Design: Keep It In Proportion

by Kacey Larsen
2017 master design awards whole house $300-$700k

Much like projects and companies, a design philosophy often evolves over time, and Daniel Contelmo of Daniel Contelmo Architects in Poughkeepsie, New York, says his designs often start with a single element. “We talk about trying to capture the essence of a project, the essence of a client’s personality or the surroundings when you look at the project from a bird’s-eye-view or from a larger distance—and just [ask] what single element is the most important piece of this puzzle? And it could be the relationship between two people; it could be the houses that flank [the home]; it could be the tree in the front yard; so from project to project it’s never the same thing. That’s how I begin the design, with analyzing all of those factors and just saying what is the most important feature?” he explains. “Working with these clients, for me, it was really his input into how he wanted the house to have a strong presence from the exterior. [While] it doesn’t stop at the outside because they had some big spaces [inside] that interconnect and things like that, I would say the most important feature for us to begin was the strength of the roofline from the exterior.”

While this Chappaqua, New York, project was many years in the making because of the economic downturn and other general life occurrences for the clients, the goals remained consistent: to give more prominence to the home’s exterior, and to update and add space to the first floor. The client’s strict budget led to a reconsidering of a few design elements, as did planning with the building department.

“The exterior was driven a lot by Mr. Client, and the interior was driven a lot by Mrs. Client. Her friend and interior designer, Maggie Nielsen, actually referred me to the job 10 years ago,” Contelmo explains. “The husband was very involved with me. He let me do my thing with the design, but he had a lot of things to say about it—in a positive way. Literally, [it was] the two of us standing in the driveway and going, ‘Well, is it better to have the big gable to the left where you see it first as you come in the driveway and have the entry sort of secondary? Or is it better to have the gable over the entry and the smaller sections coming toward you as you’re entering?’ He was very in tune with those types of proportions and details, so it was good to collaborate with him; but then he would defer to me ultimately and let me detail it.”

Scaled to Match

As noted, the placement and size of the gables became one of the biggest decisions of the design. The original plan was to introduce a large gable over the entry to add interest to the roofline, as well as accommodate a major renovation of the master bedroom located within. But when initial estimates came back higher than the budget permitted, the resulting solution shifted the large gable over the great room and located a smaller gable over the entryway, keeping the master bedroom in place. Contelmo notes this change “saved cost and left a large unfinished attic over the great room for a future bedroom suite.”


Beyond the addition of the gables, the home now has a revised entry with a wider stone porch featuring its own roofline, and large columns and pilasters that define it. Overall, the home’s design took on a “Hampton-like feel,” Contelmo notes, with its strong roofline, light cedar shingles and columns. A blend of function and aesthetic brought the architect to the exaggerated look of the overhangs and columns.

“We chose to have large overhangs because the previous roof did not, and [it] created many maintenance issues. The overhang was then exaggerated, so we introduced the oversized columns to give the impression they were necessary to support the overhang and big gable,” he says. “In the photos, [the columns] don’t really appear that big, but when you’re standing under them they are big. I would say that I tend to lean toward bold, for sure—kind of like ‘go big or go home.’”

Fitting the Expanded Floor Plan

To achieve the second project goal of updating and adding first-floor space, the home’s garage was converted into a family room and breakfast room. The existing family room then divided into a larger kitchen at the rear of the house, as well as a dining room and larger entry. When it came to the construction of a new garage—as well as a mudroom and laundry room—adjacent to the expanded living spaces, “We were literally between a rock and a hard place,” Contelmo says.

“Our only choice for a new garage was to the left of the house where a large rock out-cropping existed. As we got into the plans and the planning part of it with the building department, there was a limitation as to how steep you could make the rock cut—it has to sort of gradually come down,” he adds. “If we could [have] just carved it out and made it into a rock wall, we could have driven a car around the left side [of the garage], but that didn’t meet the requirements of the engineering department. We hammered enough rock to the side of the garage to allow access to the rear yard and to drain the site.”

The rock also posed access challenges to the construction process, as equipment was unable to move around the outskirt of the house. Contelmo’s solution was a rear garage door, so vehicles could pass through the garage to access the rear of the house and backyard, which may be useful for future service needs as well.

Although the project took a few turns along the way, Contelmo appreciates the project coming to fruition. “We started working together in 2008 then the economy tanked, and they put the project on hold,” he says. “They came back six or seven years later, so that was rewarding in a way that they actually came back to me to do the project.” |QR

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