“From the beginning, Niels and I defended each other. It was always a conversation, or a long discussion, to get to know the land,” says Kerzner. She spent years perfecting her vision with the young German architect.
Fast forward to 2017, when she purchased a vast, scenic plot of land in the Hudson Valley. The sprawling hill scene contained two stunning barn structures, a river running through the property, a cabin, and an apartment house. Just as in the far reaches of Pondicherry, this was a landscape to be appreciated, worked with, and understood. “I immediately knew Niels was the right person for the job,” she recalls.
The next four years were quite the process: countless iterations of the house were drawn. Meanwhile, the pre-existing apartment house (a cabin in an odd location that would soon be demolished) often provided temporary housing for Kerzner, her two daughters, and Schoenefelder. “It was a blessing in disguise, because it gave me time to know exactly what I wanted.”
A visit to the farm soon became an adventure: one never knew when Schönefelder was to be planted in the middle of the garden on his wooden desk, painting a revised version of the Terracotta Chamber. Kerzner will likely be nearby, weeding, or roving deep in thought. During frequent dinners, every detail of the 240-acre property became a thought-provoking debate: wood or stone beams? Three bedrooms or four?
Time revealed even the smallest of needs: When napkins piled up at the bottom of the cabin’s drawer each night, it became clear that the wash-basin hidden in the kitchen was an absolute must. After staring at the ugly litter box for a day several times, the hidden door with a toilet tucked away became for three more black cats.
The resulting design is a distillation of the land they have come to know inside and out – a modern, barn-inspired structure that has been meticulously crafted to seamlessly fit into its surroundings. Initially, the house was to be housed within the main barn, but when this was deemed structurally unviable, Schönefelder emulated the feel with double-height ceilings and clever details – such as the primary bathroom, where the sink stands exactly in a rounded corner like if She was sitting in a hermitage. Elsewhere, wood reclaimed from a demolished cabin has been found along the mudroom walls and powder room. Stone walls and accents are inspired by the boulders along the property’s river. “The most important thing was to set the balance between the buildings, the new house, and these old barns—because they really are so special,” says Schoenfelder. We didn’t want to make the same mistake [was evident in] The old house, which was really to be separated – there was no flow. ”
Now, the continuous flow from room to room sounds smooth, even meditative, unlike the rustling of a river, which can be heard gently throughout the house. In the open kitchen – the heart of the pure house – evenings are spent cooking as guests mingle around the bar. It’s also where eldest daughter Jazz, or Jazzy, will display her latest treasure – freshly harvested from the garden – while Kai, the youngest, cooks for several of the dogs. “I’ve been spending a long time thinking, ‘What do I need in my right side? What should be under it?'” Kerzner reflects. The resulting custom kitchen island was such a triumph that Schoenefelder patented the design.
Subtly divided by a plasterboard fireplace, the kitchen opens onto a spacious, double-height living area where, despite its uniquely modern character, the spirit of Tiruvannamalai, India, remains undeniably present. A custom-built low dining table by Schoenfelder surrounded by plush velvet cushions invites guests to dine on the floor, as they do in India. A second fireplace at the end of the room was designed to serve as a second cooking space of sorts, as indicated in part by the large pots hanging above.
Also of note are the custom sconces designed by Schoenfelder, which help create the perfect ambiance each evening. “It’s one of my favorite parts of the house,” resonates Kai. “It’s the dim light that creates that uniquely warm, hazy feeling.” Ultimately, the sconces are just one of the countless items the architect crafted with his team to make sure perfection was infused into the smallest of details. It’s what makes every corner exciting, every hour of work feels. It is clearly one of those homes that strike a rare balance: one with the earth, but a wellspring of creativity and invention.