Salt Point, New York

For five years, Manhattan residents Cristina Grajales and Isabelle Kirshner rented a rustic former hunting cabin in Dutchess County, New York, for weekend getaways. The couple fell in love with the place and hoped someday to buy it. When they learned that the owners were not interested in selling, they were crestfallen. But their spirits soon lifted when they found an idyllic 9-acre parcel of land on a small, stream-fed pond a few miles away in the hamlet of Salt Point. Now all they needed was an architect.

Salt Point House

The couple, a gallery owner/design consultant and a lawyer, respectively, had admired the work of Manhattan-based architect Thomas Phifer, but only from a distance: Grajales had seen his Taghkanic Residence in Elle Decor. “I was scared to call him because I was afraid he was already too famous,” she says. As fate would have it, the two were introduced at a fund-raising event they attended. “It was destiny,” says Grajales, who added that Phifer did not seem deterred by either the small size of the house they hoped to build or their budget.

Grajales and Kirshner’s demands were basic: They wanted their new house to do everything the old cabin did—it should be small, easy to maintain, and affordable. The program should also be similar and include two bedrooms and baths; a bunk/study room; a large, open living area; and, importantly, a screened porch. “It was an ideal challenge,” says Greg Reaves, a partner at Thomas Phifer and Partners, of the simple requirements. “It was a project we could really get into and work out the details.”

Like a great meal, Salt Point House is made up of a few carefully selected ingredients thoughtfully put together. In the most basic terms, the 2,200-square-foot house is a wood-framed, stained cedar box punctured with skylights and lined in maple plywood with glazing on its short sides and a perforated corrugated-stainless-steel skin on its long sides. “Not exactly a one-liner,” says Reaves, “but what you see is what you get.”