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.


| November/December 2006



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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.”

Four years ago, when Cathy Grier and Michele Steckler started dreaming about a home in upstate New York, they came up with a wish list that might have seemed unattainable to some—Michele desired a graceful, historic structure while Cathy wanted the airiness and sustainability of a modern home. With time, lots of research and some compromises, the couple now happily resides in a house that embodies both.

Set amid 15 acres of woodland and fields in Columbia County, south of Albany, the home could be mistaken at first glance for two historic houses bridged by a slope-roofed modern addition. In reality, its 21st-century architecture blends timeless, old-fashioned quality and new green technology—a creative mix, much like the residents themselves. Cathy, a modernist with a passion for a healthy environment, is a blues and folk singer/songwriter. Michele, who loves all things antique, is a Broadway producer who works with Disney Theatrical Productions on projects such as the stage versions of "The Lion King" and "Tarzan."

"I’m flattered when people ask whether this house is a renovation," says architect Dennis Wedlick, who designed the home to blend into the region’s historic architectural style. "Cathy and Michele wanted a house that was gentle on the environment and as healthy as possible, yet they wanted it to suit the landscape and the area’s rural flavor."

Wedlick designed two separate saltbox-style houses joined in an L shape by a contemporary, glass-enclosed living room/kitchen/dining room. (Saltbox architecture—named after Colonial salt-shipping tins with a similar shape—features asymmetrical roofs that slope from two stories to one.) The guest room, which doubles as Cathy’s music studio, is upstairs in one house with a study below; the master bedroom and bath are located in the other, above the kitchen and dining room.

The couple originally considered buying an old house but never found one that spoke to them. They decided instead to build with nontoxic, eco-friendly materials. When they discovered rural property overlooking scenic rolling hills, the two native New Englanders swung into building mode. "With time, I became as passionate as Cathy about healthy building," Michele says. "Truthfully, I’ve never looked back and wished we had bought an older fixer-upper."

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