Roxbury Modern

When Los Angeles resident Ericka Danko and her husband, Sam Bayer, bought a second home just outside of Roxbury, NY, they were utterly enamored with the hill-side location, spectacular views and natural pond, but less-than-happy with the existing home — a dark Swiss-chalet with a leaky roof and a rotten fireplace. Needless to say, there was a lot of work to be done. Danko enlisted architect Jane Sachs, of the firm Hut-Sachs, who in turn hired John Whritner as the general contractor. Whritner Builders gutted the place and set about creating a home that is a seamless combination of the old and the new, of country and city, of high-design and casual livability, of simplicity and quality. [Continued below slideshow]

“I wanted the house to be easy living, but modern design,” says Danko. John adds: “Ericka wanted the house to be new and modern, but have a worn-in feel. She did not want it to be fussy.” To that end, John (working with Jane Sachs) used a lot older materials. Reclaimed barn wood was located for the flooring and for several of the doors (an amazing effect that makes it looks as though the floor is crawling up the wall). The fireplace was constructed out of natural slate stone and has a rusted steel hearth. To achieve the “weathered” look of the fireplace, metal worker Jason Stroosnyder sandblasted steel and then set it to rust on 50 gallon drums before John placed the materials. The metal is then clearcoated before implementing so that it can be dusted, swept, or cleaned without the rust rubbing off. Stroosnyder and Whritner later used a similar technique on the Roxbury residence’s striking driveway gates. In addition, Stroosnyder created the stainless steel cable railings for decks – which add a high-end modern touch.

Simple Design, Flawless Execution, Catskill Mountains

The Hut-Sachs floor plan called for simplicity: clean lines, no moldings, an effortless grace. John is particularly proud of the shadow bead on the bottom of the walls, a difficult-to-execute technique that leaves the walls with no moldings, giving them a streamlined modernity. “It’s harder to build a home that looks real simple, than a home with a ton of ornate crown molding,” says Whritner. The effect of the wide-open great room, with it’s towering ceiling, clean white walls and fur rugs, is that of an up-north hunting lodge for the Dwell Magazine set. There’s a ton of glass in the place – windows everywhere. The rooms breathe; and the beauty of the revolving seasons of the Catskill Mountains are pulled into the house.

Cherry Cabinets & Walnut Kitchen Counters

For the kitchen, Sachs had laid out an open plan, perfect for entertaining large parties. John brought in long-time colleague, Tom Engels, of Delhi, New York, as the kitchen carpenter. Engels scaled a set of custom cabinets and drawers that are gorgeous in design & flawless in execution. When the architect’s request for a giant distressed granite kitchen counter proved too complicated, Tom, John & Dirck created the countertops out of a dark walnut. “Nobody had ever heard of a kitchen counter made of walnut before. But it works great. Now everyone who sees this kitchen wants to use the same materials.”

A Galvanized Standing Seam Metal Roof and a Hardie Board Exterior

For the exterior, John enlisted Shaul Roofing, of Middleburgh, NY, to put on a galvanized standing seam metal roof. This is the preferred roofing material in the area: it withstands the brutal Catskill winters, is attractive and basically lasts a lifetime. Whritner and Co. then used Hardie board siding for the exterior, an eco-friendly fiber-cement material popular in California that gives the exterior an ultra-modern, no-nonsense feel.

An Improvised Mountainside Cedar Pond Deck

There was a certain amount of improvisation with the construction of the house: windows were moved, closets were re-sized and stairs were created on the fly. Whritner handled all the client & architect requests with his gentle good-humour and fantastic flexibility. “At one point, Sam (the owner) told me he wanted to put a deck down by the pond. I asked him to come up with a design. He whipped out a bic and scrawled something on the back of a cocktail napkin. I created a cedar deck from just that doodle alone. Sam loved it.”