A Catskills Renovation Results in a Playful but Practical House

When it felt like her family had outgrown their weekend home in upstate New York, Sarah O’Hagan didn’t want to sell—she wanted to renovate.

During the early days of the pandemic, O’Hagan and her husband Peter, who are based in New York City, retreated upstate with their three adult daughters. Situated in the Beaverkill Valley, the section of the Catskills along the Beaverkill River, the refuge is set in a bucolic hamlet—but filled with adults working from home, the shortcomings of the space became clear. For one, privacy was hard to find, as noise from video calls would bleed into nearby rooms.

“The insufficiencies of our weekend house quickly became apparent, along with all the old tea sets and toys that we hadn’t really gotten rid of,” O’Hagan explains.

The growing pains made sense—a space that was previously designed for quick getaways now needed to function as a home base for weeks and months on end. And even now, long after lockdowns have lifted, the flexibility of remote working allows them to spend more time at the house than ever.

The family, who have owned the home for 24 years, decided they weren’t going anywhere after their tight-knit bonds in the community got stronger during the pandemic. “We started talking about a couple of small things we might do to make the house better for all of us and for future habitation by next generations,” O’Hagan says.

O’Hagan was looking for a sensitive remodel that would add square footage and functionality to the home while honoring the existing architecture and the spirit of the Beaverkill Valley. She enlisted AD100 architect and AD PRO Directory member Elizabeth Graziolo, the founder of Yellow House Architects, to take the lead on architecture, and designer and AD PRO Directory member Robin Henry to devise the interiors, after collaborating with both talents on other projects. Graziolo was the project architect for her family’s New York apartment while working under architect Peter Pennoyer, and O’Hagan connected with Henry when she worked under designer Katie Ridder.

“They love the property,” Graziolo says. “Our task was to renovate the house to allow for more private spaces while adding a new large family kitchen, a proper dining room, a family room, an extra guest bedroom, and more space in the primary suite.”

Graziolo designed the new kitchen, which features cabinetry and hardware by Plain English, to serve as a multifunctional living space. A banquette can become a spot for someone to read or work on their laptop outside of meal time. Retractable folding doors open up onto a wrap-around deck. And pocket doors throughout the home, plus sound insulation, add subtle divisions between rooms. “It was kind of like figuring out how to make the kitchen feel more like a flex room,” Graziolo explains.

The architect knew she wanted to utilize folding glass doors in the kitchen to open up the room and capture the views of the surrounding landscape, no matter the season. “The view from the south region of the home features lush rolling hills,” she says. “I wanted to take advantage of that lovely pastoral scenery by framing as many views as possible from within the house.”

The dining room was also in need of an update. Mirroring the shape of the existing bay window on the opposite side of the room, Graziolo designed a unique, octagonal dining space with paneled walls that could cleverly conceal built-in shelving. And Henry enlisted Kingston, New York–based artist Kevin Paulsen to paint some of his legendary landscapes for the panels covering the room. “The tone of his work is very fitting for the location of the house,” Henry says.

Throughout the residence, Henry sourced as much as she could locally to give the home a personal feel that didn’t feel too precious. “We wanted fun things that we could give a new life to,” she explains. She also repurposed pieces from the clients’ existing collection, many of which she herself had commissioned years ago.

Mixing antique and contemporary elements was key to maintaining a spirit of fun in the home. In the bathrooms, especially, Henry took creative liberties—a wall covering painted with fish, a terrazzo countertop, and checkerboard tile all make appearances. “It’s kind of a modern way to play with an older space,” says Henry. “It’s a playful house.”

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