It’s not unusual for New Yorkers to have problems with their neighbors; after all, many a co-op brawl has started over a little late-night noise. But it is rare for the downtown crowd to have a beef with a pack of rowdy beavers—which is exactly the situation in which architect Lynn Gaffney and her husband, financial portfolio manager Bill Backus, found themselves recently at their weekend home in the tiny town of Sharon, Connecticut (population: 2,968). The beavers, who reside in the swamp behind Backus and Gaffney’s house, generally keep a low profile, but every so often let loose with a torrent of logs and sticks that block all the nearby drainage pipes, making a watery mess of local roads and forcing residents to haul away the detritus.
This place was a filthy dump when we bought it,” says Cathryn Barmon, sipping tea in a knockoff Le Corbusier chair. “I didn’t want to go barefoot until we’d redone the floors. Mark knew it was a good thing, but I thought it was horrible, sad, and depressing. I couldn’t believe we’d put all our hard-earned savings into this.”
When David Carmel decided to propose to Kirsten Axelsen, he was at home in Manhattan and she was in Ethiopia, working to eliminate trachoma (the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness). No problem: David flew 7,000 miles to pop the question at a restaurant in Addis Ababa. A year and a trip to the altar later, the Carmels now live in a Chelsea apartment that’s designed in part to make it easy for David to get around in a wheelchair; a diving accident eight years ago left him paralyzed from the waist down.
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.
High-rise superblocks and identical clusters of row houses set apart from the urban grid have been much maligned as some of the major wrongdoings of modernism, but Detroit's Lafayette Park—the first urban-renewal project in the United States—tells a vastly different story. Within a sprawling, decentralized city that has suffered near-disastrous decline, this racially and economically diverse enclave just northeast of downtown has not only aged gracefully but today flourishes with new life.