The Buttermilk Falls Estate is a home broken up into pavilions perched at various angles on top of and around a craggy waterfall. The name alone conjures up a scene of white, foamy water cascading over rocks in a forest. And in this case, that’s entirely accurate.
Just outside Rhinebeck, New York, the pavilions are arranged on a private lake, connected by delicate walkways. The main house is nestled in stone between the lake and the edge of the 60-foot waterfall. From the living room, you can see the waters crashing down on the rocks below – and the wall of windows is retractable, peeling open the room to the outdoors.
Many of the rooms are encased in windows, but the best view comes from a small patio that seems to float at the top of the falls, just a few steps away from the main house. To reach it, you must walk along the edge of the cliff – which was once a dam that generated energy for a previous home on the property, according to the Rhinebeck Historical Society (PDF). Before that, the site hosted a paper mill.
The current estate, now on the market for $9 million, was built by architect Steve Mensch in 1997 as a place that fostered both autonomy and connection for his unusual family, according to Architectural Digest: his wife, Pam; their two sons; his two sons from a previous marriage; and his companion, Greg Patnaude. “Greg and Pam were graduate students at Cornell—she in classics, he in theater—when I was a professor of architecture there,” he told AD. “We’ve lived together for 25 years.”
He fell in love with the location as soon as he saw it, he told the author of the book “At Home in the Hudson Valley”:
“It had that crystalline, magical stillness of untouched whiteness. And the falls! A heart-stopping gigantic sculpture, roaring with the waters of the melting snow. I felt as if I were somewhere on the Rhine and immediately imagined a modern version of one of crazy King Ludwig’s castles.” (Ludwig was responsible for Neuschwanstein, the castle that inspired Disney’s Cinderella Castle).
However, Mensch scrapped the idea of building a “vertical castle” after spending time at the site in a little cottage to which he’d moved a cot and a drafting table, Architectural Digest wrote.
The estate that Mensch built originally consisted of nine buildings, including a music studio for his wife, living quarters for Mensch’s four grown sons, an additional guest house and a pool house. Architectural Digest described it as a compound, built so that everyone could live on the property together as one, while still having their own separate spaces. The property has since been subdivided, reducing the 100 acres to 26.
The three-bedroom main house has a master suite with another retractable window wall, a large library/sitting room, and a bathroom with a soaking tub and steam room. The master bedroom sits on the top floor, while the guest bedrooms and a media room fall on the three floors below, connected by glass stairs as well as an elevator.
The roof is made of copper, the frame and ceiling is made from dark mahogany, and the floors are unpolished granite, to blend into the surroundings.
Two guesthouses remain on the property. One has two bedrooms and a bathroom as well as a kitchen and living space and—you guessed it—retractable window walls. The other is described as a “quaint open space with built-in queen-sized bed nook” in a listing on Airbnb, where the whole property rents for $1,950 a night. Both guesthouses have porches and views of the water.
The fourth building is a three-level artist studio/office near the bottom of the waterfall – with, of course, retractable floor-to-ceiling glass walls that in this case offer a front view of the waterfall.
A collection of walkways, stairs and bridges link the buildings together, including a wooden walkway that floats over part of the lake and a suspension bridge that connects two sides at a narrow portion of the lake. They meet in a pathway around the watery edges of the property.
The house is about five minutes from Rhinebeck, a village on the Hudson River about two hours north of New York City.