Artist, Architect and Studio-House

People / Places / Products / July 19, 2012

Designing a house for an artist demands a different kind of process, says architect Thomas Hickey of GRADE in New York.

“The dynamics were awesome,” he says.  “But we kept modifying and tweaking the design.”

At the outset, mosaic artist Sara Baldwin of New Ravenna Mosaics handed him a sketch of a very modern building that was inspired, he says, by the New York Botanical Gardens in Harlem.

“She liked the barrel-vaulted timber with the exposed trusses,” he says.  “The challenge was translating them to a residential scale.”

He succeeded.  The studio portion of the house in Eastville, Va., designed as a place to open up not only to her work but to the woods and the Chesapeake Bay, 75 yards to the west.

“You have to look through the pine trees to see it, but you can hear it,” he says.  “She wanted to be perched up, with a long view of the land and then the water.”

The idea was to create a retreat where Baldwin could lay out her tile and design, or entertain the occasional client.

An approach up a steep hill reveals a studio-house that’s almost fortress-like in its effort to maintain its privacy.  There’s a zinc roof for the curving barrel vault, redwood timber beams shipped in from the Northwest and mahogany siding courtesy of Baldwin’s grandfather’s collection.  Stone slab flooring came from Italy, and exterior stucco matches that of the sand all ‘round the house.

Inside, the 2,500 square-foot structure offers three bedrooms and three baths – each of which features Baldwin’s own mosaic designs.

The architect is now a big fan of her work, and says he tries to feature one of her designs in every project he does.  “It feels custom-made instead of standard,” he says.  “And it’s about the same cost.”

Tweaks and modifications aside, this studio-house is an assimilation of two spirits linked by an appreciation for good design.

For more on Thomas Hickey and GRADE, go to

For more on Sara Baldwin and New Ravenna, go to

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Mike Welton

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