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Old World Aesthetics – Modern Sensibility
March 27, 2024

The Creation of an Artisanal Stone Cottage

By Tara Kelly

Photos by Gabriel Zimmer / Catskill Image

An elegant stone building stands sentry near the side of a country road, its location the only hint of its former life as a squat two-car garage. Owners Michael Clark and Charmaine DeMello, like so many other NYC residents, spent much of the pandemic living full-time in what had been their weekend home. “It really gave us a chance to get to know the property, and we thought it would be so cool to turn the garage into a guest house,” says DeMello.

They got in touch with Darren Davidowich, and his partner James Dell’Olio, of The Art of Building, a design/build firm based in Rhinebeck. “They were so amazing, so organized, with such high standards, and great design ideas,” DeMello says. So much so, they went on to do several more projects together.

The garage to cottage renovation presented special challenges. The structure was vintage 1970s; very low ceilings inside, a simple shed roof, and the entrance taken up almost entirely by two garage doors. They wanted to keep the original stonework, but they were going to double the height of the structure. The old stone would need to blend seamlessly with the new. DeMello credits Gregory Blum, a stonemason from Germantown with the successful result. “He painstakingly matched the stones by hand and then matched the grout to the earlier stonework.” “It helped that all the original stone was sourced from the property,” Davidowich says. “Much of that came from having to replace the old septic system, a task that yielded lots of useful stone.” Just proving that construction headaches can produce happy surprises.

With the exterior of the building taking shape, the team could focus on the inside. 

DeMello, who worked in the fashion industry, brought a highly developed sense of design to the project. “A lot of thought was given to the space. It has crazy high ceilings because of the steep pitch of the roof, and that gave us ten-foot-high windows looking out to the stream at the back of the property.” It also made the stairs to the loft a central focus in the room. And while the interior is intended to be modern, DeMello didn’t want it to feel sterile. “The staircase is so prominent. I wanted it to be something of significance.” DeMello found David DeSantis, a metal worker with a shop in Durhamville. “There really aren’t that many people who can do what he does. Every single part of the railing, the rods, the finish, is hand-crafted. He also created the awning over the entry.”

Artisanal craftsmanship is evident throughout the space. “The plaster finish on the walls give it an old-world essence,” says DeMello. “The exposed structural beams were salvaged from a dairy barn in Amenia.” Sourced from The Hudson Company in Pine Plains, which specializes in reclaimed wood, where they also found the wood flooring for the loft bedroom. “We really wanted it to be a little jewel box experience,” DeMello says. “It’s a small footprint but it has a big impact.”