Rough-hewn limestone forms an award-winning residence

January 25, 2006
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Simply known as the “House in the Blue Mountains,” this Eastern Pennsylvania retreat designed by renowned architect Peter Q. Bohlin, FAIA is a showcase of natural stone that has garnered a host of awards, including a 2004 Tucker Award from the Building Stone Institute (BSI). The project utilizes limestone from Bayer Stone of St. Mary's, KS, as well as Bluestone from Endless Mountain Bluestone of Susquehanna, PA. The following is a description of the project, as provided by the BSI:

Arranged around a square limestone courtyard, this 12,000-square-foot timber frame and limestone house is sited at the edge of a hillside forest. It faces south across a rural valley to one of the prominent peaks in the Blue Mountains of Pennsylvania along a well-known migratory path for eagles and hawks. The architects envisioned the plan of the house as if it had grown out of an old stone courtyard sited upon a natural stone outcropping. Movement toward the house is routed in a southeasterly direction as a choreographed sequence reveals the estate. The house is reached from a narrow drive that winds upward through unmowed fields, a deep forest and a grove of hemlocks. The drive then enters a wood-framed car court, which contrasts with the central stone courtyard to its east. A seemingly natural outcropping of exposed limestone bedrock extends under a stone wall from the entry drive into the square limestone courtyard.

The choreographed sequence continues as a tongue of large, irregular limestone paving pulls one through mahogany gates into the inner stone courtyard. In the courtyard, the limestone bedrock steps down to form naturalistic ledges that merge with the Bluestone paving of the floor. This calm, powerful outdoor room appears to predate the surrounding structure; it serves as the heart of the house, both introduction and refuge.

Laminated Douglas fir columns and beams ring the courtyard, adding another layer to the entry sequence. The timber columns are free standing on two sides, but support the roof over the glazed circulation hall of the upper level living areas along the south and east sides of the perimeter. Along the north entry wall, protruding limestone corbels support a Douglas fir roof beam and a shade trellis. Limestone corbels along the upper edge of the courtyard wall also support the low-pitched roofs that extend over the glazed corridor. Terne-coated standing seam stainless steel roofs, weathered to a slate gray, outline the central stone courtyard and the car court. Just under the roof overhangs, clerestory windows provide balancing light to the upper level living areas.

From the forested hillside above the house, the living areas are visible. From the south side of the central courtyard, two levels of glazed, timber-framed living pavilions flow outward from the circulation gallery. These more open living areas look out to the forest, the rural valley and the mountain beyond. The limestone walls of the square courtyard are pierced by openings along the south and east sides to allow access to the home's interior spaces. Monolithic lintels and quoins of hand-worked limestone frame these wall openings leading from the courtyard to the indoor living areas.

Centering on a view of the mountain, two massive limestone chimneys flank the entrance to the south pavilions, echoing the limestone of the inner courtyard. Rising high over the living space roofs, the chimneys mark key positions within the main pavilions of the house, providing fireplaces for living and dining areas on the upper level, and bedrooms on the lower level. On the interior, large limestone hearths front the chimneys. Along the outer south face, the wood framing and glass of the main living pavilions contrast with the solidity of the paired limestone chimney masses.

On the south side of the courtyard there is a void between the two chimneys and the two south-facing living pavilions. The void accommodates the principal mahogany stair to the lower levels; it is placed on the centerline of the courtyard entrance overlooking the valley and mountain landscape. On one side of the void is the living room and on the other are the dining, kitchen and family rooms. The stair provides access to the lower level bedrooms, a home theater, the hunting room, an exercise room and the outdoor pool. An extensive master bedroom suite occupies the entire wing on the east side of the courtyard.

On the lower level, a long linear pool and covered, Bluestone-paved terrace extend direct views toward a distant birch grove. The placement of the chimneys and pool was determined early in the design process, directing the house's open face toward the sun and rural valley.

The clients, who frequently entertain guests, find the house perfectly suits their lifestyle. They enjoy comfortable year-round living in a private and undisturbed natural setting. The House in the Blue Mountains was featured in a book on Bohlin Cywinski Jackson's residential projects, Arcadian Architecture, published by Rizzoli in the Spring of 2005.

In addition to a 2004 Tucker Award, the project received a 2005 Grand Award from Residential Architect, a 2003 Honor Award for Design from the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and a 2003 Honor Award from the Northeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Private Residence Blue Mountains, PA

Architect: Peter Q. Bohlin, FAIA, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Wilkes-Barre, PA

General Contractor: Curtis J. Bailey, Curtis J. Bailey Inc., New Ringgold, PA

Stone Suppliers: Bayer Stone, St. Mary's, KS (limestone); Endless Mountain Bluestone, Susquehanna, PA (Bluestone)

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