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Escape From New York

It was no exodus, of course, but when Kathleen Triem quit her job at a Manhattan design firm in July 1996, her associates were thunderstruck. Triem had decided to practice architecture in the more leisurely atmosphere of upstate New York and, as her colleagues saw it, she was shooting herself in the foot. One man went so far as to say that she’d be back in TriBeCa before you could say “Poughkeepsie.”
Small-town Omi cuts quite a different skyline from the New York City that Triem and Franck left behind.

It was no exodus, of course, but when Kathleen Triem quit her job at a Manhattan design firm in July 1996, her associates were thunderstruck. Triem had decided to practice architecture in the more leisurely atmosphere of upstate New York and, as her colleagues saw it, she was shooting herself in the foot. One man went so far as to say that she’d be back in TriBeCa before you could say “Poughkeepsie.” Triem, though, had had her fill of the Big Apple. Years of dealing with cost overruns and belligerent clients had taken a toll, and now she sought to pursue her career in a place that was more to her liking. Naturally, she had qualms, but when she chanced on Omi, a small town in the Hudson Valley, she knew that she’d found a home. Triem so liked the hamlet, in fact, that four weeks into her tenure, she sent word to the man in her life to come and join her. Peter Franck, who was as disenchanted with Manhattan as Triem was, jumped at the chance. One month later, the architect found himself on the Henry Hudson Parkway heading north. The two never looked back.

Triem quickly landed a job at Art Omi, a residency program for painters, writers, and musicians and, for the next three years, the couple worked assiduously at building up a clientele. And 12 months after they moved to Omi, the two enjoyed a stroke of luck. Art Omi, which encompasses 300 acres of farmldecided to build a sculpture garden and asked the couple if they would work on the master plan. Their enthusiasm for the project was such that not only did they design the garden, they ended up becoming curators as well.

With their practice rapidly expanding, the two decided to build a house of their own. Many of the homes in the Omi area date from the 1800s. Franck, though, is no small fan of Richard Serra’s, and drew on the artist’s early works for design inspiration. In particular, Franck and Triem were quite fond of the monumental 90-ton steel sculpture 4-5-6, which stands at the entrance of the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine. “We wanted [the house] to work the way sculpture works, continuously unfolding as you walk around it,’’ Franck explains. “Serra talks about sculpture as something that can only be put together in the mind. And that’s the feeling we aimed for in the house.’’

The trapezoidal structure, nicknamed the Copper House, sits on a hillside overlooking the Catskill Mountains. From a distance, it draws to mind the monolithic figures lining the shores of Easter Island. Adding to the ambiguity are two access ramps that give the impression they might be wings. The building’s exterior is a combination of blue stone and copper cladding. The house, Franck says, “is contemporary in form, very clean, and obviously modern in spirit.” What he was looking for,  though, was the tactility that the copper and stone provided. The two materials are certainly traditional, says Triem, “but we enjoyed mixing the two in modern forms.” And there was a bonus: The stone and copper make for a maintenance-free exterior.

Inside, the two-story, 3,000-square-foot structure is no less epic. The space constituting the living, dining, and kitchen areas is quintessentially loftlike. The ceilings rise to a dramatic 14 feet and the open floor plan engulfs 800 square feet. And to top it off, white is very much the theme throughout: white walls, white ceilings, white floors, and white sofas. The Lucite coffee tables and wooden chairs that dominate the floor space were designed by the couple, the chairs drawing on the amoebic forms of Joan Miró.

Triem took charge in the master bedroom, breaking from the stark white walls in the rest of the house by adding one wall of soothing Mediterranean blue. She also covered the façade of the fireplace with mirrored tiles; using nothing but place mats, she fashioned a unique rug for the living area. But trumping all of this are the breathtaking views. Gaze out any window, and all you see are trees and mountains.

In addition to designing the house themselves, Triem and Franck also acted as the general contractors. “That saved us quite a bit of money,” Triem says. “We hired the subs directly, and we used a lot of people who had worked for us on other projects.” The structure, which took one year to build and cost $350,000, proved something of a bargain. “We did some of the work ourselves,” Triem says. “I painted the entire interior to save some money, and Peter did some minor framing work. But basically, we called in an awful lot of favors.”

When two architects work on a project, the result can often lead to strife. Not in this case, though—despite the fact that the principals in question are husband and wife. “We have different ways of approaching form and design,” Franck says, “but typically we don’t proceed unless both of us are on the same page.”

Upon its completion in 2001, the home, it seemed, could do no wrong—the space fit the busy duo’s ways perfectly. The house, however, was built before the couple’s three children came onto the scene, necessitating a slight lifestyle—and design—change. “Because of the kids,” Franck says, “we had to give up Kathleen’s painting studio and my workshop.” Not that either minds—the house (and their kids), both agree, is a dream come true.

All of this is well and good, but one still has to wonder if the family ever visits the metropolis they left behind. “We do,” Franck says. “Manhattan is much better now that we don’t have to live there.”

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