written by:
photos by:
January 15, 2009
Originally published in Super Natural
Architect Preston Scott Cohen resurrected an early 1800s barn as a vacation home for a literary couple and their family, calling to mind both the agrarian spaciousness of the structure’s former life and the vernacular of its new function as a house. Transcending both, Cohen created a piece of architecture that is at once porous and opaque, familiar yet otherworldly.
goodman residence dining room gabled ceiling wood beams
"We didn't want to diminish the openness and height and feeling of a great expanse of space," says Arnold, though he adds, "I was slightly concerned that we were going to end up feeling like we were reading in Grand Central Station." Fortunately, the barn frame's horizontal beams perform a domestic function by creating the illusion of a lower ceiling. The three major anchor beams were hewn from a single tall yellow pine.
Photo by 
1 / 7
In the bedroom, a "scarecrow" crafted by the Goodmans' grandson Eli hangs on the wall.
In the bedroom, a "scarecrow" crafted by the Goodmans' grandson Eli hangs on the wall.
Photo by 
2 / 7
In keeping with the Goodmans' desire for just enough subdivision for rooms to sleep and work in, Cohen inserted a two-story volume into one of the barn frame's side aisles. An additional small mezzanine over the kitchen serves as a play area for the grand
In keeping with the Goodmans' desire for just enough subdivision for rooms to sleep and work in, Cohen inserted a two-story volume into one of the barn frame's side aisles. An additional small mezzanine over the kitchen serves as a play area for the grandchildren.
Photo by 
3 / 7
Rather than concealing the barn frame in the private rooms, Cohen created an interplay between modern and historic elements in the master bathroom.
Rather than concealing the barn frame in the private rooms, Cohen created an interplay between modern and historic elements in the master bathroom.
Photo by 
4 / 7
A massive pine beam defines the master bathroom.
A massive pine beam defines the master bathroom.
Photo by 
5 / 7
In a narrow residual area between the breezeway and the house's northern elevation, Cohen created a so-called "skinny space," with a changing area accessible to the outdoor shower.
In a narrow residual area between the breezeway and the house's northern elevation, Cohen created a so-called "skinny space," with a changing area accessible to the outdoor shower.
Photo by 
6 / 7
Barn turned vacation house in Pine Plains, New York
The Pine Plains, New York, home of Elise and Arnold Goodman boasts 48 windows, the largest of which measures 8'6'' by 7'6''. As architect Preston Scott Cohen explains, the "free facade makes it impossible to identify how many levels there are, or even to tell the difference between a door and a window." From without, the windows reveal dramatic glimpses of the 18th-century barn farm and new steel structure that support the house. From within, says Elise, "Each season, each time of day, offers a different view of the world. It's spectacular."
Photo by 
7 / 7
goodman residence dining room gabled ceiling wood beams
"We didn't want to diminish the openness and height and feeling of a great expanse of space," says Arnold, though he adds, "I was slightly concerned that we were going to end up feeling like we were reading in Grand Central Station." Fortunately, the barn frame's horizontal beams perform a domestic function by creating the illusion of a lower ceiling. The three major anchor beams were hewn from a single tall yellow pine.
Project 
Goodman Residence
Architect 

The skunks may be miserable on Skunks MiseryRoad, but from the look of things, the people are doing just fine. Land values have risen so high along this roadkill-dotted lane, which winds through Pine Plains, a hamlet two hours north of New York City, that the dairy farms that once flourished on the forested, hilly landscape have been converted into estates.  The cows have mostly decamped, but the farmhouses and barns remain—suggesting that the affluent fauna now grazing among the mâche pits shares its predecessors’ architectural predilections.

That is, until one turns at the Simon’s Farm mailbox, bumps a mile along a dirt road, and beholds the home of Arnold P. and Elise Simon Goodman. The design, by architect Preston Scott Cohen, takes the peaked-roof gable house—an object so familiar as to seem invisible—and, with a provocative mix of modernity and tradition, a sprinkling of the surreal, and a massive explosion of scale, utterly upends our notions of home.

In keeping with the Goodmans' desire for just enough subdivision for rooms to sleep and work in, Cohen inserted a two-story volume into one of the barn frame's side aisles. An additional small mezzanine over the kitchen serves as a play area for the grand
In keeping with the Goodmans' desire for just enough subdivision for rooms to sleep and work in, Cohen inserted a two-story volume into one of the barn frame's side aisles. An additional small mezzanine over the kitchen serves as a play area for the grandchildren.

“The house is not about a lot of little things,” declares Cohen, with an enunciative clarity that  converts simple words like “moves”—“mewves”—into events. “It’s one big thing at all times.”

The seed for Cohen’s architectural sequoia was his clients’ desire for a country retreat. “We wanted three things,” says Arnold, who is partnered with his wife in a Manhattan literary agency. “Privacy; a Catskill Mountains view; and a place to swim. But we could never find a house that suited us, so we decided to build.” The couple purchased a 164-acre property, one of the last still-undivided parcels created from a 1706 British land grant. There was a spring-fed spot for a pond, and, after clearing 15 wooded acres west of their building site at the land’s high point, they got the biggest defoliation-related surprise since Mikhail Gorbachev lost his hair: a view, not only of nearly the entire Catskill range, but an Arcadian tableau of valleys, forests, and fields in front of it.

As for the dwelling itself, “we’d rented a barn once that had been converted into a house,” Elise says, “and we discovered how lovely it was to have high ceilings and wood beams.” The idea, Cohen recalls, was to “have a barn disassembled and restored, and reconstructed with a new envelope built around the frame.” The Goodmans were drawn to the traditional Dutch version, with its broad, nave-like central axis with aisles on either side, and massive H-shaped supports. In New York’s Mohawk Valley, the couple found a unique example: a barn dating from the early 1800s that, via the addition of a fifth bay (one more than usual), had a colossal 50-by-60 footprint and soared to a height of 37 feet. “Though the old siding was in typically passable condition,” says Cohen, “the frame was the best they’d seen.”

In a narrow residual area between the breezeway and the house's northern elevation, Cohen created a so-called "skinny space," with a changing area accessible to the outdoor shower.
In a narrow residual area between the breezeway and the house's northern elevation, Cohen created a so-called "skinny space," with a changing area accessible to the outdoor shower.

The greatest challenge, however, was not finding the ideal property or the perfect barn. It was engaging an architect who could provide that unquantifiable something Elise calls “a work of art.” And so, in a manner of speaking, she went to the source: the Museum of Modern Art’s library, where she discovered Cohen’s “breathtaking” Torus House, which had been featured in MoMA’s 1999 exhibition The Un-Private House. “[The Torus] scheme has an airy interior, largely a single open space, connected to the landscape,” Cohen explains. “It was quite similar to the Goodmans’ program.”

For Cohen, the project was a chance to experiment with “transforming historical typologies to produce a new language.” Vernacular structures like barns, he observes, “establish conventions that are rooted in social practices we can understand. Contemporary architecture can elaborate on that, so that the new is brought into a dialogue that has collective values embedded in it.”

In keeping with the Goodmans’ desire to retain the barn frame in “pristine form,” Cohen left the space largely open, locating the master suite, guest accommodations, offices, and baths in a two-story volume tucked into a side aisle. Then he focused on the dialogue between past and present, producing several large gestures that, by reinterpreting elements of the barn, revivify the “collective values” common to domestic architecture.

The first, says Cohen, involves “the irreducible image of a house—the gable form,” which has, through simplification and inflation, been converted into a nearly hyperreal expression of home. “To make the exterior more monolithic and provide a more astonishing contrast with the timbers behind it—a dialectic of the refined and rustic—the exterior is clad in tightly tailored, four-inch-wide cedar planks that look at moments like cast-in-place concrete,” he observes. “It adds to that peculiar overscaled character.”

Inside, the contrast is indeed astonishing. Apart from the timbers’ monumental beauty, Cohen says, “their fascination derives from the return to the pure tectonic experience of architecture. The barn frame confronts one with it in the most profound way—and in a domestic setting, where it normally isn’t offered.”

In the bedroom, a "scarecrow" crafted by the Goodmans' grandson Eli hangs on the wall.
In the bedroom, a "scarecrow" crafted by the Goodmans' grandson Eli hangs on the wall.

Excluding the partitions that traditionally stabilize a barn facilitated Cohen’s liveliest inspiration: an exposed, load-bearing steel frame that sits between the wooden beams and walls. The support establishes a pas de deux between pre-and post-industrial structure, in which the partners endlessly contrast and harmonize—sometimes separating, at other moments colliding with startling, kinetic beauty. Considering the sculptural starburst of wood and steel in the guest room, Elise wonders, “Why put any art on the wall?”

By releasing the building’s skin from its structural support function, the steel frame also enabled Cohen’s anarchic, Dalíesque scramble of 48 windows, which reinforces the drollery of the house’s scale. “It’s a free facade,” he explains. “And we’ve displayed it by having the windows wander off out of sync with the barn’s bays.” In fact, there’s a method to the madness: “They’re determined by views and relationships to furnishings, and have geometric connections with one another,” Cohen says. But in a wry inversion of the pleasures of looking out, he adds, “they also frame views of what’s inside—they capture certain intersections of timber and steel.”

Perhaps the architect’s richest gesture is the ten-foot-square breezeway—running the structure’s full width and open at both ends—that forms the main entrance. This was, the Goodmans joke, the only piece of “architecture” they would permit. Indeed, its mention sends Cohen into an enthusiastic fit that borders on the zany. “That was the thing that mattered most to me!” he yells. “That moment when you’re poised in the interval of the threshold—this extends that interval through the whole house. The breezeway invites you not just to enter, but to explore the experience of entering.” Because the space’s windows fold from floor to wall and wall to ceiling, opening 360-degree views of the interior, one is surrounded by the house’s pleasures before going through the front door. The experience is further enriched by the breezeway’s function as an interior porch, directly on axis with Round Top Mountain, one of the Catskills’ tallest peaks. Best of all, it can be enjoyed year-round: Cohen designed outsize roll-up glass and screen doors, which drop like theatrical flats and keep out the cold in winter and bugs during the summer.

The outcome is an architecture that unites Cohen’s theoretical rigor, instinct for the sensuous, and sheer creative exuberance. It’s also remarkably in sync with its occupants, who seem like typologically correct Upper West Siders of a certain age until, ofcourse, you come to recognize their unexpected iconoclasm, appetite for risk, and good humor. “The house is a great source of pleasure,” Elise affirms. “Can you imagine having this in your life?”

Cohen, pointing to the design’s use of space, replies, “Why not? The persistence of those gigantic things creates great effects at many scales. It challenges conventions, draws you into a new experience, but relieves you of the expenditure of having to resolve everything,” he says. “That’s part of what makes it a modern house. And I like that.”

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

senses smell products
The nose knows: Though fleeting and immaterial, scent is the lifeblood of Proustian memories, both evoking and imprinting visceral associations.
February 06, 2016
design icon josef frank villa beer vienna
Josef Frank: Against Design, which runs through April 2016 at Vienna’s Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, is a comprehensive study of the prolific architect, designer, and author.
February 06, 2016
senses sound products
From an alarm to a symphony, audio frequencies hold the power to elicit an emotional call-and-response.
February 06, 2016
Italian Apline home with double-height walls on one facade.
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 05, 2016
A built-in sofa with Design Tex upholstery marks the boundary between the two-level addition and the bungalow. Leading up to the master bedroom, a perforated metal staircase, lit from above, casts a Sigmar Polke–like shadow grid on the concrete floor.
From a minimalist Walter Gropius design to a curving sculptural stair, these six stairways run the gamut.
February 05, 2016
distant structure lakeside prefab norway facade stones green roof
Dwell has traveled all over the world, from Tasmania to Indonesia, to report on modern houses.
February 05, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment master bedroom atrium
Get ready for a weekend of rest with these sleepy, little cocoons.
February 05, 2016
lamp show 99 cent plus gallery 0
At Brooklyn's 99¢ Plus gallery, 30 artists and designers re-imagine the lamp in an illuminating light show.
February 04, 2016
Hidden storage stairwell with raw brass hardware
Having ample space to stow items is a daily struggle—peep these modern homes for some ideas on maximizing your square footage.
February 04, 2016
modern fairhaven beach house blackbutt eucalyptus living room Patricia Urquiola sofa
Whether it's along a coast in Australia or the French Alps, wood provides a natural touch in these interiors.
February 04, 2016
Glass and steel sculpture in Printemps store of Paris.
In the Paris' venerable Printemps department store, two Toronto-based firms were tasked with enlivening a new atrium and creating a unique experience for visitors. YabuPushelberg, partnering with UUfie, designed this stunning steel "sail" embedded with vibrant dichroic glass.
February 04, 2016
Monochromatic Master Bedroom in Copenhagen Townhouse
Whether it's to maximize limited light or create a soothing interior, these five projects go white in a big way.
February 04, 2016
EQ3 Assembly quilt by Kenneth LaVallee
The new Assembly collection from EQ3 celebrates up-and-coming figures in Canadian design. Discover this newly appointed class, which debuted at Toronto's Interior Design Show, here.
February 03, 2016
The Greenhouses of Half Moon Bay
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 03, 2016
Deck of Australian addition to Edwardian home.
A 1,500-square-foot home in Melbourne welcomes a modern black and white kitchen, dining, and living area.
February 03, 2016
open plan concrete home in japan
Embracing the organic, imperfect material, these raw concrete surfaces are a step up from exposed brick.
February 03, 2016
Renovated DC Row House loft space with Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair.
The classic designer's signature and comfortable forms continue to be popular in homes today.
February 03, 2016
Zinc-roofed cabin France.
An architect builds an energy-efficient home near one of France’s most popular pilgrimage sites.
February 03, 2016
1973 Palm Springs home
Made for casual design enthusiasts and Palm Springs connoisseurs alike, Unseen Midcentury Desert Modern offers a peek into 51 buildings—some not open to the public—in that Southern California mecca of modernism. Begun in 2008 by photographer Dan Chavkin, the book is set for release this February 9th and will be available on Amazon and at multiple venues of Modernism Week in Palm Springs, February 11 - 21. Here we preview some of its images.
February 03, 2016
Millennial concept home with an outdoor living area
A concept home aims to reflect the requests of the Millennial market.
February 03, 2016
The two twelve-by-sixteen-foot bedrooms, directly above a comparable pair on the first floor, feature a glass transom that follows the pitch of the roof. “The stair and railings were very simple,” Depardon observes. “We added a bit of design, with panels
Skylights needn't be simple overhead daylighting; sometimes they can truly define a room.
February 03, 2016
Modern small space Rhode Island cottage with landscaping and cedar cladding
Surrounded by nature, these cottages are tranquil retreats from the city.
February 03, 2016
The couple kept original touches, including the arch.
Historic archways belie these contemporary homes with physical reminders of each structure's storied past.
February 03, 2016
modern guesthouse in norway with angular facade and cutaway patio with spruce cladding and ikea chair
These houses make room for nature, not the other way around.
February 02, 2016
Modern kitchen with yellow sectioned walls and monochrome appliances
Whether it's a splash of color or bold strokes, this collection of interiors brightens up these homes.
February 02, 2016
Rust-washed concrete wall in Moscow apartment renovation.
This 590-square-foot apartment was stripped down to admit sunlight and dramatically reveal forgotten surfaces.
February 02, 2016
Nendo's collection of objects inspired by Star Wars
In a galaxy not so far away, Japanese studio Nendo has released a versatile collection of objects inspired by classic Star Wars characters.
February 02, 2016
Monti catered to his mother’s love of cooking by giving her ample storage areas along the 70-foot long walnut wall-slash-cabinet. The refrigerator, kitchen items and other goods easily disappear into the wall when not in use. The nonporous, stain-, scratc
Sometimes the earthy colors and vivid grain of a wood like walnut is all you need to make a space.
February 02, 2016
renovated modern home in Austin interior kitchen
From California to Connecticut, these midcentury interiors still shine through thanks to the careful attention of architects and residents alike.
February 02, 2016
Outdoor dining area at a Saigon home.
A city home honors the local culture with communal outdoor space and reclaimed materials.
February 02, 2016