In the historic heart of the bucolic Berkshires rises a modern bungalow resembling more an exactingly crafted sideboard than the two-story colonial it replaces. “Colonial” feels intrinsic to this part of western Massachusetts, which has in recent years attracted increasing numbers of weekending New Yorkers and Bostonians to its quaint old villages, rolling hills, apple orchards, and horse corrals. For the newly retired husband-and-wife owners of the Berkshire Residence, who were both raised in the area (the wife on the property itself) and wanted a restful home in line with their current needs, it was important that their architect channel that same vision of the good life.
“The brief was to create a one-story home that could express the owners’ values and, at the same time, celebrate the memories of the property,” said Vincent Appel, principal of the Boston- and New York-based architecture firm Of Possible. Using evocative material choices and subtle spatial cues, Appel’s design enhances this genius loci, making it a felt presence throughout the house. “It feels like it is of the New England landscape,” he added, “but then it starts to misbehave as the geometry is tweaked.”
Warm cedar siding, sourced locally and meticulously detailed, clads the exterior of the house while also framing the wraparound terraces. The largest of these spans an entire bay in plan and, with its hanging fireplace, extends the ample living area outward. Meanwhile, floor-to-ceiling windows in every room bring the pastoral setting indoors, with custom-milled built-ins picking up on the woodsy theme.
The clients, who share a background in the culinary arts and wine tasting, requested a professional kitchen, with all the bells and whistles, and a root cellar to store wine—so much the easier to cater to their many parties. (The ten-seat dining table also helps.) A central spine containing the pantry, bathrooms, and closets forms a privacy buffer shielding three bedrooms and a small library from the social zones of the house.
Appel lifted the floor plate 18 inches off the ground, which not only prevents snow from tracking in during the brutal winters (the Berkshires average 65 inches of snowfall a year) but also helps the interiors retain their heat—in keeping, Appel noted, with Passive House standards. Experientially, elevating the floor elevates the eyeline, which changes inhabitants’ relation to their surroundings. From within the house, the artfully framed vistas of the property—of the venerable maple tree, say, or the familial two-story colonial (which was relocated for use by the wife’s sister)—put occupants in a contemplative mood.
It’s not just nature but the house itself that begins to look different, Appel said. “When the clients have guests over and they sit along the home’s perimeter, it begins to look like a piece of furniture.”
Header image: A living space mixes contemporary items, like a new Warp & Weft rug, and vintage furniture, like the 1968 Vincent Cafiero custom leather sofas. (Rory Gardiner)