For architect Ralph R. Mackin, Jr., “cabin fever” hit early. But his wasn’t your classic case of frustration at being cooped up indoors. His was a case of feverish enthusiasm for rustic cabin-style buildings that he admired during boyhood hiking and camping trips while summering with his parents in the Adirondack Park.
That “fever” is now the tempered perspective of a professional architect whose practice is devoted to blending the traditional Adirondack style of rugged native materials that harmonize with the environment with a modern aesthetic and practicality.
Based in North Salem in Westchester County, Ralph Mackin applies his Adirondack sensibilities to renovating and designing shingle cottages, farmhouses, Arts and Crafts style and Adirondack lodge-style vacation homes. He has completed recent projects in rural areas of New York, Vermont and Connecticut and has others underway or on the drawing boards throughout the region.
About five years ago, near Schroon Lake during an annual visit to the park, Mackin met a seasonal homeowner and family friend, Kathy (she’s privacy-minded, so last name withheld for this article). Years ago, Kathy and her husband had built a contemporary home in a family compound surrounding a lake. But their house wasn’t on the lake. In addition, she had recently inherited her mother’s house, which did face the lake but was up a steep incline.
Initially,she consulted Mackin about renovating her mother’s house, where she had many happy memories. But what she wanted was not only a bright, comfortable house for her husband and herself for their year-round weekend visits from Manhattan. She also wanted, most especially, an attractive gathering spot for their visiting children and grandchildren.
Mackin says the client was thinking of a clean, contemporary look, definitely not a camp style. Although renovations and additions are part of his practice, on this project, what evolved instead was a new home constructed downhill from the old. The old house, which wasn’t camp style at all, has been torn down.
Creating a level spot down the slope from the family’s common road was the crucial first step. The location provides open views of the pond but in a spot hidden from the road that as you approach, only the shingled rooftop shows. And the 3,500 square-foot house doesn’t block other relatives’ sight-lines.
The architect describes his challenge for both the exterior and interior design as a blending of old and new: the bright, open, modern feel Kathy and her husband likes combined with the rustic ambiance of natural wood and stone and hand-crafted details throughout. The result is a handsome and pragmatic combination of historical architectural references and an easy flow of living space that works when the generations that gather.
Mackin says, “They started with the idea of a more contemporary residence, but we helped them move in a better direction. An open contemporary floor plan, with traditionally influence detailing. Our job is to interpret.”
Family expertise was unique to this job. Mackin says it was everyone’s great good fortune that Kathy’s brother, Randy Burritt, is a contractor who lives in the compound year round and was able to manage the construction and also to recommend talented local tradesmen. The kitchen cabinets were made by Kathy’s son-in-law, a craftsman.
“I interpreted the lodge style with details like twig work trim, standing seam copper roof edging, exposed rafters, wood shingles staggered for the rustic look of an old cottage, and lots of porches for outdoor living. For the kitchen, we used antique heart pine. Lanterns and chandelier were made locally. To bring the outdoors inside, we used regional stone, brought in logs and twigs. The birch log dining room table and chairs are surrounded entirely by double hung windows and French doors to the screen porch. The entire rear of the home is opened with windows.
“For the tall gathering space, we found a woodwork pattern in an old Adirondack book for the walls and ceiling. But the client didn’t like the darker old wood, so we used lighter spruce but kept the same patterning.”
A subdued sage green color blends into the wooded setting. They were inspired by colors from old camps they had seen.
There’s a master suite downstairs and three more bedrooms above. A three-car garage connected to the house looks like an attached barn; one bay stores boats and skis. Above the barn is the kids’ game room.
Eighteen months after the plans were finalized the house was ready for use. Mackin has visited each of the summers since. He takes delight in watching Kathy’s husband develop the landscaping and seeing Kathy’s additions to the furnishings."People don't realize that it continues to evolve every year," he says. When will they finish? Never!
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Reused with permission of Adirondack Living Magazines