An Equestrian Complex in Weston, Massachusetts
An equestrian complex in Weston, Massachusetts, combines grandeur with functionality in a space as magnificent as the champion horses that live there.
If you close your eyes and listen to the clip-clop of a great steed being led across the cobblestone courtyard, past a three-spouted fountain playing counterpoint into a cistern behind, it’s easy to imagine yourself reincarnated as one of those riders born to royalty you read about in romantic fiction.
Indeed, when architect Marcus Gleysteen set to work on the Beechwood Stables complex in Weston, Massachusetts—in collaboration with Washington, D.C.’s Blackburn Architects, noted specialists in equestrian facilities—the first stop on his research trail was the regal eighteenth-century Bourbon stables in Chantilly, France. And before drawing the most preliminary sketch, he checked out just about every notable stable within driving distance of his Boston office. This included Vermont’s Shelburne Farms and Sandy Point and Glen Farm in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, where he was able to put his considerable riding skills to work as a further test.
In Susanne Lichten Csongor of SLC Interiors, Gleysteen found a talent who could keep pace with him not only in design but on horseback, as well. “As a dedicated and experienced equestrian, her knowledge was critical in capturing the essence of the architecture with a spot-on design sensibility,” he says. Csongor and Gleysteen shared the same goal: to create a magnificent piece of what the architect calls Estate Agriculture. “While built for utilitarian equestrian use, the architecture needs to embody the values of the people who own it and live around it,” Gleysteen explains.
Three buildings comprise the Beechwood complex. Across the courtyard stands a 4,500-square-foot timber-framed, multi-gabled stable with extended roof beams on each side and a skin of board and batten and Douglas fir. Second is a 22,000-square-foot arena and observation room. The arena has six pneumatic, bi-folding hangar doors with a window wall that gives onto the observation room with its full bar and a cozy sitting area in front of a Stonehenge of a granite fireplace. And third is the two-story, 4,200-square-foot service barn, where, above the equipment trucks and gear, owners Lise and Dan Revers wine and dine guests on a seventeen-foot dark-stained slice of walnut. Hanging above the table is a massive Gleysteen-designed light fixture inspired by ancient tractor springs.
When Lise rode as a young girl, she recalls that stables were mainly converted cow barns, dark and dank and smelling of decades of bovine urine. “What makes a happy stable,” says Gleysteen, “is a healthy smell.” The proper setting of the doors to prevailing winds, the ingenious ventilation flaps in the hayloft, and the twelve extra-large, airy stalls below are the elements that, combined with the ubiquitous fresh hay, make not so much a smell, but a heady fragrance one would be tempted to bottle.
The choice of timber-frame construction posed some challenges for Gleysteen. While Douglas fir, with its striking horizontal graining, is one of the most stable and sustainable of woods, it’s rich with highly combustible resin. “That’s why we put a sprinkler system in here worthy of a nuclear plant,” he says.
The other challenge: no detail goes unnoticed in timber framing. “This provided a real opportunity for creative expression,” the architect says, “and to develop a vocabulary that expresses the structural geometry in each building.”
For example, in the stable, nothing juts out that might hurt a horse coming by, not the smallest latch, nor the scores of other functional details having to do with the constant circulation of 1,000-pound champion hunters. They pass cleanly down the halls, past vet stall, farrier stall, bathing stall, laundry, and tack room to the arena or one of the five grassy paddocks outside.
In the arena, Gleysteen inclined the walls slightly to afford space for riders’ legs if the horses happen to run too close, and made sure the illumination was uniform so the horses won’t shy from odd strips of light. He also designed the elaborate fireplace doors with horsehead inlays in copper and bronze for the double-sided granite fireplaces in the observation room and on the patio.
Horse barns are becoming rare in New England. “So many barns are moving south these days,” says Lise. “The snow loads are collapsing the enclosed arenas.”
“Which is too bad,” adds Gleysteen, “because a tradition here is getting lost.”
Meanwhile, Kingpin, a majestic horse with an elegant white blaze, is happily unconcerned. Luminous in the light and air and complementary honey hues of the Douglas fir columns, he seems to point to a future where good design makes everyone feel ennobled. •
Architecture: Marcus Gleysteen, Marcus Gleysteen Architects, and Blackburn Architects
Interior design: Susanne Lichten Csongor, SLC Interiors
Builder: Kenneth Vona, Kenneth Vona Construction
Timber Framing: New Energy Works
Landscape design: Gregory Lombardi, Gregory Lombardi Design
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