"Eighty percent of architecture is location,” Jasmit Singh Rangr tells me as we look out from the terrace of a house he designed in Gallatin, New York, a few hours north of Manhattan. The 48-year-old architect sounds more like an artist or a poet when he talks about his projects. This one was quite ambitious: to build three different structures––a main house, a guesthouse, and a barn––on 77 acres for a young family from the city. “You can work with what you already have in that landscape. The task is responding to what’s around you,” says the Indianborn Rangr, who grew up in London and studied architecture at Yale. He explains that just as a tree can alter its surroundings by providing shade, so can architecture change a natural environment.
The couple had vacationed at a modernist cliff-top villa in the Dominican Republic that Rangr had done for another client and were won over by the way his design created a feeling of seamlessness with the outdoors while remaining very comfortable. So when they decided to renovate their loft-like apartment in Chelsea in 2012, they brought in Rangr to help. Two years later, when they had found a plot of land in the Hudson Valley, they brought him on once again. When Rangr surveyed the property––a patchwork of rolling hills and pine forests––the first order of business was to map out where the main residence would go. After discovering three different summits on the property, Rangr found an ideal spot on one with unobstructed views of the Hudson Valley. He positioned the house to hide the unsightly industrial buildings of nearby farms––even in the winter. “So you have this house behind you as an anchor and then this vast landscape in front of you. It’s like battling the elements,” says Rangr, who designed the compound with structural engineers Robert Silman Associates.
The clients were looking to build a refuge of sorts––a country escape where they could come with their two young sons as well as friends and family; most importantly, their elderly parents. Rangr created a main structure that was essentially a pair of intersecting cedar-clad rectangles that would serve as two separate living quarters: one is for the couple and their sons, and the other can be sealed off for grandparents and other guests. “The idea was that when grandparents are staying over they don’t necessarily want to be disturbed by children waking up in the middle of the night,” says Rangr. The structure’s 6,800-square-foot size could handle two houses, but given the scale, perhaps the greatest challenge lay in making sure the space still felt intimate––especially for the wife when she was alone here with the children. She wanted to have “a visual standpoint of every angle of the house,” Rangr says, so he created a mezzanine that opens up to the second floor. The balcony railing is composed of white vertical slats that resemble an abstracted picket fence. “I didn’t want to design it horizontally, because small children have a tendency to climb up balconies,” he says.
Another mandate was to make the house comfortable. “They wanted guests to feel like they didn’t have to be so careful around certain pieces,” says the interior designer, Bryant Keller. The house’s proportions––large, open common spaces and smaller bedrooms––allowed Keller to bring in a sense of “eclecticism.” That translated into a peach and navy color palette in the master bedroom, DeGournay wallpapers in one bathroom, and a pair of gold-and-crystal chandeliers (the same style hang in the Metropolitan Opera House) over the dining room table. “I call it ‘contemporary organic,’ ” says Keller of the style. And while the project is massive, Rangr, like Keller, says he was excited by the details. He points out a skylight that floods the master bathroom. “Skylights in small spaces make a room feel magical, heavenly,” he says. When he was designing the pool, he was inspired by a stepwell he’d visited in Mumbai that featured a series of terraced steps down to the water.