Adirondack, Shingle Style

Fine Homebuilding

Richard Buchanan

01 April 2005

"You've done some good work," said the Scholls, "but we know you can do better." The four of us-my partner, Peter Archer, and I, and Mr. and Mrs. Scholl-were huddled over our early sketches of their home-to-be. "It's attractive, but too ... ordinary," Mrs. Scholl said. The path from ordinary to the one-of-a-kind house we ended up with wasn't always clear. But with the Scholls' encouragement and their almost parent-like role as advisers, Peter and I were nudged out of our traditional colonial-centric comfort zones into a home checkered with playful asymmetry.

Taking cues from the rolling Pennsylvania countryside, we rounded out the strong horizontal and vertical lines of our early designs with more curves. But we gained our greatest measure of design inspiration by circling back to the Scholls' memories of vacations in New York's Adirondack region. We blended massive wooden brackets and timeless stonework, characteristic of the Adirondack style, with the shingle style's tendency toward less formal yet exemplary craftsmanship. At the Scholls' house, the shingle style is marked by sweeping rooflines, asymmetrical shapes, roof and sidewall shingles, and imaginative window placement. In addition, we brought curves to the interior of the house by connecting the public and private areas with arched openings.

A gently rolling site inspires curves in the home's design

One of the first challenges we met was fitting the house to the site. The property is equal parts woods and rolling meadow, and the south-facing site falls 9 ft. in elevation over a distance of about 30 ft. We worked with the existing grade by situating the longer, lower section of the house on the high side of the property. As the land rolls downward, a two-story gable rises on a bridge like stone arch. It's one of the first things you see as you drive toward the house. The stone arch is one of many curved shapes that are played against the home's predominantly straight lines. Curves in the patio walls, the bow window, and even the oval windows at the gable tops set the house apart, giving it a stylistic signature. With no horizontal or vertical trim, oval windows work particularly well near the rake.

Rooflines and big brackets play a prominent role

The most important element in defining the shape of this house is the roof. Running perpendicular to the main gable is a longer subordinate ridge, which ends in a gently sloping hip roof over the screened porch. A smaller shed roof covers the bow window. Although they're not symmetrical, the hierarchy of roof shapes-a punctuated gable followed by a lower straight ridge ending in a sloping hip-works well because the roofs outline mirrors the sloping site. At the front entrance, an alcove capped by a smaller gable steps back, creating an opportunity for a barrel-vaulted ceiling. Protected from the weather, visitors are surrounded by an ensemble of welcoming shapes, textures, and colors: a curved ceiling with cove lighting; a smooth-paneled Arts-and-Crafts-style door; gray flagstones underfoot; dark-stained cedar shingles; dark-green Spanish-cedar trim; and stained glass lit warmly from within. Massive brackets are common details on Adirondack-style houses. In the Scholl house, they range from large to very large and change shape depending on their location and implied strength. Just above and to the right of the stone arch are two examples: a larger pair of brackets supporting the roof over the bow window, and a smaller pair on the window below.

Another opportunity for brackets arose in the supports for the covered walk connecting the garage to the screened porch. Almost by accident, we happened upon a unique bracket design while working at the drawing board.

Curves connect the interior parts of the house

Curved details occur in conspicuous places, not only on the exterior of the house but on the interior as well. Arched openings between rooms are an effective way of applying this tactic. The foyer amplifies the curvy look with a vaulted ceiling over Mrs. Scholl's office overlook that floats like a sheet held aloft in the wind. The family room illustrates a couple of other, less obvious ways to work curves into the fabric of a house. The big bay window overlooking the view to the south bulges outward, creating a faceted collection of window panes and the opportunity for a gently curving window seat that guides the eye toward the keyed-archway passage to the master bedroom. On the same wall, the flanks of the fireplace sweep inward in opposing curves toward the brick-lined firebox.

A flexible plan looks to the future

Just as important as the home's aesthetics were the practical needs of an older couple. They wanted enough room for children and grandchildren within a home that would convert easily to one-floor living when the need arose. The floor plan subtly reflects that, with the master bedroom, baths, kitchen, and dining and family rooms concentrated on one floor. With the best view, the highest ceiling, and a central connection to the rest of the house, the family room serves as the heart of the home. Its neighborly connection to the much-used kitchen is mutually advantageous. The current floor plan has enough room for social events and for the Scholls' children and grandchildren, who are frequently in and out of the house. If and when navigating stairs becomes more of an issue, structural changes will not be necessary. In addition, there are no thresholds in the house (even in the showers), a benefit for wheelchair users, seniors, and toddlers. Another way that we built accessibility into the design was by creating a nearly level plane between the parking area and the first floor. Enter the kitchen through the screened porch, and there are no steps to climb.

Adirondack style grew out of the land around it

In the late 19th century, an enduring American residential style quietly emerged in the woods of the Adirondack Mountains in New York. Made from the very landscape upon which they were built, Adirondack-style houses were quirky and rustic, with stone foundations, birch-bark paneling, and stair railings made of carefully intertwined branches. Their big roofs said shelter in a big way, and their screened porches and stone patios said relax.

Among the signature Adirondack details incorporated into this house are:

  • A masonry foundation made of local stone.
  • Exposed and even decorative structural details such as massive brackets, posts, and beams.
  • Broad overhangs and porches to protect the foundation from the elements.
  • Buildings connected by covered walks.

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