Located in Dutchess County, NY, Drumlin Hall was designed by architect Peter Pennoyer for a client with an extensive collection of American 19th century paintings. The two-story house sits on the rolling landscape like a perfectly placed jewel. It is situated on a saddle, or a narrow opening between two valleys, one of which is contained between the lines of trees and is called the hidden valley; the other valley opens out to the south and has a long, extensive view of rolling hills. The project was completed last year.
According to Pennoyer, there are many elements to consider when designing a house for an art collection. "I think that you have to consider the scale of the works of art and also how they're going to relate to the spaces they're in," he explains. "That's incredibly important for architects to think about, especially with some contemporary art having a monumental scale, it's important to be very careful that you don't take something that might have looked absolutely amazing in a gallery in Chelsea and put it into a situation where it's too cramped. With these kinds of paintings, they work more harmoniously with the kind of architecture I'm interested in doing, which is classical. Also, what's extraordinary about this kind of art it that some pictures deserve to have very technically designed lighting that is recessed in the ceilings and this project, from the beginning, was designed to be lit solely by attached picture lights so it creates a very romantic and intimate atmosphere. Especially at night, it's nice to have these very evocative-colored oil paintings in their gold frames, and of course every gold is a different gold. If you look at these old frames, they are lit by these pools of light in this very low-tech method, which is a picture light. That was very important, and because you don't want wires visible, it requires the discipline of deciding where pictures were going to be hung singly, or over and under."
"We sometimes get involved with hanging the art, but not in this case. Our client has an incredible sense of this. She knows the works incredibly well and her Interior Decorator Thomas Jayne also worked with her on placing the pictures. But we did go over it together and we did do it at the construction phase so that all the electricity would be in the right place. It's an absolute delight when a client has a vision to inspire this kind of architecture in response to her art. That was really the remarkable thing about it."
On the second floor of the house, there is a stair hall with beautifully upholstered furniture, a richly colored oriental rug, and magnificently detailed vaults that gracefully frame the space. Above, in the center of the ceiling is a laylight which is actually a window mounted in the ceiling to filter the light from the real skylight, which is on the roof. This hall is one of the many spaces in the house that serve as a gallery, and its classically inspired design is in perfect harmony with its purpose.
Downstairs, a smaller hall just off the library that may have been forgotten by other designers has been given special attention at Drumlin Hall in a way that accentuates the work of art at the end of that hall. Vaults have been used to create a perspective that gently lead the eye toward the treasure at the end. "We tucked in the bar in the middle of that hall, so it's a place for the bar that isn't exposed to the library and the vaults were painted blue. The Decorator, Thomas Jayne, also thought of painting the moulding and gilding it around the edge so that it had a little bit of gold on it."
"That wood is actually painted on. It's not wood. It was painted by artists Chuck Hettinger and Pierre Finkelstein, who are very well known in the world of decorative painting. The floor is oak, but it's been stenciled by the same artist so that the patterns are actually created by stenciling. Pierre has been doing projects with us for years, including working with my wife Katie Ridder who is a decorator." Pennoyer and his wife, Katie Ridder, usually have at least one or two projects that they're working on together. Pennoyer also works with Gregory Gilmartin, the Design Director of the firm who has been designing with Pennoyer for twenty-five years.
In the Master Bedroom, scenic wallpaper was used around the room and has some special buildings from the Hudson River Valley painted into it. The wallpaper was made by the company de Gournay, which specializes in designing and creating hand painted wallpapers, fabrics and porcelain, many of which are inspired by their database of historic interiors. This choice of wall decoration lends an air of the dignity of the finer arts to the space, and therefore upholds the atmosphere of the visual sensibilities selected for the rest of the house.
A semi-cylindrical staircase with a railing of mahogany wood connects the upstairs and the downstairs, leading to a seating area featuring one of the clients' works of art on the first floor. The space is lit by a window in the upper stair hall, which Pennoyer explains is one of his favorite details of the house. "My favorite part is the north fa?ade where the chimneys come together in a great mass. They frame a window, coming up inside flanking the window, and then creating a big window which is the largest window in the house and lights the upper stair hall. That's my favorite detail."
When asked about any challenges the project might have presented, Pennoyer explains, "I think that any really great project has challenges, and there are different kinds of challenges. When you're dealing with an existing structure, especially with a historic house, you have to be sensitive about not overwhelming the character and spirit of the original house, so you have to restrain yourself that way. But with a good, new house from the ground up, I think that a similar attitude of challenging yourself to integrate the program with the style and emotional impact of the house, in one reasonably sized package is really important. So it's not that I'm saying anything is particularly modest about this project, we were really lucky to get to do it. But we did condense different rooms and functions and proportions and shapes of the vaults and things all into one shape which is fairly simple - it's pretty much a cube. That made it challenging, as opposed to a house where, because of the nature of the site or the way it's planned, you can sort of add wings the way one does. We last did it in a house out west where it really made more sense to have various forms that splayed out across the landscape. That kind of project is not as challenging as something where you're trying to realize beautiful interiors within a fairly crystalline form. In this house there are four elevations and not one of them is the back. In other words, there is no place where we could have cheated and had windows that didn't line up, or an extra room here or there. It was designed to be seen from each elevation."
"Thomas Jayne has really been an amazing person to work with. I think it's our 15th project with him. He has great taste, but he also is interested in the history of decorative arts and has a background in the museum world at Winterthur and at The American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It's wonderful to be able to learn about colors, but also to learn about the history of the pin striping of Hitchcock chairs and all these other things he tells me about. That's one of the things I love about my job is that in every project I learn something from the other people involved, which is a really nice thing. We really had a wonderful experience."