The Midcentury Spirit is Alive and Well in This Hudson Valley Escape
Steven and Tata Citron wanted a weekend retreat. Unlike many New Yorkers, the couple was happily ensconced on the 35th floor of an Upper East Side Manhattan high-rise and rarely left town for end-of-the-week getaways. But years of 12-hour workdays at the business the Citrons own and run began to take a toll, so the pair decided to find their "great escape" from the fast-paced and high-stress urban environment. They took to the Internet, searching for appealing houses within easy driving distance. A midcentury dwelling in Newburgh, New York, a town in the Hudson Valley, about 60 miles north of the city, captured their attention.
The cedar-and-vinyl-clad house, built in 1954, had charm to spare and a postcard-worthy setting in the lush countryside. "We knew it was right," says Steven. Best of all, it was in move-in condition. The previous owners, of which there had only been three, had taken good care of it.
But once they moved in, the Citrons decided to make some changes, especially to the living area and kitchen. The long, cedar-covered galley kitchen was too narrow and dark for the couple, who both like to cook. And the living area, while true to its midcentury modern roots, felt dated, with its brick wall, stone fireplace, dark wood floors, and smallish windows. "It had an old motel feel," says Jeff Jordan, the couple’s architect.
Just as they had shopped online for the house, so did they search for design help, interviewing three or four architects before choosing Jordan, whose deft use of wood cladding on a Michigan home appealed to them. He also made the couple feel comfortable with his low-key approach. Unlike the other architects they interviewed, Jordan proposed no grand schemes. "The house was in good shape," he says. "Most people would have gone on with their lives. There was no need for a major intervention."
Over the years, there had been three separate additions to the home: two large wings—one in front and one in back—each housing spacious bedrooms and en suite baths, as well as a garage. It was a dwelling that just grew, haphazardly, to its current 2,300 square feet. The Citrons decided to focus only on the living and dining areas, for now, but plan to renovate the other spaces in the near future.
The two were active participants in the design process. "They were very easy to work with," says Jordan. "They understood everything and were very receptive." The Citrons had found their dream kitchen and had bought it even before hiring an architect. One day, while strolling around SoHo, they discovered Scavolini—an upscale Italian manufacturer of cutting-edge kitchen systems—and fell in love with the company’s Scenery units, which have a high-gloss, white-lacquer finish.
To install their prize, the wall that separated the kitchen from the living room would have to be torn down, a step the couple had happily anticipated. With the help of Jordan and general contractor Tim Kimmel of Kimmel Builders, they were also able to enlarge the kitchen window and rebuild the laundry room. To open up the rear of the house and get an unobstructed view of the countryside—and, in the winter, views of the Hudson River—Jordan found he had to have most of the rear wall of the house demolished: It was stripped down to three steel posts.
Renovation work can sometimes be like an archaeological dig, with all kinds of surprises surfacing, from leaky pipes to faulty wiring. But this time, the discovery was a happy one. When workers removed the living room ceiling, they discovered a beautiful rafter of rusted steel beams. At first, everyone wanted to leave them exposed, but because they needed a way to conceal ductwork and wiring, they settled on a dropped ceiling. Jordan left a small portion of the beams—painted a bold crimson, an homage to the originals—exposed along the open span of the window wall. As a result of the rear wall’s demolition, the stone fireplace, which had been attached to it, is now freestanding. The back side of the fireplace faces the dining area; a Cor-Ten steel plate covers the bricks.
For illumination, Jordan had LED rope lighting installed around the ceiling’s coved perimeter, supplying a warm, even light throughout the rooms. The Citrons had their hearts set on a white resin floor, which, combined with the all-white kitchen, adds megawatts of brightness to the space. Inspired by the house’s cedar cladding, Jordan chose horizontal cedar planks to cover the interior walls, creating a dramatic and warm contrast to the floor.
The Citrons selected all the furnishings, from Ligne Roset’s Ploum sofa by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec to reissued pieces by Jean Prouvé from Vitra, including a dining table and chairs. Happily, they also inherited some furniture from the previous owners, including a Case Study sofa, coffee table, and chaise from Modernica that still enjoy their place of honor in front of the fireplace.
"Living a Manhattan lifestyle is very special, and we would never trade it in for a minute, but the only way for us to truly recharge is getting up to our home on the weekends," says Steven. "We take so much pleasure in doing the simplest things there, like just watching the birds fly in the backyard."
"It’s now a serene and pure space," says Jordan of the house post renovation. "It’s almost like a museum. And that’s what they wanted."
Deputy director of design at Metropolitan Home magazine until it closed in 2009, Arlene Hirst is now a freelance journalist. Her byline appears frequently in New York Times Magazine as well as Surface, Modern, and Interior Design magazines and Elle Decor Italia.