Some homes simply stand out — they’ve transcended into something timeless, into art. Architect Peter Pennoyer’s country house that he built with his wife, interior designer Katie Ridder, has all the makings of a classic.
Pennoyer anthropomorphically describes his home amid the horse farms in Millbrook, New York, as a “person obviously interested in history, with a whimsical and joyful aspect to the way it’s used — a spark to the imagination.”
His home is a beautiful blend of sober classical architecture and vibrant, brilliant design — a tangible beauty that’s more than simply aesthetically captivating. Like quintessential Greek and Roman architecture, Pennoyer’s home starts and ends with the most important tenet of architectural design — harmony. For him and his wife, harmony is a pervasive perspective that begins with lifestyle and the land.
A country house was particularly attractive to the architect-designer couple to keep their life in balance. Cattle, horses, walks outdoors, gardening — they wanted a connection with the land.
“We were looking for a place that has already been built on because we didn’t want to take over a pasture or cut down trees in a forest that hadn’t been touched,” says Pennoyer. When they first saw the property, which had already had two homes built before, Pennoyer says they both knew, “This is it, this is perfect.”
“It seemed like a natural place to build a house — the trees around it were really mature, and the land just seemed right for a house. We didn’t have to disturb the land that was part of a farm, so it just seemed respectful of the community.”
A stone wall runs east-west along the southern border of the property, and all the fields are aligned north-south. “We lined up the house with the edge of the property so that everything fits into the kind of tapestry and pattern of all the land around us — not just ours, but the neighbours’,” he says.
Early inspirations for the home’s perfectly square shape and Greek revival style came from a beautiful country home Pennoyer remembers in Maine, built in the 1830s.
“Greek revival is a simple farmhouse meets some classical architecture,” he says. “We tried to simplify our architecture and have elements that are all harmonious and related, but give a variety to the facades so that not everything looks the same.”
The columns and their proportions on the porch and formal front door, with leaf decorations, and the temple-like structure in the garden — the mudroom — all speak to the classical Greek revival style. Yet, Pennoyer also wanted to lighten the mood.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with artists and bringing sculpture into my projects,” he says. As you walk around the home, enjoying its four distinct facades, you see the charming spirit of one of the most important members of his family — his dog, a dachshund, chasing a rabbit on a bas-relief. “I thought this is the perfect place to celebrate our lazy dog, who never does actually chase a rabbit,” he says.
Pennoyer not only designed his home to embrace nature and naturally intertwine with his environment, he kept traditional architectural elements at the forefront of his planning. “Many of the features in traditional architecture existed before houses were heated by fossil fuels,” he says. “So there was a real need to make the houses environmentally sensible because you couldn’t turn on your heat. You could set a fire, but you had to rely on the house as a living and breathing organism in a way to counteract nature.”
He keeps his home cooler, for example, by shielding the large glass windows in the living and dining rooms by his porch, which keeps the sun out. He says, “It’s so hard to justify the glass box modernism, which is really, really irresponsible in terms of just using fuel, keeping a comfortable environment.”
Pennoyer’s challenge — and brilliance when solved — wasn’t simply harmonizing the outdoors with his country home.
“I think the hardest thing to do is, when you’re inside, you want it to feel like it was designed from the inside out, so you want all the windows and openings to align perfectly to your views and to other rooms,” says the architect. “But from the outside, you want it to be orderly and symmetrical. So, it’s how you can have it work both ways that can be challenging, but it just requires discipline.”
Proportion, another core principle of classical architecture, is essential to effortlessly achieve this effect. Every windowpane, for example, is the same proportion, which “makes it very calm,” he says. “It doesn’t seem too over designed; it tames all the architecture.”
Prioritizing design choices was equally hard and necessary when Pennoyer and his wife worked together on their own home. “It’s easier when you have a client because they have specific requirements, but it’s harder when it’s you yourself because you can daydream endlessly,” he says.
One thing the creative couple knew they wanted was an open floor plan, so that rooms flowed one to the other, since oftentimes it would just be the two of them. The only room on the ground floor that can be closed is the library, while other rooms — the kitchen, dining room, living room, stair and entry halls — have no doors, just large five- to six-foot-wide openings with beautiful portieres hanging down.
It’s quite regal, and with his wife’s blending purple tiles and hues throughout the interior, along with vibrant pinks, greens, blues and other complementary shades, the warmth, life and magic of this simple country home is unmistakable.
When Pennoyer and his wife told friends they would design and build their home together, the reaction wasn’t encouraging, to say the least. “Many people thought — ‘How could you do that? You collaborate on your own house? It sounds like a disaster,’” Pennoyer says, chuckling. But what he found was another lesson in harmony and balance.
“As far as my wife goes, she really wanted me to do what I thought was best, and so, she really gave me a free hand,” he says. “And I was very open with her about her decoration and furnishings. I didn’t try to edit her at all. We actually really enjoyed it. I’d love to do another with her.”
Written by R.L. Hart Produced by Peggy Liu Photography by Eric Piasecki Photo Courtesy of A HOUSE IN THE COUNTRY, Vendome Press