Architectural Alchemy

After a tragic fire in Bedford, a postmodern dream home rises from the ashes.


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A postmodern pastiche rises from the ashes, filled with antiques, found objects, and “all kinds of wacky stuff.”

  

 

You would think that after losing their house to an inferno caused by a faulty fireplace, the last thing on Ed and Stacy Geisingers’ dream-home wish list would be a passel of fireplaces.

But in fact, when they met with architect Rich Granoff in January 1999, as their blue-gray Bedford contemporary still smoldered, stone chimneys soared near the top of the To Dos—as long as they were “more secure” fireplaces, Ed insisted.

The chimney had become a powerful symbol: it was just about the last structure standing when the flames were finally extinguished 14 hours later. The Geisingers, thinking they would lose only their master bedroom, where the fire had started, didn’t take anything with them when they fled. So when they lost the whole house, they lost just about everything, from credit cards, cash, and three Warhols to the truly priceless stuff: “pictures of her parents, mine, our anniversaries, our wedding,” Ed, 56, says.

Whether to rebuild was never up for debate. “We were in love with the lot,” Ed says about the six gently sloping, partly wooded acres. But in the decade since they’d bought the mid-’80s house, their tastes had changed “dramatically,” says Ed, who owns and manages apartment houses throughout New York. So when the couple walked into Granoff’s Greenwich office with literature and design books, it was the architecture of Robert A.M. Stern they were looking to emulate, a postmodern pastiche of historical references from shingle style to neoclassical.

What dominated a page torn from one of the design books was a pair of symmetrical chimneys standing sentry out front, like two massive, rustic Doric columns. Using local fieldstone, Granoff designed two more for the back of the Geisinger house, yielding seven fireplaces in all.

 

 

The previous house was smaller, 6,100 square feet, with “much less detail,” Ed says. “This is much more formal,” he says, boasting intricate millwork and moldings and elaborate ceiling beams and wall paneling. Now, with 9,500 square feet, there’s more than enough room for the Geisingers—who also include a football-playing teenage son, Alexander, and a Wheaten terrier, Sophie—to roam. (It’s so big that, for a while after moving in during February 2000, Alexander, who turned 16 this month, camped out on a mattress plopped on the floor of his parents’ suite, which lies down the stairs and at the other end of the house from his room.)

 

 

For reasons of zoning and practicality—to save time, money, and aggravation—Granoff worked off the old foundation. “It was a challenge,” he concedes. Still, Granoff was able to deliver on the Geisingers’ other requests: a kitchen moved from the front to the back (to ease the transition to the back patio grill, of course); an increase in garage space from three bays to four; a first-floor master suite (the couple’s main hang-out space); and a grander entry hall and front staircase. The double-height entry hall is one of Granoff’s favorites within his approximately 500-house portfolio. “It opens to the living room beyond, so it’s formal but it’s still open,” he explains. “There’s still light coming in.”

 

 

One of the Geisingers’ quirkier wishes, Granoff says, was the “Bedford Room,” a re-creation of their previous family room that gets its name from the mural that covers the walls. It depicts a map of the area, albeit a bit distorted: there’s the Cross River Reservoir, Westchester airport, Saxon Woods Golf Course (the couple are big golfers), East Hampton (where they spend time in warmer months), and their most important landmark, their house itself. “When friends are here and they’re drinking, they all go, ‘Can I pencil mine in?’” Stacy, 46, says slyly.

Westchester wall map notwithstanding, the Bedford Room feels like an Adirondacks lodge, with its river stone-flanked fireplace and barrel-vaulted ceiling covered in cedar planks, curved like the hull of a ship. A wooden folding Klepper kayak stretches, unfolded, along the ceiling. A pair of near century-old railroad lanterns that originally adorned a train, the metal dinged and dark, are mounted above the mantel. They were two of the few things salvaged from the fire.

 

 

Antiques abound, as both furnishings (the huge dining room table, for example, which has enough leaves to extend into the foyer) and fixtures. Much to many a contractor’s dismay, Charlie Moon, the Geisingers’ longtime Manhattan-based interior designer, is “big on found objects,” Granoff says. He dredges up “all kinds of wacky stuff” and then practices architectural alchemy. For instance, the chalet-like living room, featuring a peaked ceiling trimmed with unpainted wood beams, is lit in part by lamps fashioned from old wallpaper rollers. Sometimes the antiques stubbornly refuse to cooperate with modernity, such as the tire-sized kitchen wall clock, which looks like it once guarded a British rail station but now is only accurate twice a day, as Stacy points out, at 6:34 am and pm.

 

 

In the powder room, Moon transformed a birdbath into a sink and a-ye-olde chamber pot throne, complete with arm rungs and caned seat, into a functional toilet. For the plumbers, “that was a nightmare getting that to work,” Granoff says. Akin, perhaps, to the nightmare one might assume Moon endured cutting the tiny wall tiles and assembling the mosaic piece by piece (with another worker’s help). The end result, a Moroccan-style bath tiled in the colors of terra cotta and lapis, made the powder room “off the charts,” Granoff says. Stacy’s assessment? “It’s pretty groovy.”

 

 

For the couple’s master suite, Moon turned wooden bedroom dressers into twin bathroom vanities, affixing old metal library card catalog pulls as handles and installing hammered metal basins from Waterworks. The twin toilets, however–the bidet of the ’00s–were Stacy’s idea. “When we first started, I said, ‘We have to have separate toilets.’ Think of the fights you can avoid!” The generously sized steam shower is largely Ed’s. “It’s the hair thing,” his wife explains (blowouts and water don’t mix, of course). So Stacy takes a daily soak in the deep Kohler tub nestled into a three-windowed bay, soaking in the surrounding views of the woods.

Another oasis is an upstairs guest room outfitted overwhelmingly in green. With celadon chairs and a1920s leaf-print wallpaper, the space is “very serene,” Stacy says. “It’s a beautiful way to wake up.”

Stacy seldom ventures up to the second floor, other than “to spy on my child,” she jokes. Alexander has his own suite: bedroom, bath, and adjacent rec room, which houses a ping pong table and the old mattress from his younger, bunk-down-with-the-parents days (now it’s a literal crash pad for friends). Grass cloth-covered walls mean Alexander can tack up his rock posters–the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix—with relative impunity. “You don’t see the holes,” Stacy points out. She and Ed had several discussions about where to put their son’s room. Granoff warned them not to design it over their own—a wise choice, Stacy concedes, considering Alexander’s saxophone and electric guitar hobbies.

 

 

Every night at 6 pm, though, the whole family gathers for a homemade dinner served in a windowed bay of the kitchen. The circular, picnic-like wooden table sits parked near the kitchen’s fireplace. This one, however, has never been lit—and never will be. Soon after the cozy hearth was built, Sophie the dog claimed it as her home.

 

Julia Lange is a freelancer who lives in Manhattan. She regularly writes about style and design.

 

 

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