How They Pulled It Off: a Massive Sculptural Skylight

Architect Julian King designed—and personally constructed—the bold addition to a 1923 home outside of New York City. Two 85-foot pine trees falling on it mid-renovation was only a setback.
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Welcome to How They Pulled It Off where we take a close look at one particularly challenging aspect of a home design and get the nitty-gritty details about how it became a reality.

When architect Julian King purchased his 1923 Dutch Colonial house outside of New York City in 2012, he couldn’t foresee the impact of Hurricane Sandy in the coming fall. The storm felled two 85-foot pine trees on top of the home—right when it was mid-renovation, with framing going up. As King was doing the renovation himself, this was a setback, but it did not change his vision for an addition that would contain a new, spacious, light-filled bedroom on the second floor. 

The home was originally a two bedroom, one full bath home. King's addition, here in white stucco,  and renovation of the rest of the home turned it into a three bedroom, two bath house.

The home was originally a two bedroom, one full bath home. King's addition, here in white stucco,  and renovation of the rest of the home turned it into a three bedroom, two bath house.


The original home was reclad in reclaimed barn wood laid up vertically; the new addition in white stucco was separated by a gap that formed a skylight on the interior.

The original home was reclad in reclaimed barn wood laid up vertically; the new addition in white stucco was separated by a gap that formed a skylight on the interior.

King designed the addition over the attached garage as a sculptural mass that appears through the surrounding trees. Its white stucco exterior contrasts with the reclaimed barn wood that clads the rest of the existing home, making clear the contrast and relationship between the old and new.  

Skylights played an important role in the design of the new addition, opening its interior up to the surrounding landscape and nature.

Skylights played an important role in the design of the new addition, opening its interior up to the surrounding landscape and nature.

The undulating form of the addition was designed by mapping out the path of the sun, taking into consideration views and the surrounding trees. Its asymmetrical shape on the second floor comprises about 300 square feet, and contains a bedroom with a bed strategically placed under a skylight, a window seat tucked into and under a three-sided window, a long closet, and a bookshelf with hardware embedded into the home’s original brick chimney.

There is a slot skylight between the old house and the new addition. King describes this as "an ephemeral interpretation of an Japanese engawa — no longer inside, yet not outside."

There is a slot skylight between the old house and the new addition. King describes this as "an ephemeral interpretation of an Japanese engawa — no longer inside, yet not outside."

The room’s fixtures and furnishings are subtle and minimalist, with trimless recessed downlights in the ceiling, clear glass shelving, and  poured concrete over an electric radiant floor. The only pop of color is the red brick exposed at the back of the bookshelf—and, of course, the blue sky and green trees outside, framed by the skylights and windows.

"Sleeping under the large curved skylight, with an opening that unfolds like a leaf, and watching hawks glide overhead is magical," says King.

"Sleeping under the large curved skylight, with an opening that unfolds like a leaf, and watching hawks glide overhead is magical," says King.

The highlight of the space is a three-sided skylight above the window seat that creates an experience as if "you are in and of the trees, though they are out there," King notes. Located at the corner of the new addition, it appears to dissolve into the air. The detail is, he says, "a first of its kind in its climate," which made it challenging to both detail and execute.

How they pulled it off: The Skylight
  • Craning in the 900+ lb skylight was no small feat—with King on the roof guiding the crane operator through the trees. 
  • A strip skylight between the old house and the new addition required a rather involved layout of  multiple headers, enabling the skylight frame to disappear into the wall and the wood siding—enhancing the feeling that one is outside.
  • The detailing of the corner window involved a custom steel frame set behind the finishes, using glazing tape and only a powder-coated thin steel plate frame, so it appears flush with the stucco finish.

  • The window is 1/2" tempered low iron glass on all three sides, siliconed together. Any condensation issues that could arise are taken care of by a thermostat-controlled heat tracing cable (typically used in commercial curtain walls) around the frame that warms the glass above freezing when needed. 
  • The glass shelves in front of the existing chimney are held by supports concealed behind the sheetrock, and inconspicuous steel pins (with rubber tubing cut and slipped over their ends) anchored into the brick.  
The window seat is tucked into the three-sided window/skylight, which King describes as the perfect place lie back and watch snow falling above you. 

The window seat is tucked into the three-sided window/skylight, which King describes as the perfect place lie back and watch snow falling above you. 

Along with the rest of the house, which was essentially totally gutted, King did nearly all the work himself: "leaking old cast iron plumbing, dangerous old cloth electrical wiring, inefficient drafty single pane windows, a leaking roof, cracked plaster walls, rotted sheathing, and failing floor joists— everything required replacing," he describes. 

 The task was, as King describes, "herculean," —but so are the end results. 

A pivot door to the new bathroom with embedded hardware is discretely concealed in the wall, beside the glass bookshelves. 

A pivot door to the new bathroom with embedded hardware is discretely concealed in the wall, beside the glass bookshelves. 

King did all of the plasterwork, framing, and lighting installation—in addition to all of the design. This meant that innovative details that were above the capabilities of local contractors were executed as King designed.

King did all of the plasterwork, framing, and lighting installation—in addition to all of the design. This meant that innovative details that were above the capabilities of local contractors were executed as King designed.


The leaf-like skylight opening above the bed frames the foliage outside.

The leaf-like skylight opening above the bed frames the foliage outside.

Project Credits:

Architect: Julian King Architect @juliankingarchitect
Structural Engineer: Alnour Consulting Engineering
Cabinetry Fabrication: Siena Woodworks
Mechanical Contractor: Hybrid Mechanical LLC
Glass Supplier for Sandblasted Glass: Bear Glass Installations

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Kate Reggev
॰ Architect & Preservationist ॰ Lover of buildings old, new, & everything in between! Inbox me at kate.reggev@gmail.com

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