Neatly nestled into a verdant hillside, Matthew Schnepf and Munawar Ahmed’s weekend home in Wassaic, New York, offers the couple and their two boys, ages 8 and 10, much-needed respite from the hustle of city life. Schnepf, an architect based out of Manhattan, and Ahmed, a designer of some of the world’s largest enterprise systems, began visiting Wassaic on a whim in 2014. Bordered on the east and west by mountain ranges, the hamlet is home to the Wassaic Project, an arts non-profit with a residency program for which Ahmed now serves as a board member.
It didn’t take long for the family to grow fond of the community of artists, musicians, dancers, and filmmakers. By 2016, the couple’s plans to build a home of their own in Wassaic had come to fruition. “We have such intense jobs in the city, and then on the weekends, we just get on a train and we come here and this is our chance to relax and unwind and be social and be together,” says Schnepf. “The house is not too big and it’s not too small—it really is just the size we need. It’s a very simple box.”
What Schnepf humbly describes as a box is a meticulous 1,800-square-foot bungalow, suffused with natural light and punctuated by color, texture, and pattern. It includes three bedrooms and two bathrooms, which is more than enough for the family of four, and then some. “We occupy certain rooms when it’s just the four of us here. But the house is designed to share, so we have guests all the time.”
Despite their busy careers, Schnepf and Ahmed designed the home themselves—though Schnepf admits that it was something of a side project. “We didn’t dedicate a lot of daytime office hours to this. A lot of this work happened at the end of the day or on weekends or over dinner conversation. Undertaking a project like this isn’t exactly relaxing, but it was... collaborative, and it was kind of fun to imagine what our lives would be like once the house was completed and we could occupy it.”
The layout of the single-story home is minimalistic, taking after Schnepf’s own minimalist tendencies. While there are designated places for cooking, dining, and lounging, this effect is achieved without many walls. “We wanted something that was simple: easy to maintain, easy to live in, clean, calm, everything has a place. In general, in our lives, everything has a place; everything that’s here is here because we like it and we use it,” says Schnepf. He admits his work designing spaces for clients in the city has only reinforced his proclivity for simplicity and efficiency. “A lot of the work I do is truly just thinking about how to maximize a given space for the people who are going to inhabit it. I’m always pushing on that front of, ‘Do you really need that thing?’”
In the Wassaic house, simplicity runs through everything from the open shelving in the living area to the flat panels of the kitchen and dining room cabinetry to the contents of the kitchen drawers. “We have the best kind of thing for each item we need in the kitchen, but there’s no extra stuff,” says Schnepf. “We have a small, medium, large pan, we have a small, medium, large knife, we have the basics. I know that’s not the American way, but that’s what I like and that’s what I’m used to living [with] in Manhattan.”
The theme of simplicity carries into the bathroom, where turquoise subway tiles and a stunning skylight above the shower are the room’s main attractions. “Again, it’s the basics. It’s just enough stuff that you need in the bathroom, all done very cleanly, in a beautiful color that’s sort of sympathetic to everything else that’s going on in the house, but unique to that room,” says Schnepf, who professes that while the home is pragmatic in terms of layout and functionality, those don’t come at the expense of personality.
From the outset, the couple saw the project as an opportunity to be bold and playful. “We love color, texture, and pattern, and our house is full of art and artifacts that have traveled with us and we’ve accumulated over the years,” says Schnepf.
Ample use of white throughout the home enforces a sense of freshness and subtlety, though the aforementioned love of color is clear in the kitchen cabinetry, which is an energetic shade of green-cyan, and the deep green wood-paneled walls. “The color scheme evolved naturally because we like color, “ says Schnepf. “There’s a subtlety to the colors even though they’re strong colors. They somehow work with the environment. They work in the winter when everything is white; they work in the summer when everything is green; they work with each other.”
Schnepf obsessed over the patterned flooring that flows throughout the home. The finished product was constructed by a tile manufacturer in California, but curating the pattern itself required considerable trial and error on Schnepf’s part. “I printed and sketched patterns, we’d cut them out on paper, tape them together into carpet-sized pieces and look at them in our office for an hour or a day or a week. What I learned is that subtle changes in color or size would transform patterns from something that was nauseating to beautiful,” says Schnepf. “If you look at our floor, there’s a little chunk of gray that interrupts one of the stripes. That piece keeps it from being a busy floor. And I love this floor. People thought I was insane, but I love this floor every single day that I walk on it.”
At the request of the couple’s two boys, the home includes a rumpus room, designed to accommodate play, music, or mini movie screenings. The room features a skylight, custom-built shelving, and fabric-paneled walls, meant to soundproof the space. The fabric was designed by a local Wassaic Project alumni and friend of the family, Shannon Finnegan. “She and I went into a design process, it was about a year long, where she configured and developed a pattern. Together we worked out the logistics of printing fabric and what color fabric, what type of fabric, how much fabric, how’s it sealed, how’s it printed, where’s it printed, who’s printing it,” says Schnepf. “Eventually, I installed it myself. It’s really the story of the house, where we invested much of our time and effort and labor into making up the house. And we’ve gotten our friends involved in some ways.”
Local talent is also to credit for the cabinetry and leather work throughout the home. Schnepf cites Katsura Construction and Accoutrements, respectively. “We could, in some places, buy bookshelves and install them, but that feels like an arbitrary decision,” says Schnepf. “There are amazingly talented people who really, in many cases, are used to doing a certain thing in a local vernacular. And then you end up with furniture in the house, which is really designed to be only in this house, only in that spot, to do that job. And it really helps the efficiency of the house.”
From the enamel wood stove in the living area to the upholstered walls in the rumpus room to the patterned flooring throughout, everything in Schnepf and Ahmed’s home reflects attention to detail, appreciation for quality, and the intentional manner in which they live their lives. And almost everything has a story. “I’m sitting at a tulip table right now, which we bought many years ago for an office space. We eventually moved out of that office and it didn’t make sense to have it there anymore, so it made its way into our house. And it kind of fits the mantra: is it useful, yes, is it beautiful, yes, does it make sense to have in our lives, yes.” says Schnepf. “We’ve accumulated these pieces over many years together and they stay with us because we love them so much. We buy them once and they’re classical, they’re comfortable, they’re functional, they’re beautiful, and they’ll be there for as long as we need them to be there.”