Standing Stone

A weather-beaten boulder sits in a clearing high above the Berkshire Hills. Sharp field grass and cattails stand sentry by a nearby clover-shaped pond. Silence. From the thick forest emerges a car, and out of it steps a petite brunette, bundled against the winter wind. She climbs onto the massive rock and looks to the east, south, west, and north, seeing nothing but mountains and valleys. “This is it,” she says.


Fast-forward four years: The woman’s three children scamper over the great stone, daring one another to climb it better, faster, while she and her husband watch from across a bluestone courtyard in their new summer home’s marble and oak kitchen. A summer breeze wafts through the adjacent dining room’s open sliding glass door. Beyond the patio is the very view that first caught her eye.

A decade ago, Austerlitz, New York, was an appendage of neighboring Berkshire County, a blip on the way to the Catskills or Adirondacks. Neither potential homeowners nor developers gave it a lot of thought, until land in Great Barrington and Lenox became much harder to find. In the past few years, gated gravel driveways leading to exclusive vacation houses began to appear, though rural quiet still reigns. (The nearest supermarket is a good 30 minutes away.)

It was the serenity of Austerlitz that attracted this New York family. They were looking to escape city living, and were drawn to the 150 untouched acres they could protect from further development. But building in such a place required care and vision. “The owners wanted a shared relationship with the site,” says Nick Winton, a principal at Cambridge-based Anmahian Winton Architects. “They didn’t want one massive-looking house. We split up the structures to form a pinwheel design that leaves all kinds of spaces between buildings.”

Winton and a crew of contractors, landscapers, engineers, and -decorators adhered to three critical guidelines. First, the home would be as green as possible. To achieve this, they included a geothermal well, low-flush toilets, and reclaimed and renewable materials like bluestone, red cedar, cork, bio-based insulation, and copper. Second, the houses would not be ostentatious or overwhelm the scenery; rather, they would be low and clad in a muted palette. And, third, the entire home would be designed for extensive entertaining.

The completed homestead looks somewhat like an ultramodern dairy farm, at once a minimalist’s paradise and a detail lover’s dream. Anmahian Winton chose to play off the land’s native bluestone by using it as a primary building material. A low bluestone wall rings much of the courtyard and more bluestone composes the rectangular pool patio. The three buildings, arranged in a loose cluster, are clad in bluestone and cedar, the latter stained a mellow gray. Copper roofs will patina to green. The overall effect is one that echoes the alternately lush and austere landscape.

The 4,500-square-foot main house includes four bedrooms, four bathrooms, two offices, a kitchen and dining room, an “adult” living room, a “kids” living room, and a basement rec room. Ample storage—in the form of refrigerator drawers, built-in wall cabinets, and roomy closets—holds food, clothes, and gear. A first-rate music system, complete with concealed iPod docking sockets, fills each child’s room with superb sound. Winton finished the second-story floors and walls in cork plank that, on occasion, doubles as a bulletin board for art and schoolwork. In place of traditional molding, he designed a ½-inch indented strip, or “reveal,” throughout the project.

Across the courtyard, nestled into the land and adjacent to the pool, is the four-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot guesthouse. Like the main building, it is outfitted with mid-century modern pieces curated by Greenwich, Connecticut, interior designer Jack Montgomery. He scoured high-end décor stores, catalogs, and eBay for his finds, and had a few items—like the expandable burlwood and walnut dining room table and a hand-woven wool and silk Tibetan rug—custom made. Earth tones, interrupted by bursts of silvery chrome, keep the mountain vistas front and center.

As she walks through her home, the owner recalls her first step onto that weathered boulder, and her first view of the country site. “We had done the city and the suburbs,” she says. “We wanted something different. When we pulled up and I got out of the car I just knew in a second. I never wavered, and here we are.”