A Sense of Place
At his home in Bedford, an architect creates a light-filled haven that celebrates its regional roots
photographs by John M. Hall
Visiting architect Keith Kroeger's bucolic Bedford, New York property is a bit like entering a maze. The experience begins at the entry where visitors drive into a courtyard created by a three-car garage and a two-story section of the main house. From there a gate leads to yet another courtyard—there are six in total, defined by the garage, the L-shaped residence, a vine-covered stucco wall and a string of linden trees. Throughout the property, carefully sited walls, archways and doorways mandate meandering.
"Unlike the good old center hall Colonial where you arrive and see through the house out to the garden and that's that, here there's never a place where you can see the whole house at one time," Kroeger says. "Instead you travel through the various gardens and slowly discover the house. It's meant to be very playful."
When Kroeger, who has been designing country homes and gardens for more than three decades, first spied the four wooded acres in the late 1990s, he knew he would create a landscape totally in sync with the rural topography, as well as design a house that honored its local roots. He achieved that goal and more. A few years ago, it was selected to grace the cover of Gardens in the Spirit of Place (Stewart, Tabor and Chang, 2005), chosen for being in harmony with its environment and for celebrating its regional origins.
"The property is surrounded by horse farms, meadows and countryside filled with vegetables and flowers," says Kroeger, who saved the existing white oaks, red multi-stem maples and mature white pines. The trees served as a jumping-off point for the new landscape design that required clearing large sections of the meadow to make way for the garage, main house and a separate studio. In deference to the local vernacular the four-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot house resembles a barn, and the multi-level structure features a series of windows that are 11 feet high and 8 feet wide. These "big barn openings" are responsible for the abundance of daylight that brightens all the spaces.
The buildings are sheathed in wood vertical boarding stained dark gray, "to match the tree trunks," says Kroeger, and are topped with pewter-colored standing-seam metal roofs. "There are no exotic materials. It's all painted gypsum board and wood timber construction, and basically everything is one color," says the architect who used the same gray hue on the inside walls.
Kroeger says he likes to think of it as a two-room house. "There's a kitchen and dining section, and there's the everything room that functions as a music room, library and family gathering place." A separate free-standing building that includes an exercise room, Kroeger's home office and a photography studio for his wife does double duty as a place for large happenings. "We move the furniture out and set up for big dinner parties in there," he says. In contrast to the main house, the interior of the commodious 40-foot long space is painted white. "So many different things happen here I decided to make an exception to the color rule," he adds.
Like the architecture, the furnishings are simple and clean-lined and almost exclusively designed by Kroeger. He crafted the family room sofa and chairs, and the dining room chairs for his parent's home in the 1960s; the plywood platform bed in the master bedroom, fashioned for this house, is painted to match the predominant palette. Throughout, white ash floors help lighten the dark walls. "It's the same material they use for baseball bats," he says.
Outside, layers of green in the form of trees, native grasses and ivy, as well as the seasonal color changes visible through the oversized fenestration, help temper the monochromatic gray. The window of the "everything room" frames up views toward the meadow where a tranquil blend of native grasses meets that imposing stand of white pines, oaks and maples. Come spring the studio vista includes a neat row of ten crab apple trees brimming with blossoms, and year-round the stucco wall and covered loggia that flank the swimming pool drip with a blend of ivies—238th Street and English evergreens and deciduous Boston, which blazes red, yellow and orange in the fall.
"Architecture is about making spaces both inside and out," says Kroeger. "And this house emphasizes its juxtaposition with the natural countryside."