On the Edge
Engaging the landscape from the inside out
House Photographs by Andrew Mandolene / Portraits by Rana Faure
Ten years ago, John Docherty discovered his personal Shangri-la when he was looking to relocate from White Plains. The Bedford property he found, known as Quarry Lake, was simply magical to him. The 18-acre lot boasted a 15-year-old contemporary home that was spectacularly sited on the edge of an old pegmatite quarry. “I loved the setting,” explains the psychiatrist and entrepreneur, “but the interior design was peculiar—rooms were chopped up, tiny windows looked out on the lake, and large windows had views of the driveway.” The original owners sold the house in 1997 to Zen Master Rama, the “yuppie guru,” who authored books such as Snowboarding to Nirvana and reportedly had a cult following in Hollywood. Docherty bought the house from the late Rama’s estate in 2000.
After living in the home for five years, Docherty knew the old dark kitchen needed to go and wondered what other changes might improve functionality and allow the house to embrace its setting more fully. Intrigued by a New York Times article about a beach house designed by Manhattan-based architect, Lynne Breslin, Docherty invited her to pitch a master plan. Breslin, whose clients include The U.S. Holocaust Museum, The Whitney Museum, and The New-York Historical Society, took the original footprint, opened it up, and pushed it out. “John had a collection of Japanese decorative art and an appreciation of Japanese architecture. He was enthusiastic about long lines, vistas, and playing with horizontal space,” explains Breslin, who has worked in Japan and teaches Japanese architecture and landscape design at Columbia University. Inspired by simplicity and the setting, Breslin specified natural materials and large expanses of glass to blur the line between indoors and out. To engage the landscape, she expanded the space by cantilevering and adding decks. The result is an entirely new, light-filled 6,000-square-foot retreat. Docherty had a few specific requests when it came to designing his retreat. Some were somewhat sensible, such as adding a front entryway and a side mudroom. “Lacking little practical things like that didn’t make sense for a house in the country,” he points out. Others items on his wish list, like an outdoor shower, were simply for fun.
The process of designing and constructing the new space took about two years, and the result is nothing short of magnificent. A long driveway lined with ornamental trees leads to a parking court where the expansive, modern home is revealed. The new entryway provides guests with a sheltered space for removing coats and boots before stepping into a mezzanine that overlooks the three-story atrium and connects the public areas of the first floor. To the right is a living room featuring two walls of sliding glass doors that can be opened to create an indoor/outdoor living space. It is here that Docherty plays his grand piano as he watches the sun set.
Stepping out on the cantilevered, wraparound deck is rumored to have blood-pressure-reducing effects, thanks to the dramatic views and the soothing sound of falling water. Frustrated by the lake’s overabundance of algae and insects when he first moved in, Docherty had a waterfall installed to oxygenate the lake. Now filled with potable, clear water, he finds it is a great place to swim and kayak.
The original living room, divided in two by a fireplace, doubled as a family room. The layout made it impractical for entertaining, so Docherty asked Breslin to move the location of the fireplace to a new adjacent media room.
To the left of the entryway, the dining room showcases a storage chest, referred to in Japan as a mizu tansu, by the entrance to the new kitchen where Docherty enjoys cooking and entertaining. “I was very involved in the design of this room,” says the single father of two. “I wanted the kitchen to have clean, simple lines and an open, terrazzo feeling.” The lagos azul flooring and oversized sliding glass doors contribute to this desired ambiance.
The home’s minimalist decor and strategically placed windows allow the views to take center stage, however special souvenirs from Docherty’s international travels are exhibited throughout the house. “These, I got in Malaysia when I was lecturing there,” he notes, pointing to two framed prints. “And, this is called a ‘baku,’” pointing to a statue. “Its function in Japanese mythology is to eat bad dreams.”
The second floor features bedroom suites designed to accommodate Docherty’s grown daughters’ families and other guests. An antique tansu sits opposite an oversized picture window in one bedroom, while a bookcase and chair handcrafted by Docherty’s grandfather furnish another.
Just down the hall, in the master bedroom suite, Docherty wakes to incomparable vistas, or, with the flick of a switch, he can draw the blackout shades. His stainless-steel bed frame, custom made by a Brooklyn artist, mixes eclectically with yet another Japanese antique treasure—a sea captain’s tansu. “The word 'tansu' refers to a chest,” Docherty explains. “Japanese houses were historically so incendiary that they often put handles on the ends of their tansus, so they could pick them up and take them out quickly.”
“John wanted an outdoor shower in the master suite,” says Breslin, “so we designed an indoor shower with an outdoor feel.” The result is a cantilevered space with three walls of glass and a glass ceiling. Green glass tiles cover the heated floor and the one remaining wall. “Lynne made it possible for me to have a year-round outdoor shower,” Docherty says with a grin. “It’s great in the winter; I can watch the snow coming down all around me.” When he prefers to recline, a stainless steel bathtub from Urban Archaeology provides a sleek, soothing alternative.
One of Docherty’s favorite interior spaces is his office, to the left of the atrium. Breslin designed it to her client’s specifications, so that he can easily transition from work to play. Sliding doors open to a stone terrace with a fire pit and hot tub. “I spend a lot of time here,” notes the doctor who lectures internationally on a variety of pharmaceutical subjects. “The light is great, and the view is amazing. Plus, I really like my work.”
At the opposite end of the atrium is a gym with access to Docherty’s favorite deck. Its triangular shape and smaller size makes it seem cozy compared to the sprawling alternatives upstairs. “I like it because of the roof,” he says, pointing to the underside of the upper deck that features exposed steel beams.
One of the advantages of having such compelling views when working from home is that Docherty is regularly drawn outdoors. He added paths through the woods that lead to his herb garden and a second, smaller lake. Whether gazing up at the stars from his glass shower or down at the paths in the woods where twinkling nuggets of shiny mica and milky quartz peek out from under leaves, Docherty can’t help but be dazzled by his earthy paradise.