Beverly Kerzner always wanted a country house. Furthermore, she had met the architect and designer Niels Schoenfelder more than 20 years ago. At that time, he was 24 years old and had already built an impressive hotel in Pondicherry, India, which caught his attention. After tracking him down and engaging in a fruitful conversation, she contacted him to build the house of your dreams.
“From the beginning, Niels and I pushed each other. It was always a conversation, or a long discussion, to get to know the ground,” says Kerzner. He spent years perfecting his vision with the young German architect to the country house I had in mind.
In 2017, he bought a large piece of land in the Hudson Valley, in the state of New York. The sprawling hilltop landscape contained two impressive barn structures, a river running through the property, a cabin and a residential house. As in the remote regions around Pondicherry, it was a landscape that had to be appreciated, worked on and understood: “I knew immediately that Niels was the one for the project“, remember.
The following four years were quite a process: they outlined countless iterations of the farmhouse. Meanwhile, the pre-existing residential house (an oddly situated cabin soon to be demolished) served as temporary housing for Kerzner, her two daughters, and often Schoenfelder. “It was a blessing in disguise, because it gave me time to figure out exactly what I wanted.”
Soon, visiting the farm became an adventure: one never knew when Schoenfelder was going to be standing in the middle of the garden at his wooden desk, sketching a revised version of the mud room. Chances are Kerzner was nearby, weeding, or just wandering through his thoughts. Over frequent dinner parties, every detail of the 130-acre property turned into an intellectually stimulating debate: wood or stone beams? Three bedrooms or four?
Time revealed even the smallest of needs. As napkins piled up at the bottom of the cabin stairs each night, it became clear that a hidden laundry chute in the kitchen was an absolute necessity. After staring at the unsightly litter box for too many days, a hidden door with a hidden toilet for the trio of black cats became another.
The resulting design is a distillation of the land they had come to know inside and out: a modern structure inspired by a barn and meticulously crafted to fit seamlessly into its surroundings. Initially, the house was to be installed in the main barn, but when it was deemed structurally unfeasible, Schoenfelder emulated the feeling through high double height ceilings and clever details, like the master bathroom, where the bathtub sits neatly in a rounded corner as if in a silo. Elsewhere, reclaimed wood from the demolished cabin is found along the mud room and powder room walls. The stone walls and details are inspired by the river rocks on the property: “The most important thing was to get the right scale between the buildings, the new house and these old barnsbecause they are really very special,” says Schoenfelder. “We didn’t want to make the same mistake that [era evidente en] the old house, which was being really disconnected: there was no flow”.
Now the seamless flow from room to room is seamless, even meditative, like the murmur of the river, which can be gently heard throughout the house. In the open kitchen – the clear heart of the house – evenings are spent cooking while guests mingle around the bar. It’s also where her oldest daughter, Jazzy, displays her latest treasures—fresh from the garden—while Kai, the youngest, cooks for the many dogs. “I spent a lot of time thinking: What do I need to my right? What should be under that?” Kerzner reflects. The resulting kitchen island was such a triumph that Schoenfelder patented the design.
Subtly divided by a plaster fireplace, the kitchen opens onto the large double-height living area, in which, despite its uniquely modern feel, the soul of Tiruvannamalai, India, remains undeniably present. A low custom-built dining table by Schoenfelder is surrounded by plush velvet cushions, inviting guests to dine on the floor, as they would in India. A second fireplace at the end of the room was created to serve as a sort of second kitchen space, as the large pots hanging above indicate in part.
Also notable are the custom Schoenfelder-designed sconces, which help set the perfect mood each night: “They’re one of my favorite parts of the house,” says Kai. “Ultimately, the sconces are just one of countless elements that the architect put together with his team to ensure that perfection was impregnated even in the smallest detail. It is what makes every corner of this country house exciting, that every hour of work feels. Clearly, it’s one of those houses that strikes a rare balance: it unites you with the land, but it’s also a wellspring of creativity and invention.
Article originally published in AD US.