Mother Earth Living


A Modern New York Salt Box: Drawing on Colonial and Shaker Homes

A singer and a Broadway producer build a cutting-edge nontoxic home with Colonial and Shaker inspiration.



Cathy Grier and Michele Steckler’s Columbia County, New York, home beckons visitors in from the cold. Endowed with the stateliness of a pair of saltbox houses, it also features more casual screened porches and terraces. The building is sited so it receives passive solar heat in winter and shading from the roof overhang in summer.
Photos by Michael Shopenn
“Cathy and I agreed we wanted a living room, dining room and kitchen that flowed together, even though it’s not a historically accurate floorplan,” Michele says. Architect Dennis Wedlick created this open space with a ceiling that slants from 13 feet to 9 feet. Insulated, double-glazed windows and French doors let the couple appreciate views in a way upstate New Yorkers never could have 200 winters ago. Dramatic nighttime lighting is provided by a non-electric “candelier” over the dining room table and pendant lights made from rewired Victorian gas lampshades.
An overstuffed red chair invites people into the cozy study. “This is our smallest room, and it’s a haven,” Michele says. “It’s the place one of us is likely to go for a nap.”
A Shaker chair, one of a set of four, was a cheap tag-sale find. Michele and Cathy refurbished the rotted wicker seats with supplies from the nearby Shaker Museum and Library in Old Chatham, New York.
The home’s wood-burning fireplace warms the open living room in less than an hour on a wintry morning. Its soapstone surround stores radiant heat, much appreciated by Marguerite, who curls up on an antique rug from Michele’s childhood home.
Cathy loves soaking in the reproduction clawfoot tub and gazing out the window. The house’s cabinetmaker, Don Keith, created the sink base from cherry wood. A storage space is tucked beneath the eaves.
Michele, whose father is an antique dealer, grew up loving the classic New England painted blanket chest that now sits in the living area. Above hangs a 19th-century folk-art Hudson River Valley landscape painting that the couple appreciates because of its childlike whimsy.
The Shaker-railed stairway climbs to the guest bedroom that Cathy uses as a music studio. The door leads to the home’s “sunset” porch, an ideal place for watching the ebbing colors of a wintry sky.
Marguerite basks in the late-afternoon sun on an 18th-century rolled-arm loveseat, another family antique. The bedroom is shielded from electromagnetic fields, and a kill switch turns off all electricity in the room when the couple sleeps. n addition, the all-natural mattress is free of fire-retardant chemicals; linens are organic fibers. The antique, four-poster bed is fitted with a new headboard that expands it to queen size. Above, a colorful painting from Haiti depicts a local fruit market.
Although the homeowners usually come and go through a mud room off the kitchen, the formal entryway sets the tone for this elegant house. A pottery umbrella stand filled with walking sticks—handy for jaunts through the woods—directs visitors down the corridor to the airy living room.
Homeowners Cathy Grier (left), a singer/songwriter, and Michele Steckler, a Broadway producer, relax with their griffon, Marguerite.
Fusing Shaker-style woodwork with sleek, stainless-steel appliances, the kitchen is uncluttered and elegant. “We prefer to keep it simple and healthy—without lots of gadgets or electronic devices,” Cathy says. “We have just three appliances: the refrigerator, stove and dishwasher—no microwave, toaster oven or coffee maker.” The wood countertop is from a maple felled during construction. “We decided to have it milled for sentimental reasons,” Michele says. “It’s nice to know the tree lives on in our home.”





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