The recently published “A House in the Country” is a captivating account of how architect, Peter Pennoyer and his wife, designer Katie Ridder created their handsome residence at the corner of Shuman and Ludlow Woods Roads.
The couple came to Millbrook a few years ago because they had friends here, thought it was a beautiful place and, most importantly, appreciated the fact that people cared so much about the land. After some searching they bought a narrow, a pedestrian ranch house on an overgrown parcel of land looking east over Tamarack Lake.
“We didn’t want to build a house smack down in a beautiful field,” Peter says, “so we wanted to find a place where we would not add a house but replace one.” The result, on exactly on the same spot and even within the foot print of the original residence, in no way resembles its predecessor. When asked about his favorite style, Peters says, “my problem, if you could call it, that is that I don’t really have one.”
In this case what began as a “simple box,” was soon transformed into a contemporary version of a Greek Revival design. There are four symmetrical but distinct façades. One with a semicircular bay is embellished with delightful bas-reliefs of a dog chasing a rabbit, while the main entrance is flanked by four fluted Doric columns. The open floor plan downstairs guarantees that perfect flow that makes for a good party. The curved dining room opens into the kitchen as well as the living room. In fact only the library can be closed off.
Among the many things that distinguish the Pennoyers’ house is their sophisticated use of color. The warm gray exterior is accented with scarlet window sashes and deep blue shutters. The purple Moroccan tiles of front hall floor are echoed on the aubergine walls of the library, while a palette ranging from mulberry to pink to periwinkle unites the other three rooms on the ground floor.
Peter has always believed that “traditional design is inherently green.” He says that the key to making a house environmentally friendly is proper insulation. Here he has installed the latest and most sophisticated technology to keep the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter without detracting from the aesthetic appeal of the house.
“There is no reason energy efficiency has to be ugly as so many are,” he says. “There is no need to create a design that shows you are being virtuous.”
The final section of the book is devoted to the outside. Katie has transformed an undistinguished six and a half acre piece of land into a series of gardens that seem to have always been a part of the surrounding landscape. The Pennoyers spent almost two years restoring the land. To ensure privacy from the road they reestablished the hedgerows which had almost ceased to exist. By digging out a swamp they opened up a spring which now flows year round. The gardens around the house were double dug after drainage pipes had been installed.
Katie, who has been gardening for some 20 years, is a largely self taught. She says her main influences are English country gardens like Christopher Lloyd’s at Great Dixter in England. And of course the gardens at Wave Hill, located only six miles from the Pennoyers’ house in Bronxville, where she belongs to a group that meets on a regular basis to talk about plans and gardens with the likes of Louis Bauer and Marco Polo Stufano.
Katie has created an exuberant cottage garden to the south of the house off the kitchen filled with lush mix of perennials, annuals, rare plants, shrubs, and bulbs gathered from countless sources. A woodland walk, which was installed last year, leads to the large cutting garden, where Katie grows a colorful mix of annuals and perennials along with vegetables and berries. For keen gardeners, a welcome feature of the book is a pullout garden plan, complete with a key to the flowers and plants used on the property.
For anyone who is interested in houses and gardens, or indeed for anyone who simply wants a visual treat the Pennoyers’ “A House in the Country” is a must.
All photographs by Eric Piaseki