The Big Glass House in the Little Woods
A spectacular treetop aerie blurs the distinction between indoors and out.
It took three tons of Brazilian uba tuba granite to create this striking two-story fireplace which continues down to Browne's office on the lower level.
You reach Rockleigh, the striking Waccabuc residence of Warren Browne and Suzie Pandjiris, after cruising down a long rollercoaster of a driveway, then hanging a right at an enormous rock outcropping. The home’s sinuous exterior wall runs from the entryway to the living room, a two-story glass pavilion that looks out over acres of woods, a glorious tapestry that changes with the seasons.
More than two decades ago, the couple started dreaming of a country lifestyle, a retreat from their Manhattan lives where he worked as a corporate lawyer, she a fashion stylist at Saks Fifth Avenue. Soon, weekends were spent looking at houses. “Everything for sale at the time seemed so expensive,” Pandjiris, a realtor with Houlihan Lawrence in Bedford, recalls. “So at first we looked at rentals, but they were disasters—falling down with raccoons living under the porch.”
Pandjiris and Browne on the patio, their main summer entertaining space.
Disappointed, they began looking for land on which they could build their dream home and found a dramatic five-acre parcel in Northern Westchester; a friend recommended architect John Ciardullo, who lived in a striking contemporary home in Pleasantville. “Suzie and I both liked contemporary design,” Browne says, “and the steeply sloped property lent itself toward that style.” Indeed, he thinks those very slopes resulted in one of the house’s greatest successes. “The house is three stories, yet every level has access on grade.”
While Pandjiris first professed that she wanted a simple log cabin in the woods, Browne and friends quickly dissuaded her of that notion. “We decided to build to the market, using the best materials we could find,” she says. “And we built larger than I originally envisioned”—creating a home with a soaring 25-foot ceiling, a two-story granite fireplace, and glass walls with wooded views in every direction. Turns out what Pandjiris really wanted was something “dramatic and gutsy.”
Browne and Pandjiris incorporated clapboard, often used in colonials, into their clearly contemporary home; the stones in the wall were quarried from the property.
“Building was the fun part,” says Browne, who studied architecture for a year after law school. “We weren’t in any hurry." It took two-and-a-half years to complete.
The home’s most unusual feature is the exterior curved glass wall. “The curve was created in the builder’s head and not specified in the architectural drawings,” Browne says. So the trusses had to be made to size in place rather than pre-made. The couple was a bit concerned over the flat roof design—notoriously problematic—but needn’t have worried. According to Browne, they may "have the only flat roof known to man that has never leaked.”
The couple knew they wanted the living room’s two-story fireplace to be something special but didn’t know quite how it would be special. While on vacation in Milan, they happened upon the perfect look and soon, three tons of Brazilian uba tuba granite was flame-cut in Italy, then shipped to Waccabuc and assembled to Browne’s design in the living room. The fireplace continues down to his office on the lower level, which also houses a wine room, bath, and an unfinished maid’s room.
Browne designed the galley kitchen as well, with honed uba tuba granite counters and blue glass pendant lamps the couple found at Klaff’s. Bluestone floors in the entrance and kitchen continue out onto the patio, which is their main entertainment space in the summer. The texture of the stone is a nice contrast to the plain white walls and white oak floors on the rest of the main floor. The sectional sofas in the living room were from Donghia; the grass weave carpets are from the Philippines. As far as accessories were concerned—the bigger, the better. “Small accessories get lost in such a large room,” Panjiris says, “so we used huge bowls, lamps, and an enormous plant as accents.”
One would think that living in a glass house might be chilly in winter, blistering hot in summer, but that isn’t the case. The passive solar design of the house accepts sun in the winter when the leaves are gone, helping keep the room toasty, while in warmer months, the trees block the sun, making living with nature as comfortable as it is beautiful.
Photography by Phillip Ennis