October 16, 2021

Alexandra Beer House

The Real Estate Experts

Inside a Cozy Catskills Lodge That Was Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright

It was decades ago when AD100 designer Stephen Shadley first glimpsed a burned-out stone ruin, perched cinematically on Potic Mountain, just a few miles from his home in Catskill, New York. “Everyone in the area referred to it as ‘the castle,’” he recalls of the fascinating site that, after a fire in the 1970s, had turned into an illicit hangout spot, covered in graffiti. “All that was left was the foundation and a couple of chimneys, a little road leading up to the 16-acre property, and this view that was just breathtaking to behold.”

After he got his hands on some photos of the original 1913 structure—a three-story, Arts and Crafts–style summer house designed by Wilfred Buckland for a pair of English sisters—Shadley vowed that if he ever had the opportunity to purchase the property, he would rebuild the house to its former glory. Many years later, he received a call from a woman who had inherited the property. She was ready to sell.

Shadley, who had lived in the area since the 1980s, bought the place 12 years ago. But the process of rebuilding it took time. After several years of research and design, he hired a local mason to repair the stonework. “The house is visible from some of the roads down below and I wanted it to evoke the image of what had been here,” says Shadley, who—with guidance from his mentor, interior designer Robert Bray, and an eye toward the environmentally sensitive approach of Frank Lloyd Wright—followed the lines of the original foundation. Ultimately, that meant conjuring what looks like an old Adirondacks lodge, accented with bright red windows—a look he lifted from a book of old lodges that became something of an homage to Wright, who often used a similar hue.

A Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired red covers the concrete floors and countertops in the kitchen. The Adjustrite industrial stools are from the 1950s. 

Amid the restoration process, Shadley dug deeper into the property’s history, and the more he learned, the more he connected with his new home. The talent, who grew up in L.A. and got his start as a scenic painter and set designer at 20th Century Fox, has always kept a foot in Hollywood, designing homes for megastars like Jennifer Aniston, Diane Keaton, and Ryan Murphy. As it turns out, Wilfred Buckland, the architect of his new home, had a similar trajectory. He was working as a Broadway set designer in New York when two sisters hired him to design their house in the Catskills. And once it was complete, he shipped out to L.A., where he began working as a lighting and production designer for the legendary director and producer Cecil B. DeMille. “It just has this amazing history,” gushes Shadley of the home’s Hollywood-adjacent past.

Despite Shadley’s own glamorous client list, his personal preferences for living are rather reserved. For the interiors of his home, he settled on a muted palette kicked up with that same Frank Lloyd Wright–approved red from the windows, which coats the concrete floors and kitchen counters. Furnishings are simple but charming, with an industrial bent—classroom chairs, reclaimed wood tables, adjustable stools. Many pieces were scored at the multitude of antique markets in the Hudson Valley area, including a lamp made out of extra-large Popsicle sticks and an Aesthetic Movement wicker chair from the late 19th century.

A circa 1913 photograph of Potic Castle, restored by Shadley after it was destroyed by a fire in the 1970s. 

Courtesy of Stephen Shadley

Largely, what’s inside either reflects or makes space for the scenery out the window. Shadley, tapping into his roots as a scenic painter, created several murals based on 19th-century photographs of nearby sites; at the entry, he hung a vintage photograph of hemlock trees that was made for the National Parks Service. Perhaps the most striking pieces in the home are hewn from the literal ground it sits on. Two huge pieces of bluestone—scavenged from the property when the team blasted away a bit of the mountain to create space for a garage—were brought in on a forklift and embedded in the concrete floors as tables.

Ultimately, however, the most jaw-dropping decorations in this house are what lie out the windows. And after five years of living there—with a year-plus of around-the-clock time at home—Shadley has had the chance to really soak it all in. “Deer walk through in hordes, [plus] foxes, porcupines, wild turkeys, everything imaginable,” he says. “Just looking out the windows can be a fun experience. It’s pretty phenomenal.” Also phenomenal? Now, when Shadley gazes up at Potic from town, what he sees is not a total ruin but a castle, standing tall.

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