The story of our clerestory

As you may have read in our last post, we’re adding a clerestory to our current upstate project. And those of you who read that last post may have been left wondering—what in the world is a clerestory? The definition is pretty simple, and while you may not have known the word ever existed, you’ve probably encountered more than one clerestory (or clearstory, clearstory, or overstorey) in your day.

The clerestory at Rokeby Mansion designed and built by Stanford White

Essentially, a clerestory is any window above eye level whose sole purpose is to let in light and air, such as tall windows in a basilica, or even on certain train cars or double decker buses. There’s a lot of room for interpretation in that definition, and indeed, there have been more variations on a clerestory than there are ways to spell it. And while they originated with the Egyptians, our clerestory has a lot more in common with a house that’s a little more local. The nearly 200-year-old Rokeby mansion, which sits in Barrytown, NY, was our inspiration for the clerestory at our current project.

Left: The main stairs at the Rokeby Mansion, with the clerestory above. Right: The main stairs at our project. If you were to keep walking up those stairs, you would wind around to the left to see our clerestory above you.

Rokeby mansion is not open to the public, and in fact is one of the few privately owned homes in the Hudson River Landmark District, seeing dozens of generations of Astor and Livingston descendents. At the end of the 19th century, family friend and celebrated architect Stanford White (also renowned for his AMAZING MUSTACHE, and a very tragic demise) made some additions to the home, one of which was the beautiful and intricate clerestory.

Left: The first stages of the project involved removing the second floor ceiling above the hallway and sawing through the beams to open the space. Right: A close-up of our clerestory, where you can see the attic walls that were already in place.

Much like the Rokeby clerestory, ours sits above the winding, main staircase. Creating this architectural element is no small feat – the second floor ceiling had to be sawed through and completely removed. The configuration of the attic above allowed for us to situate the feature directly above the staircase and hallway, without having to install any additional walls in the attic to close off the clerestory on all sides. The installation of a skylight now brings sunshine streaming into the hall, as well as down the staircase. The finishing touches that are planned for this aspect of the restoration will really make the clerestory sing, and we’ll be sure to give an updated report once we get closer to its completion.

Top: The clerestory in context with the stairway. You can just see the light that hangs at the center of the staircase. Bottom: The clerestory in context with the second floor hallway. The clerestory sits directly above the hall, which leads to the master suite and study, and the guest bedrooms.

For now, it just feels like a little piece of history is waiting for you upstairs, just asking to be discovered.

For more information about the Rokeby Mansion and its inhabitants, check out this great article from the New York Times.

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