For many city folks subjected daily to the cacophony of automobile bustle and urban ephemera, a trip to the countryside brings unparalleled relief—especially if it comes with unbeatable views. Hence, it didn’t take long for one New York–based couple to decide where to create their occasional haven and future retirement home.
Nestled in a forest, the mountainous site in Cornwall, Connecticut, offers dramatic views of the Housatonic River and the surrounding valleys. "The view and how private the location felt were the main reasons why we decided to build a new home in this particular place," say the couple.
On the plot sat a dilapidated cabin that had suffered 30 years of piecemeal renovations. "We salvaged the existing concrete foundation to reduce construction waste," say Katherine Chia and Arjun Desai, principals of Desai Chia Architecture, who were tasked with the new build.
Upon this base they raised an elegant structure that embodies strong genius loci. The barn-like form draws inspiration from the region’s ubiquitous covered bridges and agricultural structures. "Resembling the ridges and valleys of the nearby mountains, its simple yet iconic form creates a strong silhouette against the landscape," says Desai.
The home’s programs are neatly arranged beneath the precisely shaped roof. The openings are cleanly defined to frame views like Japanese paintings, and the internal spaces are fluid to cater to easy living and minimize blockage of the scenery as much as possible.
Floor-to-ceiling windows create strong connections between the home’s interior and the surrounding landscape. This effect is most expansive in the open-plan living, dining, and kitchen area.
In warmer weather, the occupants enjoy dining and lounging on the stepped terrace, which runs the length of the house, to make the most of the scenery. An existing boulder kept as a key site reference fronts the communal spaces like a sculpture.
"[It] became a muse for the living area’s uphill view. The rock is part of a landscape experience whether you are inside or outside the house," says Chia.
The rock’s organic form stands out against the architecture’s crisp lines. With such a beautiful artifact visible through the glassed walls, there is no need for other forms of art in the home.
The interiors enjoy a loftiness provided by the peaked ceiling that traces the roof’s shape. Two floating lamps designed by Isamu Noguchi emphasize this verticality. The glazing brings in an abundance of light. When opened, the house breathes.
"This midsection serves as the incubator for living—a place where the owners and their guests can come together to dine, socialize, and relax," Chia Says. "There are two terraces: one on the uphill side facing the forest, and the other on the downhill side of the ledge facing the views to the Connecticut Valley."
The master bedroom and two guest rooms are given privacy at the house’s two extreme ends. Dark shou sugi ban siding clads their elevations, interrupted only by apertures for considered landscaped views.
The material’s heavily charred color and texture harmonizes with the colors of the site. Its bug- and rot-proof properties also ease long-term maintenance.
In contrast, the interior walls are whitewashed. The home’s furniture and fixtures follow a minimal, contemporary language that minimizes distraction from the vistas. Alabaster, cement, earth, and charcoal shades echo those found in nature.
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"The finishes and fittings were selected to help create a warm and intimate space that can reinforce one’s connection with nature. The materials are simple—wide-plank oak floors, satin lacquer cabinets, stone tiles—but used in graphic and sculptural ways that accentuate the power of their textures and colors," Chia highlights.
Oak flooring spreads through the entire home, offering warmth underfoot and a cozy ambiance. Many timber furniture pieces add to this effect. Examples include the living room’s E15 coffee table and Colonial daybed from Carl Hansen & Søn.
In the master bathroom, a Hinoki wood tub invites contemplative dips. Floating elements in the bathrooms continue the language of lightness and elegance.
The disciplined architectural lines, fluid programming, tactile comfort, and serene shades all contribute to the home’s restful nature. Having spent some time in the original structure, the clients highly appreciate Desai and Chia’s work crafting such a transformative retreat.
The home’s openness enhances intense indoor/outdoor encounters. "The biggest surprise is how beautifully the light moves through the house, especially when the sun is low and the shadows are long," shares the couple. "Moments like this give the house a very dynamic, alive feeling."
Design Team: Katherine Chia FAIA, Arjun Desai AIA, Troy Lacombe, Brad Isnard
Builder: Classic Renovations LLC
Civil Engineer: A.H. Howland Associates
Landscape designer: AB Landscaping
Structural Engineer: David Kufferman, P.E.
Kitchen Joinery: Bulthaup
Fireplace concrete work: Get Real Surface
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