A Historic Chicken Coop Becomes a Modern Marvel

Move over, victorian mansions: The Spa City has a new architectural aesthetic that’s on full display at 499 Union Avenue. Nestled within the city’s greenbelt between Saratoga Lake and Lake Lonely, and just across the street from the former home of Longfellows, this sleek structure might look like it teleported from the future, but it actually has quite a surprising history. 

“The center of the house (20′ x 20′) was the original chicken coop to a dairy farm that was redeveloped as Longfellows,” says homeowner Ardie Russell. Along with her husband, Dan, she spent 2019 through 2021 reimagining the historic property into a modernist space with tones of the Bauhaus movement. “When I travel to California, I’m struck by how beautifully these contemporary homes fit into the landscape,” says Russell. “It’s that vision of working with the natural landscape instead of against it.”

Russell’s passion for contemporary art and nature helped guide her design decisions both inside and out. “Honoring the existing landscape was critical to our design,” she says. The home’s surrounding black walnut trees quickly became a central theme, with floor-to-ceiling windows providing dramatic forest views, and harvested wood from removed trees being utilized by Dan in furniture and stair treads. Throw in a living, indoor plant wall and tongue-and-groove pine exteriors, and, well, what more do you need to feel like you’re immersed in nature?

“This has helped us escape this fast world we live in,” says Russell about the natural-yet-minimalist redesign of her home. “We de-cluttered our lives by building this house—it’s just one bedroom and one loft.” The Russells earn sustainability bonus points for utilizing geothermal pumps to heat and cool their house. The interior concrete flooring also helps retain temperatures throughout the year.

“Even though this town has a history with the Victorian era, it’s having a rebirth of the contemporary,” says Russell. “We hope this house inspires others in the community to rethink building trends that have historically dominated our region. Our experience has been a positive one and we’re proud to leave this legacy to our children.”  

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