It’s easy to miss A House in the Woods, but the homeowner likes it that way.
Seventy-seven Norway spruce trees, spaced six feet apart, curve around the perimeter, extending from a 125-foot structural wall clad in weathered steel that shields the house from view. The homeowner wishes to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her Red, which is the color of her hair (more on that later).
Red spent 25 years designing her dream house to be the antithesis of her frantic life as a corporate real estate lawyer in New York City. She chose the 8.5-acre plot of land at the base of the Shawangunk Mountains in Ulster County based on the view, and the architect, William Reue, based on his willingness to take seriously her design, which she had drawn on a sheet of printer paper.
Red’s house was Reue’s first ground-up design under his own name, and from the get-go it was to be no ordinary house.
First of all, Red wanted a curved house. “I can’t do a straight house,” Red explains. “Everybody has a straight house. I wanted an elegance that comes with a curve.”
She also wanted a large, curved metal wall in front of it. “It was scary,” Reue recalls, “because it was a really masculine thing. How do you straddle the masculine and feminine in everything? You have to.”
Reue says he refined Red’s design from a value-driven perspective. “We design the best house for the person who comes to us,” he explains. “There’s a lot of time spent getting to know them, to understand them.” Red’s original design called for a passive-solar house with three separate wings (garage, master suite, and guest suite) connected by small breezeways. Reue connected the three wings and adjusted the idea for a passive house. “The geometry of the house and the view, two primary design goals, were contradictory to a passive house,” he says.
Mindful of Red’s passion for environmental stewardship, Reue incorporated several green elements that enabled the house to be certified LEED Silver in 2013, including using FSC-certified materials for construction, installing a large submerged rainwater harvesting tank for irrigating the surrounding trees, a direct-exchange geothermal heating system, an energy recovery ventilator, and radiant floors.
To maximize the house’s energy efficiency, Reue also designed the enormous windows—65 feet long and 13 feet high—to have four layers of glass, air space, and suspended film sandwiched together in sustainable wood frames by Duratherm. “In the middle of winter, when it’s really cold, you can stand next to the window and not feel any cold at all,” says Red.
The house, which includes a wine cellar, master-suite Jacuzzi tub, sauna, walk-in closet, and fully functional guest suite, was designed to be nurturing and minimize stimulation. Smooth cabinets conceal from view the television, home office, refrigerator, pantry, and appliances.
“That’s just how I live,” explains Red. “I don’t want to have clutter. I wanted clean lines.”
The house’s exterior is a combination of Italian cement board and custom-cut bluestone. The Timberline walls are made of 14-inch-thick structural insulated panels (SIP) that insulate the house from cold and heat, as well as noise.
And then there’s the wall. Standing 24 feet tall at its highest point and 21 feet at its lowest, it was constructed with SIP panels sandwiched between wood with Cor-Ten steel metal sheets attached. Reue and Red accelerated the rusting process by spraying the sheets with a mixture of water, salt, and vinegar until it was the desired shade of red, similar to Red’s hair. “As a kid, I was always teased over my hair,” she explains. “My hair was a barrier between me and everybody else. For me, the wall is [symbolic of] my initial position towards everything in life, which is: ‘Let me just see how this goes, and then I’ll open up.’”
The overall effect of the 4,800-square-foot house’s uncluttered spaciousness, beautiful views, and quiet make it feel like a complete retreat from the world, which was Red’s goal.
“I like the solitude and the privacy—this is why I built it,” she says. “Here it’s about recharging my batteries. If my dream in life is that I’m at peace with myself and my world, then here I feel that I get that.”
For Reue, working with Red was life changing, both professionally and personally. The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Westchester + Hudson Valley chapter selected A House in the Woods for its 2013 High Honors Design Award, and AIA New York State awarded it a 2014 Citation for Design. Reue showcases A House in the Woods in presentations all over the world. He and Red also remain close friends. “This house is nothing without its owner,” says Reue. “It’s a manifestation of her dream, and the best architecture is that which responds to something real.”