ARCHITECT associate editor Sara Johnson spoke with New York traditionalist architect Peter Pennoyer about the Greek Revival–inspired house he and his wife, interior designer Katie Ridder, designed for themselves in New York’s Hudson Valley. The home is the topic of a new book A House in the Country. In this Q+A, Pennoyer discusses moments of experimentation and lessons learned in designing a house for himself. Here are a few highlights:
How does this project reflect your past ideas about design?
I’d always thought about my own house as being essentially a carved, beautifully detailed box. I’d always been interested in a house as an object in space, which doesn’t have a garage or a service wing attached to it. And I’ve been fascinated by architecture that is there for its own sake and serves no real practical purpose like the column screen on the front of the house. All it’s doing is celebrating architecture. It doesn’t do anything terribly useful, like support a porch, for instance. ... And I’ve always liked to have a skylight that comes down to the first floor, so from the first house I designed, I had a dormer that brought light into the ceiling of the library and then, in turn, that had a round opening that brought light down to the room below.
Are there techniques or details that you used in this house that a client would not normally request?
I built curiosity cabinets, which are glass cabinets with indirect lighting that allow me to put collections of everything from old drafting tools to scientific instruments to scrimshaw to little bits of models from the office. So most people don’t want that kind of display function in their house. It’s almost like having a little museum case. And I made all the hardware copper-plated, which I don’t think many people like because it does get tarnished.
What did you learn from the process?
I’ve learned that you can actually leave out the doors in major rooms and get a kind of open-plan feeling—so you can have rooms that look very traditional but they’re completely open. I don’t think I’ve ever gone quite that far with a client yet. And I feel more confident about not having the stair be part of the main space in the house, that kind of having the stair be something you have to find, having it, in a sense, be more private.