CROTON-ON-HUDSON ESTATE, NEW YORK
The Croton-on-Hudson Estate is located in a 22-acre family compound which is integrated into a forested hillside with panoramic southwesterly views over the Hudson River in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. The owners – two brothers and their wives, who are artists and collectors – retained Rene Robert Mueller Architect/Planner in August 2000 to design a major project consisting of an Atelier (studio), Engineerum (private museum), Retreat (which won an AIA Honor Award in 2009), and a major renovation of the Main Residence. The assignment to plan and construct these individual projects on the compound lasted 9 years and was successfully completed at the end of 2009.
ATELIER & ENGINEERUM (studio and private antique steam engine museum)
The Atelier and Engineerum are two separate but neighboring structures at differing elevations along the hillside that are located at the bottom of the hill. The clients’ goal was to build a leisure compound in which the family members could be together, yet at the same time individually pursue their respective avocations. The husband-wife team of artists wanted an atelier in which they could work in close proximity but in separate spaces designed for a painter and a ceramic sculptor and landscape artist. The other husband-wife team, industrial historians and a collectors and restorers of large antique steam engines, wanted a private museum in which they could display, operate, and work on the collection. The clients also wanted the compound to reflect the Hudson Valley region’s distinct cultural and architectural heritage.
The design phase of this portion of the project took 11 months; the construction phase lasted 13 months. The topographical, ecological, and historical aspects of the site were incorporated into the final design, and remained unaltered.
The Atelier is a two-story 2,735 sq. ft. structure incorporating elements of the traditional barn, but is unique in its proportions and its synergies with the hilly terrain. The first-floor atelier, with its 15-foot ceiling, incorporates two working kilns as well as gallery space. The second floor atelier’s high vaulted ceiling with exposed trusses and dormer windows takes full advantage of the special quality of the area’s natural light and views. Aside from this structural element, the interiors are unadorned so that the artist’s works are the sole focus.
The Engineerum is a 2,625 sq. ft. private museum whose interior and exterior reflect the late 19th-early 20th century industrial aesthetic that distinguishes the region. It evokes the power plants of a century ago, yet its traditional design elements are combined with a modern flair. A glass-fronted interior mezzanine overlooking the “factory floor” provides office and research space as well as a platform for observing the operation of the restored antique machinery.
The Main Residence is integrated into the upper portion of the forested hilltop on the estate with a panoramic southwesterly view to the Hudson River. The clients wanted to fulfill their dream of renovating and expanding their childhood vacation home in an environmentally sensitive way. They wanted to create a new full-time home that would allow them to fully appreciate their natural surroundings as well as utilize and enjoy the atelier and private museum that had by this time already been established on the estate. The new structure incorporates a full-time residence for one brother and his wife, common entertainment and relaxation space to be used by both brothers and their spouses, and living quarters for the estate’s caretaker.
The client wished to incorporate the original foundation and bearing walls into the new residence for sentimental reasons as well as because of their interest in sustainability. The pre-existing building was a one-story 4,200 sq. ft. cinderblock and concrete panel structure. The new 7,200 sq. ft. residence is fully powered by geothermal energy, and has an extensive cistern system that enables the owner to utilize rainwater for all property irrigation requirements year-round without accessing the public potable water supply.
The design phase for this portion of the project took 24 months; the construction phase lasted 18 months.
RETREAT - 2009 AIA AWARD
The Retreat is located slightly below and to the side of the Main Residence and is completely integrated into the forest. The owner’s goal was to build a weekend escape cottage there for himself and his wife, who reside in Manhattan. The Retreat is a 1900 sq. ft. ”jewel box”, nestled among trees and boulders and built on the site where the antique steam engines were stored for many years awaiting restoration and exhibition in the Engineerum.
I observed the owner’s requests to orient the Retreat to capture views of certain old-growth trees and topographical features in order to link past and present, and to incorporate a high proportion of outdoor living space. The owners enjoy complete privacy but also have easy access to the private engineering museum, artist’s atelier and other facilities in this compound.
The design phase and construction phase each lasted 18 months. The design process was a very detailed one, involving:
- building site models in order to establish the proper orientation of the Retreat to accommodate existing features and views
- building a ¼” scale model with interior views showing the flow of floor layouts
- building numerous detail models (for example, of the unusual fusion of the kitchen and stairway space)
- demonstrating proposed material applications using virtual exterior presentations
- hand-drafting 25 sheets of construction documents.
The Retreat incorporates a variety of environmental and cost-saving features. For example, it utilizes a complete geothermal heating system fed from the Main Residence on the compound and AAC masonry for the core structure, which have resulted in an average monthly energy cost of just $65.
The Retreat also garnered an award in Westchester Home magazines 2012 inaugural Home Design Awards in the Architecture: New Construction category.
Key team members on this award-winning project included General Contractor Jim Connolly of J.T. Connolly Associates of Montrose; Site Work Sub-contractor Steve Connolly of Steve Connolly Construction of Peekskill; Masonry Sub-contractor Tri-State AAC of Ossining; and Framing, Exterior and Interior Trim Sub-contractor Van der Koos Construction of Mount Kisco. They all executed their tasks with exceptional skill and professionalism.
COMMENTS ON THE RETREAT BY CLIENT GERALD WEINSTEIN - 2009 AIA AWARD
“While I was growing up I spent many summers at my grandparents’ farm in Garrison NY, and after that property was sold nothing was ever able to replace it in my heart. Eventually my family purchased a gorgeous hillside estate property in the Village of Croton-on Hudson overlooking the Hudson River. In 2000 my family retained Rene Robert Mueller, Architect/Planner to design the Atelier and Engineerum and undertake a major renovation of the Main Residence on the estate.
During that process I also decided to create a weekend retreat on the estate property that would be physically and visually separate from the Main Residence, but had no particular idea about how the retreat should look - at one point I even considered a prefabricated structure. Mueller was asked to propose a design. Interestingly, although he had no knowledge of my summers with my grandparents, Rene’s design for the retreat evoked strong memories of the beloved Garrison farm. In addition, my wife and I love industrial architecture and the interior design incorporates functional and visually striking features such as belt-driven ceiling fans and safety-tread tile kitchen counters.
In the early design phase Rene discovered that the Village of Croton-on-Hudson severely restricts the ability to build new structures, even on sizable properties. Obtaining a zoning variance was a lengthy process. Ultimately Mueller was able to convince the Town Planning Board of the project’s merits, which included minimal site impact (little rock demolition and no tree removal). In addition, because the retreat was tied into the new geothermal system that had been installed in the main residence up the hill it in effect became an accessory structure, which was appealing to the Town Planners.
During the first winter, the average monthly electrical bill for lighting, geothermal heating and on-demand water heating was just $65. I hope that the high R-value of the AAC-masonry construction, Icynene insulation, highly rated German windows and doors, and the cross-ventilation provided by the upper and lower level screened porches will keep the retreat cool enough to enjoy even on the hottest summer evenings with no air conditioning and nothing but the fans running from time to time.
The only downside is that the retreat is so beautiful it is kind of painful to go back into the New York City on Sunday evenings.”