A Couple Takes an Unassuming Plot of Land and Calls it Home

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By Arlene Hirst / Published by Dwell
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After a long day at the office together, this pair relaxes in upstate New York.

Sandy Chilewich and her husband, Joe Sultan, had always been beach-goers, heading out every summer to their ramshackle house on Fire Island—a perfect place for a family with two young sons. But with the boys now grown, and that community overgrown, they were restless and ready for something different. The couple also wanted a place they could go year-round. They had long dreamed of building their own house and decided to search for land in Columbia County, in upstate New York. They weren’t looking for magnificent vistas. "We wanted a place that felt contained," says Chilewich, creative director of the groundbreaking, eponymously named company that produces woven-vinyl tablemats and flooring. She recalls finding their land on the first day of looking: The real estate agent kept showing them what they didn’t want—mountaintops with majestic views—but finally took them to a simple wooded plot, saying: 

"I shouldn’t really show you this place; it’s really boring." They bought it on the spot. 

In realizing their dream to build a country retreat in upstate New York, Sandy Chilewich and Joe Sultan—proprietors of the textiles firm Chilewich|Sultan—eschewed a mountainous view for an understated wooded plot. At 800 square feet, the flat-roofed home is a modest structure for the expansive 10-acre property.

In realizing their dream to build a country retreat in upstate New York, Sandy Chilewich and Joe Sultan—proprietors of the textiles firm Chilewich|Sultan—eschewed a mountainous view for an understated wooded plot. At 800 square feet, the flat-roofed home is a modest structure for the expansive 10-acre property.

Sultan, a licensed architect who had spent years doing SRO (single-room occupancy) units all around New York for mentally ill adults, stopped being a full-time architect in 2000, when he joined Chilewich’s growing textiles firm. He transitioned from his architectural practice in 2004 to serve as full-time CEO for what’s now called Chilewich|Sultan.

The floor coverings are designed by Chilewich, and an assortment of art pieces decorates a wall-mounted, stained maple shelf in the hallway. Though it posed structural difficulties, the elongated, wall-notched skylight provides a magical moment, says Sultan: "We can go to bed at night and see the moon through it."

The floor coverings are designed by Chilewich, and an assortment of art pieces decorates a wall-mounted, stained maple shelf in the hallway. Though it posed structural difficulties, the elongated, wall-notched skylight provides a magical moment, says Sultan: "We can go to bed at night and see the moon through it."

The couple’s country retreat would be the first house Sultan had ever built—a thoroughly appealing prospect. "It took a year to start construction. My first idea was to do a cabin," he says, "but Sandy said no."

Outside, Sultan added a stone wall to anchor and extend the structure into the landscape.

Outside, Sultan added a stone wall to anchor and extend the structure into the landscape.

Instead, they opted to build small—the house is just 800 square feet—because that was what they could afford without having to scrimp on materials or quality. And since the property encompasses 10 acres, they knew there was definitely room to grow. "We wanted what we did to be what we really wanted," explains Chilewich. As it was, Sultan added another five feet to the plan to accommodate a fireplace, then a bit more for a screened-in porch. He oriented the house along a north-south axis and placed the windows to take advantage of late-morning and afternoon sun in the south-facing living room, and afternoon sun from the west in the dining room and kitchen. The screened-in porch is located on the house’s north side—placed there to be out of the sun and cooler in the summertime.

Residing at the home mostly by themselves, Chilewich and Sultan also use the living area as a bedroom to maximize space. Though they rarely close it, they sleep on a Murphy bed from Resource Furniture, which frees up room when guests are over.

Residing at the home mostly by themselves, Chilewich and Sultan also use the living area as a bedroom to maximize space. Though they rarely close it, they sleep on a Murphy bed from Resource Furniture, which frees up room when guests are over.

When folded down, deep navy-blue cushions give the effect of a lush headboard. While the home does not yet have a proper master bedroom, the couple plans to create an addition sometime next year.

When folded down, deep navy-blue cushions give the effect of a lush headboard. While the home does not yet have a proper master bedroom, the couple plans to create an addition sometime next year.

The house was also built with sustainability in mind. Sultan inserted as much insulation as he possibly could—upstate winters are cold—with blown insulation between roof joists under the porch. The windows are fitted with double-glazed Low-E glass, set into steel frames—a material that he has always loved. The kitchen walls are covered in reclaimed wood, water comes from a well on the property, and the hot-water radiant heating system is powered by propane and a small box boiler.   

A red print by Cris Gianakos accents a well-lit stairwell leading to a laundry area, library, and rec room on the full basement floor.

A red print by Cris Gianakos accents a well-lit stairwell leading to a laundry area, library, and rec room on the full basement floor.

Sultan made use of every square foot. The house has a full basement, which not only contains the laundry and a work area but also a commodious guest bedroom and a well-stocked library. He situated the basement stairs by the west-facing windows in the dining area to bring daylight to the lower level.

In the dining area are a Gamma table by Cappellini, Eames molded plastic chairs, and a Flotation pendant by Ingo Maurer.

In the dining area are a Gamma table by Cappellini, Eames molded plastic chairs, and a Flotation pendant by Ingo Maurer.

What Chilewich and Sultan still don’t have is a master bedroom. For now, they have installed a Murphy bed from Resource Furniture in the living room—an unconventional choice, but one the couple is happy with. Chilewich says they rarely close it, though, preferring to use the room as a mixed-space loft. She adds that they could have used the lower level as their bedroom, but loved being by the fireplace and also wanted to enjoy the light-filled space. Even so, they plan to add a master bedroom on the east side of the house next year. "There is a lack of privacy when we have guests," she admits.

Furnished with Rakks shelving, a Blu Dot table, and a sofa bed from ABC Carpet & Home, the floor also includes a spacious guest bedroom. A bright-yellow color accent, painted onto the wall in Benjamin Moore’s Sunburst, acts as a subtle, minimalist headboard.

Furnished with Rakks shelving, a Blu Dot table, and a sofa bed from ABC Carpet & Home, the floor also includes a spacious guest bedroom. A bright-yellow color accent, painted onto the wall in Benjamin Moore’s Sunburst, acts as a subtle, minimalist headboard.

The furnishings are a mix of high- and low-priced pieces. "It’s so easy to spend a fortune," she says. "But then it becomes formulaic." The couple splurged on a B&B Italia sofa for the living room. Sultan hesitated when he heard the price, but Chilewich prevailed, > telling him they’d have it for 50 years. The high end also includes a dining table by Cappellini, lighting from Foscarini and Ingo Maurer, and Eames dining chairs from Design Within Reach. The screened-in porch has rattan armchairs from Crate & Barrel, and the outdoor furniture was found on eBay.

"We sleep in a Murphy bed, but we never close it; it’s like living in a loft."—Sandy Chilewich, resident

"We sleep in a Murphy bed, but we never close it; it’s like living in a loft."—Sandy Chilewich, resident

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The couple couldn’t be more pleased with their new home, which took a year and a half to complete. And Sultan is proud of his first residential project: "It was easy," he says. "I had a great client."

Situated near the south-facing facade, the main living space is furnished with a Michel sectional from B&B Italia, Feel Good side chairs by Flexform, and a suspended Ergofocus fireplace from Focus.

Situated near the south-facing facade, the main living space is furnished with a Michel sectional from B&B Italia, Feel Good side chairs by Flexform, and a suspended Ergofocus fireplace from Focus.