Renovating a hexagonal house was not easy. “The house is very religious.”
When newlyweds Brooke and Ashley Whitaker outgrew their shoebox-sized apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, they bought a mid-century modern house on an acre of wooded property in the town of Hartsdale in New York’s Westchester County.
The 2,563-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bathroom historic home has a deck, a patio, a wraparound porch, upstairs office space and a very unusual shape — it’s a hexagon.
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“We didn’t want a regular house,” Ashley, 34, said of their suburban search, adding that this was the first home either of them had owned. “We walked in and it was like nothing we’d ever seen before.”
In August 2022, after touring just one home in Westchester County, they purchased the 1964 residence — originally designed by architect Roy Siegfard Johnson for painter Albert Lloyd Tarter — for $1.2 million.
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“Brock was looking to build a mid-century modern-inspired country cottage,” said Ashley, who works as CEO of a small startup based in San Francisco. “I was pushing us to think more about our primary residence. This house seemed like the perfect juxtaposition: a quiet place to live outside of the city, architecturally interesting but also practical for everyday living and within easy reach of Manhattan.”
The village of Hartsdale, 30 miles from New York City, is famous for the fact that it is the place where Carvel’s soft custard was invented on a sweltering summer day in 1934, when the company’s truck got a flat and the creamy dessert began. Its accidental collapse.
Working with lead architect Marc Perak and project manager Eric Yang of New York City-based architecture firm dtls, the Whitakers then embarked on what they told themselves, optimistically, would be a two-month renovation.
After all, there wasn’t much to do. Structurally sound and well-maintained, the house needed a new kitchen and bathrooms, updating and decorating to accommodate their family, which would soon include their daughter Kate, who was born in May, when they were about eight months old in the project.
After conducting an extensive survey of Johnson’s business, which includes the Twenty-One Acre Co-op in Ardsley, New York, where Johnson owned one of 13 single-family homes built in 1948, Yang conducted a LiDAR survey of the home To get accurate measurements.
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“It is a unique house,” he said. “It is the only hexagonal residence ever designed by Johnson.” “There are layers of smaller hexagons in the design, and the wings reference nature.”
Because the house is so distinctive—there are no square rooms—Berak noted, “We had to figure out how to make interventions without diminishing the power of the architecture. All of our decisions have embraced the original geometry.”
The couple was willing to take a light-hearted approach that would preserve the home’s original charm.
“Still, we didn’t want a time capsule,” said Brock, 26, a software engineer. They chose to keep as many original elements as possible and added millwork, including new faces on the circa-1980s kitchen cabinets, which match the style of the house.
“All we added is custom,” he said. “The project was challenging because most contractors are used to working at 90-degree angles.”
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Having the original blueprints, which showed the layout of elements in the spaces but not their dimensions, was a great help in the decision-making process.
“We saw that some key elements, including the built-in desk, built-in storage and some pocket doors, were removed,” Ashley said.
The Whitakers, who lived in the house during construction, furnished it with pieces from their mid-century modern collection.
With the house renovation complete, they bravely began Project No. 2: converting the barn into a gym.
How do you describe your beauty… We admire Frank Lloyd Wright and his concept that architecture respects and merges with nature. We also love simple Scandinavian and Japanese styles and natural colours.
Biggest lesson I’ve learned/advice for others… Don’t over-focus on all the details, there’s no need to look at 75 toilets like we did. Prioritize your resources, discover what’s truly important and identify moments of joy. It’s all about overall impact.
The big surprise… We had all these ideas about moving walls, and explored different footprints, but because the house is a hexagon, every little thing affects the symmetry and the stream of light. We knew the house was very opinionated, and that was the case for very deliberate reasons, so we had to work with him.
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Favorite room after renovation… We have two. The Hearth Room, the center of conversation, has a large fireplace and skylight, so on a sunny day you feel like you’re outside. Our shared office, located up a spiral staircase, has a large built-in custom desk that looks like mission control in a “Star Trek” movie.
The most dramatic change… The kitchen — had blue laminate tiles on the floor, Formica countertops, and antique appliances. It looked like a chemistry lab.
Favorite substance or product discovered during the process… Vermont Danby marble, which we used for the kitchen countertops. It is 30% less porous than marble imported from Italy. We have been very conscious of using locally sourced materials.
Unexpected expenses… Some of the original red oak floors were missing, so we thought it would be easy to replace them with new ones. But when they were stained, the new parts were a different color, so we had to apply three rounds of bleach, plus one round of sealer before trying to match the stains the next time before the final round of sealer.
The total cost of the renovation… $400,000 – This is a conservative estimate. We still have some things left.