Carpenter & Mason’s Acorn Hill House

by Annie Werbler

It was a natural progression for Sarah Carpenter and Chris Horger to bring their cozy yet minimal Brooklyn aesthetic to a weekend Catskills home in Olivebridge, NY. As founders of Carpenter & Mason — an architectural design firm focusing on restaurant and hospitality spaces — the couple spends tons of time on construction sites during the workweek, so they decided to tackle as much as possible in their 1965 Upstate home themselves.

“We knew that we would renovate any house we chose, so the small things mattered less to us,” notes Sarah, who is also an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation. “We were hoping for an ugly house on a great property, and this perfectly fit the bill!” Their hands-on attitude allowed the couple to test out materials, techniques, and colors they had been eyeing as potentials for hospitality projects. When something didn’t quite work, they’d just redo it. “The bedroom was painted five times, which we know sounds insane,” Sarah jokes, “But after you’ve already painted something three times, you cannot bring yourself to stop if you aren’t totally happy with the result.” Always improving, future plans include a raised garden, fire pit, and sauna, but after a year of manual labor Sarah and Chris are just glad to spend comfortable weekends relaxing — for now.

Also on the punchlist is the 1930s Sears Catalog cabin still standing on the property, which previous owners had constructed for summer visits. “We decided not to touch the catalog cabin until we made significant progress on the main house, so it’s still a complete time capsule/house for spiders,” Sarah says. But the main house contains only the necessities, where their pared-down belongings all have a designated place, so Sarah and Chris didn’t have to spend much time brainstorming storage solutions. “In general, our aesthetic leans towards the minimal, but it also just makes sense for this particular house — we knew that we didn’t want to spend our weekends cleaning,” Sarah shares.

Spending the past winter with friends napping in front of the fire, drinking whiskey on the porch, making pies in the kitchen, and curling up with dogs on the couch made all the hard work worthwhile. —Annie

Photography by Reid Rolls

Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
In the home's open-concept living room, a deep sofa fits four people comfortably for movie watching. "When we have friends over, we all sit in a row with our feet up," Sarah says, "Chris jokes that it's like the grandparents' bed in Willy Wonka." Original kitchen walls and a drop ceiling were removed to expose the structure above. Chris also repaired the brick fireplace and applied a lime plaster over the masonry.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
Originally a pale yellow, the couple had their home's exterior painted black to their liking. Odie, a terrier mix, runs laps around the yard and Yoshi, an English Bulldog, prefers dragging a favorite old trash can around the property in favor of newer toys.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
Original kitchen cabinets were reconfigured and painted, while Chris designed a new lime plaster island. The limestone scrap backsplash would otherwise have been out of budget, but the couple made an oddly-sized and inexpensive slab from the stoneyard work for them.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
Wood-fired ceramics from Russian ceramicist Pavel Zh stock the kitchen. The bowls and small glasses are made of soapstone.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
Jonathan Bancroft Colon made the dining table (as well as all the furniture and millwork for the Carpenter & Mason interior at the Van Leeuwen ice cream shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn). "The legs are all hand-carved and we love the contrast the table creates with the simplicity of the rest of the space," Sarah shares.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
Plates from Collyer's Mansion bring a bit of Brooklyn to the Catskills home.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
This bedroom was painted five times, and a final coat of Down Pipe from Farrow & Ball remains. "We might still paint it white!" Sarah admits.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
Limiting their accumulation of stuff allows the homeowners to live happily without closet doors.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
Across from the bed, a landscape photograph by Sammy Kweskin (one of which makes an appearance in each room of the house) is framed by another Jonathan Bancroft Colon creation. Sarah and Chris then assembled the pieces themselves. "Our framing wasn't the most professional of operations, but it's the only way that we could fit such large photographs into our budget."
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
A second bedroom features affordable items sourced online, like the bedframe from Shop 4 Futons and bedside tables pieced together with Etsy steel bases and maple tops.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
"The previous owner left 50 or so whittled wooden sticks and we really wanted to find a functional application for these," Sarah says. "The closets are a great example of a design decision that only makes sense in a weekend house - you would never be able to get away with an open closet in the city." Suede string (intended for DIY cowboy belt buckles) suspends the wooden closet rod.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
A lime plaster vanity wall and body by Jonathan Bancroft Colon in the bathroom. "We decided to forgo window treatments throughout the house and love that you can shower with a direct view to the woods behind the house," Sarah reveals.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
The property atop a hill provides lots of privacy, possibly why the area around the house is rumored to have once been owned by a group of Norwegian families. "It was apparently THE place to be in the 70s," Sarah suggests.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
The 1930s Sears Catalog cabin on the property will be the next project. It has no heat or plumbing, and paper-thin walls. It may eventually become a Carpenter & Mason retail showroom.
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
"What we love most about our home is taking the space from this - to this! - Sarah Carpenter and Chris Horger
Carpenter & Mason's Acorn Hill House, on Design*Sponge
The home's 1,000-square-foot floor plan.

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