“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” Of all the lessons the late architect Edgar A. Tafel learned from his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright, this was likely the one that resounded most clearly the day he found himself standing on a rocky 3.7-acre plot in the Hudson Valley. With sweeping views of the Hudson River estuary and a lush, vibrant hillside, the site demanded a home that would bow to its surrounding natural beauty while making a powerful statement of its own. It was a challenge that Tafel—who had been by Wright’s side during the construction of the legendary Fallingwater—was uniquely qualified to undertake.
The structure he designed for this magical place has all the markings of a Taliesin-approved home: expertly executed cantilevers, large expanses of glass and a painstakingly selected material palette that allows the house to blend seamlessly with the breathtaking setting. The result is a timeless architectural jewel box that holds the same appeal today as it did upon its completion in 1948—something its current homeowner is happy to attest to.
“I knew the house was ‘the one’ the moment I saw it,” he says. “I’d never experienced anything quite like it.” He was so smitten, in fact, that it wasn’t until he got a visit from interior designers and sisters Jayne Michaels and Joan Michaels about 10 years after purchasing the home that he realized something was missing.
“He’s a brilliant, sophisticated man,” says Jayne. “He recognizes quality and has a great eye, but he needed some help pulling the interiors together.” After the three bonded over their mutual love for the movie North by Northwest—known for its stunning sets that took their cues from Wright’s designs—they decided to work together to craft a plan for outfitting the home that would echo its inspiring architecture.
While the Michaelses were able to use much of what the homeowner had collected through the years, from contemporary art to important midcentury pieces, there were still plenty of spots to fill. In the living room, for example, the homeowner’s prized Vladimir Kagan Serpentine sofa looked a little lonely before the designers paired it with a set of handsome Swedish leather chairs from the 1940s and a regal Børge Mogensen wingchair.
“We developed a great back-and-forth dialogue about what worked in the home,” says Joan, “and we all responded mostly to items that came to us from our antiques dealer friends—these very unique, slightly rustic pieces with character. We didn’t want to bring in a lot of shiny, new things. We felt as if the house was speaking to us, and we wanted to answer accordingly.” So, from the dining room’s solid pine Swedish chairs from the 1930s to the slinky midcentury lines of the bed in the master to the well-loved Laverne Tulip chairs in the guesthouse, as well as the incredible array of vintage Swedish and Moroccan flat-weave rugs throughout, they used well-loved furnishings and accessories to imbue the home with style as classic and ageless as its architecture.
For all the thoughtful consideration given to the interiors, however, the designers were careful never to upstage the real star of the show: the majestic vistas right outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. “We kept everything low and sparse very purposefully,” says Jayne. “When someone walks in, we want their eyes to go right past the furniture to the outside, so that they can instantly be reminded of what a special place they’re in.”
In addition to the gentle waters of the Hudson visible as far as the eye can see, the delicate landscape designed by Burton DeMarche— which features terraced stone patios, indigenous plantings and a free-form pool with a small outlet waterfall—is just as breathtaking. “Our approach was to play off the native site elements: Natural ledge outcroppings were preserved and given prominence within the composition, and granite boulders removed during excavation were repurposed to retain slopes and add sculptural value to the hillside gardens. Stone slab steps and granite paving were also locally sourced to retain the site’s native artistic integrity.” All of this provides the illusion that the home’s surroundings have been virtually untouched.
It’s this purity that the homeowner finds himself responding to again and again: a fact that is supported not only by the simple way he lives when he’s visiting for the weekend, but also by the art that adorns the walls of his midcentury abode. “When I first moved in I had a lot of really lovely, powerful Expressionist pieces,” he says, “but I’ve evolved. Minimalist, conceptual art resonates much better with the tonality of the place, its architecture, landscape and interior design, and I want to honor that for as long as I’m here.”