Architect Carol Kurth’s renovation of a Westchester home creates a fluid communion between indoor and outdoor spaces.
text by Jorge S. Arango photography by Peter Krupenye
There was a time when company visiting Barbara Cervasio at her Westchester home had a fairly mundane view as they wound up her drive: a screened-in porch, the back wall of the garage, some unsightly air-conditioning units, and a fairly undistinguished patio. If Cervasio was grilling, says her architect, Carol Kurth, “She had to go downstairs through the lower level or descend a flight of twenty stone steps outside” to arrive poolside, where the grill was located. In other words, for someone passionate about entertaining al fresco, Cervasio wasn’t having an easy time of it.
So Cervasio asked Kurth, who had designed a home for her in the early 1980s, to rework the back of the house. Cervasio had made major life changes in those intervening 30 years, becoming a nutritional health coach. That meant food was now absolutely central to her life. “I wanted things set up so we could dine and entertain outside, and so I could do demonstrations,” says Cervasio. “It was also important that everything be truly farm-to-table,” meaning she wanted to move easily among her 18-acre micro-farm across the driveway, a new conservatory (where she could start seedlings and conduct those presentations), the kitchen and the outdoor entertaining area.
Kurth’s ambitious plan called for enlarging the kitchen, relocating the air-conditioning equipment, adding the conservatory off the back of the garage, repurposing the original footprint of the screened-in porch for a new family room, and placing a dining pavilion between the latter two structures that would be flanked by pergola-covered walkways that connected everything.
They relied on the venerable English firm Parish Conservatories, whose stateside offices are in Fairfield, CT, for the greenhouse. It was Kurth’s job, says Cervasio, “to customize the conservatory so it fit in with the architecture [New England clapboard] and the site.” The result is a structure reminiscent of carpenter Gothic cottages that both contrasts and complements the architecture of the main home. Kurth also included a counter with a sink and a juicer in this space where Cervasio can whip up her daily wheatgrass concoction and sit at a table overlooking the garden to read the morning paper.
For the family room, Kurth designed a space ringed in French doors and windows, making it feel more connected to the outdoors. Cervasio also requested a fireplace, the starting corner of which the perfectionist Kurth laid herself so the subcontractors could mimic its irregular, rustic feel.
Between these two buildings, Kurth created a dining pavilion with a mahogany-lined ceiling and a floor made of unexpectedly square bricks found at Bedford Stone & Masonry Supply. Also from this source, the women purchased large tread slabs of bluestone to serve as steps outside the doors to the conservatory and family room, as well as down onto the patio. A table and chairs from Elegant Earth provide dining space for eight.
Inside, the architect created a European-style kitchen, taking pains to match existing hand-painted, hand-glazed cabinetry. Other techniques Kurth deployed to make the new space feel seamlessly connected to the old include: a new Basaltina-topped island, countertops that are hand-scraped and a ceiling punctuated by reclaimed beams.
Kurth also moved the existing fire pit in that patio to align it with the dining gazebo, which enabled Adirondack chairs from Walpole Outdoors to fit all around it instead of skirting only one side as before. “Now it’s more like a campfire or a friendship circle,” she notes. Cervasio adds that the fire pit doubles as a grill at times, mostly for her husband and his man friends, since she prefers more wholesome forms of cooking.
When conceptualizing the patio, says landscape designer Marge Sandwick of Designs in Gardening (DIG) in Bedford Hills, “We wanted to immediately break with the formal architecture and put in a very rustic, casual space.” So irregularly shaped flagstone seemed the natural choice. “In shady areas we planted moss between them,” she says, “and in sunny areas we planted thyme.”
The former garden also needed sprucing up. “She loves things that have fragrance,” observes Sandwick of her client. Wisteria now climbs trellises and cascades over pergolas, and lavender, roses and herbs exude other scents. “Pretty much everything there flowers,” adds Sandwick, providing color from spring through fall.
“Carol really opened it all up so we could view the property better,” says Cervasio of the new configuration and additions.
“It’s really a series of outdoor rooms,” concludes Kurth, “layers of spaces you transition through. There’s a sense of procession to it.” And as any appreciative guest to Cervasio’s home will also note, they are treated to a much more aesthetically pleasing approach when they come to visit.
Carol Kurth Architecture and Interiors, 914.234.2595, www.carolkurtharchitects.com.
Legacy Construction Northeast LLC, 914-273-4511, www.legacydevelopmentllc.com
Designs in Gardening, 914.241.2961, www.designsingardening.com
Bedford Stone & Masonry Supply, 914.666.6404, www.bedfordstone.com
Elegant Earth, 800.242.7758, www.elegantearth.com
Walpole Outdoors, 800.343.6948, www.walpolewoodworkers.com