» A two-bedroom guesthouse in Millbrook, New York, has redefined hospitality. Never mind fresh flowers and turned-down beds; this is about the view. Set atop a hill overlooking 100 acres of former farmland, the 1,600-square-foot space is thoughtfully proportioned and beautifully detailed, but its architectural distinction remains second to its surroundings. 'We wanted to meet the measure of the site, which was awesome,' says architect John Murphey, of Meditch Murphey Architects in Maryland. 'That was the whole point of the house. All projects have a purpose; this one was mainly to celebrate a location.'
The house's east-facing 20-foot façade is dedicated almost entirely to a clear-glass window wall. 'We wanted to open one side as if there were no walls at all, as if you were outside,' says Murphey. The architect came as close as possible to that goal without the roof giving in to gravity. Twelve-inch-wide columns support the structure; they also offer a platform for the project's primary lighting feature-wedge-shaped uplights.
The guesthouse sits on a hill above the main residence, and Murphey recognized the nighttime potential for the structure from the beginning: 'Lighting in the evening was very important, since it is part of a larger compound.' Identical fixtures face each other across the columns-one inside, one out-illuminating a canti-levered roof, and creating a dramatic scene from below. The ceiling material is European steamed beech, which also stretches across the threshold of interior/exterior. The parallel illumination and continuous ceiling create a 'mirror effect,' says Murphey, 'so you don't know if you are in or out, despite the glass barrier.' In another riff on the idea of reflection, the geometric form of the luminaires echoes that of the extended roof.
For lighting designer Maureen Moran of MCLA in Washington, these fixtures are 'where the lighting and architecture mix. I really like the way the fixture sits on the pier,' she says, noting the extreme overhang of the roof enabled a damp-listed luminaire, versus a clunkier wet-listed product. The fixtures employ a 150W halogen source. Regarding glare off the ceiling, Moran says 'what saved us on this is that the wood is not highly polished.'
In the Northeast, a view like this comes with climatic considerations, including snow and winter winds. 'There are also gentle breezes that come up the hill, and we wanted to capture those,' says Murphey, 'so one side is exposed, and the other hunkers down.' Unlike the east-facing façade, the north, south and west sides of the structure have few windows; there are, however, two one-foot-tall clerestories that wrap around the sides and back of the house, allowing sunlight into the bedrooms. Glass is wedged between two roofs featuring different pitches and materials (Western red cedar and crimped stainless steel). By night, ambient light from the bedrooms glows subtly, making it seem as if 'one roof is hovering magically above the other,' says Murphey.
Wood details dominate the interior. The European steamed beech on the ceiling is also used for the kitchen cabinets; a stained, bleached oak covers the floors; and teak is used extensively in the bathrooms and around the window and door frames. Certain characteristics of incandescent-present throughout the project-worked well with these materials: its warm color temperature enhances the wood tones, and as a point source, incandescent also helps emphasize the grain. Respectful of the ceiling plane, Moran specified a conservative number of downlights, which she notes are often overused in residential design. 'People don't know what to do, so they put in downlights. Residences typically have an eight- or nine-foot ceiling height, and you don't need to create a grid of lighting.' The back wall of the main room is illuminated with several 6-inch-diameter recessed A-lamps, which balance the effect created by the wedge-shaped fixtures on the columns. Illuminating the vertical surface also brings the whole room into the nighttime view.
Arguably, residential architecture is its own animal-both technically and artistically. Gaps in lighting levels, for example, are more acceptable on residential projects than commercial. Says Moran, 'You have to consider the resident will bring in other sources of light like table and floor lamps, so not everything has to be covered by the architectural lighting. Also you rarely know where they will put furniture, or what the artwork is and where it will go.' The designer, she says, is there to give the resident a 'base lighting plan.' Designing a residence is also an opportunity to 'work the details longer and better,' says Murphey. 'Commercial moves are bigger.' In the case of this guesthouse, the architect and lighting consultant have indeed considered the fine points, compelled by breadth and beauty of the surrounding natural detail.
Emilie W. Sommerhoff
project Guest House, Milbrook, New York
interior designer Meditch Murphey Architects, Chevy Chase, MD
lighting designer MCLA, Washington, DC
photographer Maxwell MacKenzie
manufacturers Alkco, Belfer, Bega, B-K Lighting, B Light, Edison Price, Steng