The Great American House

In his first book, filled with hundreds of inspiring photographs, award winning architect Gil Schafer celebrates traditional architecture for modern living.


When people ask Gil Schafer "How can you design homes that are based on classical precedents when you're a twenty-first-century architect?" his answer is simple, "classicism is a language, and you can speak it in a contemporary way."

Perhaps this is the secret to his enormous success. The rules of classic architecture are tried and true, proven throughout the centuries to relate to human proportions and are therefore instantly relatable and comfortable. And yet, in Schafer's handsome new tome, "The Great American House," just released by Rizzoli,  he shows, time and time again, how he translates these rules for modern living, adapting them in fresh and innovative ways. His houses are timeless but also eminently livable. Take for example his own country house, Middlefield, in the Hudson Valley.

Of classic Greek revival lines, it sits comfortably in its site, the relationship of a house to its property one of the three essential cornerstones Schafer describes in the book. And while the architecture inside and out is "steeped in a sense of history," there is a sense of home that is incredibly inviting. Note how the reduced proportions of the back entrance, while still appropriate within the architectural vernacular, feel welcoming and cozy.

Once inside the house, there is an immediate sense of human presence, with a palpable authenticity that is hallmark Schafer. It is clear that he considers decoration "an integral part of creating a home." Frequently working with interior designers from the very beginning of projects, he makes allowances for all those gracious touches that so many of us appreciate, from curtain friendly french doors to ample linen closets.

Working with Miles Redd on his house, the two successfully developed a formula for an updated classical interior that feels of our time. His brownstone in Greenwich Village is the dressier version, but still has Schafer's stamp of comfortable timeless elegance, with a definite degree of practicality – his desk doing double duty for dining.

After the completion of Middlefield, Schafer received a commission to design a "new old house" not far him in Duchess County.

Longfield, as it came to be called, shows not only Schafer's architectural mastery but also his refined design sensibilities as he was entrusted to enhance the owners' substantial art and furniture collections with appropriate decor.

The relaxed family room features a fireplace surround of the same granite as the exterior of the house, and more rustic architectural elements, reflecting the "mythology" of a house that had grown over time, one that had been built in stages by familial generations. And while the kitchen includes all modern conveniences, it still feels within the same design vocabulary.

Another Hudson Valley project shows how adaptable Schafer is to the clients' wishes. While loving the look of Middlefield's classic Greek Revival lines, the wife requested side wings on either side of the core for easy first floor accessibility. The resulting house became more Palladian villa yet still with the gracious proportions and classic detailing of an older home.

Miles Redd was again brought in to add a little twist to the tradition. The handsome kitchen features a beautiful Bennison linen on the chairs that ties into the thematic blue throughout the rest of the home.

This kitchen from the spectacular Willowbrook Farm project, on which Schafer collaborated with designer Michael Smith, looks as if it could have been a renovation of centuries old home, which of course was the intention. The incredible attention to details is what separates Schafer from the pack.

One of the jewels in Schafer's crown is Boxwood, the spectacular renovation of architect Charles Platt's 1915 masterpiece outside of Nashville. Really more reinvention than restoration, the project took several years to transform the house into a family friendly yet architecturally significant home. With interior design by David Netto, this magnificent feature is reason alone to purchase the book. A version of the original staircase was rebuilt with Netto's fabulous choice of damask and gallery wall.

The breakfast room, with an updated eclectic mix of furnishings, features a ceiling of antiques planks and beams and lime-washed pecky cypress walls – all to achieve the authentic ambiance.

The wife's bath is an exquisite study in understated elegance.

Whether you are already a fan of Schafer's work or this served as an introduction, this volume is a must-have for any design library and an ideal holiday gift for those who love beautiful homes, great design and “tradition for the way we live now.”