Text by Ian Volner
Into the otherworldly tranquility of architect Jay Bargmann, AIA’s new house in the Catskills, there comes a burst of squeaking. “That’s her toy,” says wife Cindy Potash—“her” being Ray, the couple’s spirited Weimaraner. “She loves to chase deer,” Bargmann says. “I’m just worried she might go after a bear one day.”
There are indeed bears on the couple’s 20-acre property, high above the Ashokan Reservoir about two hours from Manhattan, as well as a man-made pond and a half-mile gravel road that ascends precipitously to a broad circular turnaround that passes through the house. Jutting out of the hillside, the structure is all black steel and clear glass, and the little furniture that fills the 6,000-square-foot interior includes a pair of black Eames lounges in front of an enormous south-facing window. “We named the dog after Ray Eames,” says Bargmann, whose modernist obsession dates at least as far back as the 1960s, when he studied at the University of Pennsylvania with Louis Kahn.
Since 1983, the Iowa-born Bargmann has been a partner at New York–based Rafael Viñoly Architects (RVA), the firm he helped start with its namesake principal. The Shokan project isn’t exactly a dream house, if only because Bargmann never really dreamed of having one: After a visit to a friend’s country place a couple years ago, the couple thought it might be fun to have one of their own, and started shopping around for properties in upstate New York. “The design came about after that,” says the architect, whose work at RVA has included few single-family houses.
Coming to the project with so little architectural baggage, Bargmann was quick to seize on a key motivating principal: “The whole thing should be able to be packed up and trucked away,” he says. Turning to a host of trusted fabricators and contractors, he took an almost kit-of-parts approach, assembling the house from simple—though exquisitely customized—components. While not modular, the house is more easily demountable than most, and all of its components can be recycled. Economy was his watch word: “The structure for the glass and the structure for the house are the same thing,” Bargmann says, the slender steel piers acting “as columns, in a sense, but also mullions.” Nearly the only other reinforcing member is a large diagonal brace to address lateral loads—a dramatic punctuation mark between the ground-floor den and second-floor kitchen.
Bargmann and Potash are still new to country living, but are adapting, coming up every weekend to spend hours watching the weather move across the valley. For all its austerity, and even without any art on the walls, the Shokan house is definitely a show place, one Bargmann has enjoyed sharing with friends. “I gave some photos to a British friend, looking down on the house from above,” the architect says. “He took one look and all he said was, ‘That’s America.’ ”
Project: Shokan House, Shokan, N.Y.
Architect: Jay Bargmann, AIA, New York
Project Manager: James Rund
Reinforced Concrete: Darlind
Steel Fabrication: Fall Fittings
Steel Erection: Styles Steel Erectors
Mechanical and Plumbing: B. Murphy’s Plumbing & Heating
Electrical: Rondout Electric
Curtainwall: Dante Tisi
Stair and Balustrade: TriPyramid Structures
Access Floor: Tri-State Computer Flooring Co.
Millwork: Thomas Jerome
Steel Furniture: Super Square Corp.; KD Metalworks
Site Work and Road: CPS Excavating
Landscape: Green Valley Landscaping
Structural Engineering: Yoshinori Nito Engineering and Design
Lighting Design: One Lux Studio
Size: 6,000 square feet