In the late 1800s, a thousand acres of pristine Catskill Mountains wilderness was purchased by a group of businessmen for a private camp. It was not their intention to emulate the Great Camps of the Adirondacks, those extravagant, rusticated showcases of wealth and luxury. Their vision was more aligned with that of Catskills naturalist and writer John Burroughs: “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
Casa Mañana was designed by a New York architectural firm that had not considered the site’s particular topography. During construction, windows and doors had to be repositioned; a hillside was excavated by hand; stone walls needed to be built. To properly place the structure, even the proposed driveway access had to be relocated. So, by the time the house was completed in 1910, local craftsmen had reinterpreted the plans for the land. Pure serendipity created the house as it stands.
Tucked into a mountain and embraced by the woods, Casa Mañana’s setting is poetic. So, too, is the architecture. With its dome-roofed tower and striking windows, the camp perches high in the mountains, like a storybook castle.
The style defies precise categorization, as the house shows the influence of both English Queen Anne Revival and American Romanesque. Because it was built of local materials by local labor, the building is also indefinably and delightfully vernacular. Wood muntins, for example, mimic what would have been lead in diamond-paned windows. The divided lights appear only in upper sash, an interpretation that allows an unimpeded view below.
Two river-rock fireplaces were fitted by the masons who built them with cunning little arches and patterns. The open porch has a charming water feature, fed by a mountain spring, mounted in the stone wall. A cast-bronze compass rose with the house’s name and geographic orientation is mortared into one of the stone pillars on the porch. Casa Mañana is dressed in nature’s camouflage. Even the muted red of the painted trim reflects the landscape.
Inside, the house leaves little doubt as to its purpose as a family’s retreat into nature. Unpainted birch and cedar boards, split and whole logs, bark and stone provide the backdrop for a century’s worth of family furnishings and cherished mementos. As it turned out, Casa Mañana was prophetically named: The house has figured in the tomorrows of six generations of the same family! One of its current owners is the great-granddaughter of the man who named it. “It warms my heart to feel that after six generations we are still celebrating life here,” she says.
The ancestors who made summer pilgrimages to their Catskills haven took pleasure in fly-fishing, swimming, canoeing, and hiking. At night, they’d gather on the porches, or around a fireplace to ward off the chill. This artistic family would put on theatricals, play music, tell stories, engage in board games, and read. The occupations of today’s family members are much the same. “Even today, we have electricity but no cable, internet, or cell-phone service,” says the great-granddaughter. “The house carries on as an escape to nature, its original intent.”
Furnishings are plain but significant. The original Stickley furniture purchased for the camp sits easily with a grandfather’s deep-sea fishing trophies, and another forebear’s collection of Native American baskets and rugs acquired during travels in the Southwest. Hudson Valley folk goods including quilts and decorated stoneware look right alongside more exotic pieces. Paintings of the house done by local artists and family members hang on the walls. Everything blends in a restful palette of mellowed colors.
The preservation consultant and fine-arts dealer Charles Glasner is a friend of a current owner. Glasner recognized the special quality of Casa Mañana, and brought the unspoiled house to the attention of another friend and colleague, the photographer Geoffrey Gross. “You just know it’s stayed in the same family,” Glasner explains. “I’ve been in many buildings that are empty, where [a new owner] needs to start over.” This house is different. Glasner was on hand for our photo shoot, and noted that it isn’t a glossy re-creation, but rather the real thing. “It’s precisely the building fabric and the fact that ownership goes back six generations that make the camp so inviting and homey.”
Visiting family members range from toddlers to those in their 90s; the owners affirm that the house will continue to be their retreat, tomorrow.
Furnishing with Stickley Furniture
The sturdy Mission furniture in the great room and bedrooms came from the L. & J.G. Stickley company, then of Fayetteville, New York, probably around 1920. Stickley historian Michael Danial confirms that the dining chairs, round table, small “tabourette,” rockers, two-over-three-drawer dresser, and settle or daybed appear in early L. & J.G. catalogs. As for the china cabinet: “The form is Gustav Stickley Craftsman Workshops, but the hardware is L. & J.G.,” says Mike Danial. “After 1916, with Gustav’s bankruptcy, L. & J.G. had control of the Gus inventory; it’s not unlikely the cabinet was in unfinished stock and fitted with L. & J.G. hardware.” Five Stickley brothers were in the furniture business; Gustav was the eldest and the visionary who published The Craftsman magazine. What was the L. & J.G. Stickley company is today’s Stickley, in Manlius, N.Y.