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A Haiku of a Home in Sullivan County

Posted November 24, 2018 4:22 p.m. EST

Many architects aspire to design buildings with a sense of poetry. When Kyle Page began thinking about a weekend house for his family in Sullivan County, New York, it was more along the lines of haiku.

“I kept simplifying it to the purest forms, the purest wrapper,” he said.

That focus on simplicity wasn’t just a design preference; it was a requirement of his budget.

Page, 47, is the founder of Sundial Studios, an architecture firm in Brooklyn, and he and his wife, Hardy Stecker, 43, a senior associate at the landscape architecture firm Ken Smith Workshop, wanted a rural escape for their young family. The idea was to create a place where they could relax, cook together and entertain friends, while also giving their children — Otis, 4, and Theo, 2 — a place to run free.

Page was confident he could design a beautiful modern house. He just wasn’t sure they could afford to build it.

He began looking for a lot in 2015. After months of searching, he found a listing on Zillow for 19 forested acres with no specific address in Phillipsport, a hamlet in the town of Mamakating, about 80 miles north of Manhattan. With the help of Google Maps, he figured out where the land was, and was intrigued to see that it had a large pond.

“I went and checked it out that weekend,” Page said, “and put an offer in as soon as I could.” They closed on the property for about $135,000 in August 2016.

Determined to keep construction costs as low as possible while also flexing his architectural muscles, he began designing a compact structure at the edge of the pond with a number of distinctive features. The resulting 1,080-square-foot home is formed by two connected volumes: one with a gable roof, containing the main living spaces; the other with a flat roof, housing a mudroom, bunk room, carport and mechanical equipment.

The gable-roofed portion is clad mostly in weathering steel, while the flat-roofed part is wrapped in ebonized, rough-cut cedar siding, both of which Page felt would help the structure blend into its surroundings.

The steel looks expensive, but is usually sold as roofing material; Page found it for $1.45 a square foot. For the other part of the house, he had originally considered siding with a shou-sugi-ban finish (an of-the-moment technique that blackens wood by charring it), but he discovered that a solid black stain provided a similar look at a lower price. “It’s not shou sugi ban, but it’s evocative of it,” Page said.

Inside, the concrete foundation serves as the finished floor, and an electric ducted mini-split system provides heating and cooling. There is no natural gas, propane or oil heating. Instead, Page gave the building a “hyper-efficient envelope” with spray-foam insulation, and designed an overhang facing the pond that works with the seasons: In the summer, it shades the living room; in the winter, it allows sunlight inside.

In addition to a living-and-dining area with an open kitchen under a cathedral ceiling, there are three modest bedrooms, two small bathrooms and a sleeping loft. But there is no lavish master suite: “It’s hard to call an 8-by-11-foot room a master bedroom,” joked Page, who was more intent on providing enough sleeping space for their children and guests.

The kitchen has a high-end look, with smoked-oak cabinet doors from Reform and leathered granite counters. But the cabinets behind the fancy doors are from Ikea.

Much of the furniture was similarly cost-efficient — made from wood found on the property. An old, ailing maple tree provided lumber for headboards for two of the beds and for the rustic shelves and dining table with benches that Page designed. He also turned logs from ash trees destroyed by the emerald ash borer (a type of beetle) into stools and side tables by cutting into them with a chain saw to create legs.

“The kids love them,” he said. “They send trains through them and create bridges between them.”

Once the major construction was completed, Stecker developed a custom seed mix for grasses and wildflowers to heal the earth that was torn up in the process. “I tried to knit it back together with the context,” she said, noting that wildlife has since returned. “The deer and wild turkeys have taken ownership.”

But even with the most disciplined budgeting, the house, like any custom home, wasn’t exactly inexpensive. Completed in June after a year of construction, it cost a total of about $450,000, most of which was paid for by a construction loan.

For Stecker, the result is a testament to her husband’s vision and planning. “In every aspect, he was relentless in pursuing the best efficiency, cost and design all together,” she said. “I have this sense of awe every time we drive in and this incredible house is sitting there.”