pasture walls, exposed ledgestone "marching down from the north and west sides," and the pond.
Page is the founder of Brooklyn–based architecture firm Sundial Studios and husband to Hardy Stecker, a senior associate at landscape architecture firm Ken Smith Workshop. As such, it only made sense that Page would create a modern getaway mirroring the natural habitat. He sought to create a dialogue between the interior and exterior spaces via a small, efficient layout. It was just a matter of finding a material palette that integrated the structure with the site.
"The exterior cladding of weathering steel and blackened cedar siding, atop an exposed concrete plinth which steps down towards the pond, has a quiet wabi-sabi character which blends with the natural wooded surroundings," says Page.
The design, though simple, came with its own set of challenges. "The form and design of this cabin had to be minimal and subordinate to the site and the scale of the site features, namely the pond," says Page. "Considerable study went into determining the simplest form and cladding to enclose the small footprint, and to tune this to the site. The few materials used at the exterior, and the expressive sizing and detailing of the windows, perform these tasks admirably."
The placement of the home, too, is intentional. Page created a sequence of framed views of the pond and woods—first, at the covered exterior area as you arrive at the house, and second, at the living area within the open gable of the interior. The house itself is broken up into three zones: the exterior entry space, the public interior spaces, and the private interior spaces.
An open breezeway wrapped in cedar siding provides a welcoming entry point for the home. That same material dovetails inside at the vestibule, which then opens to the vaulted kitchen, living, and dining space. This transition repeates on the way out to the covered porch, which steps down to the pond. In the back of the house sit private interior spaces, including two modest bedrooms, a bunk room, two small bathrooms, a sleeping loft, and a mud room.
The artisan in Page repurposed several ailing trees to create interior furnishings. He used a sugar maple to create a dining table, benches, headboards, and shelves, while several ash trees affected by the emerald ash borer were cut to length, debarked, and carved into stools. He notched the legs with a chainsaw, leaving the "calligraphy" of the beetles’ munching routes exposed.
It’s details like these that allow the home to become part of the environment rather than just an addition. Page went as far as using spray foam insulation and designing an overhang facing the pond that works with the seasons—offering shade in the summer, and sunlight in the winter—rather than incorporating natural gas, propane, or oil heating. A concrete foundation makes for a modern floor, while an electric ducted mini-split system provides heating and cooling.
"To see the shadows of the south gable recognize the passage of the noon sun, and to have the sunlight penetrate further into the house in the winter, and then recede again in the summer, has been a lovely engagement between the days and the interior space to witness."
Unsurprisingly, his favorite part of the home is the dynamic between the cabin and the pond. "The living space is focused outward through the fully glazed south wall, overlooking the water," he says. "The light from the dawn and the dusk, the passage of clouds, wind, and rain, and the brightness of midday all reflect off of the pond and create an ever-changing atmosphere to this room, varying through the day and seasons."
Now, Page and his family are just getting settled with the current inhabitants. "We installed an owl box in a tree about a tenth of a mile away from the house, but so far, no owl has moved in. A blue heron frequently visits, and from time to time a bald eagle will fish the pond. The deer think they own the place."
See the story on Dwell.