ACHRNEWS

Historic New York Home Gets The Wright System

August 13, 2002
Russel Wright's historic home, Dragon Rock, in Algonquin, NY, is currently undergoing renovation.
GARRISON, NY — To a younger generation, the name Russel Wright might not mean much. But many others may remember that from the 1930s to the 50s, he was one of the best known designers of home furnishings in America and an outspoken proponent of American design. His designs reflect his love of natural, organic shapes.

That love is evident in Wright’s home, Dragon Rock, which is considered to be a masterpiece of the late designer. The home is situated on 75 acres called Manitoga, or “place of great spirit,” in Algonquin, NY. The 45-year-old home is located about 50 miles from New York City and was designed to blur the distinction between the indoors and outdoors. Wright built the 11-level home in and on a granite cliff partially hidden by foliage.

The home was recently listed with the National Register of Historic Places and is being meticulously restored to its original grandeur by Manitoga Inc. Part of that restoration includes replacing and upgrading the original mechanical systems. Manitoga Inc. has, whenever possible, contracted with original equipment manufacturers to replace aging systems.

The crew from Hudson Valley Heating Co. works to install the new HVAC system in Russel Wright's historic home.

UPGRADING A LANDMARK

Because Wright had selected a Lennox furnace when the home was built, Manitoga officials asked that manufacturer to install a new furnace and the home’s first-ever air conditioning system. Lennox donated the equipment and paid for the installation.

The new HVAC system includes a G32V gas furnace, PureAir™ air purification system, and an HSX15 air conditioner with R-410A refrigerant, all part of the new Dave Lennox Signature Collection. A two-zone Harmony system and a humidifier were also installed.

This combination of equipment is a top-of-the-line system that will keep occupants extremely comfortable, says Eugene Clarke, president of Hudson Valley Heating Co., Poughkeepsie, NY, the contractor that installed the new system. “If you wanted the very best you could have, that’s it,” Clarke says. “That’s the system I’d put in my house.”

The condensing unit could not be seen, die to the home's designation as a historic building. The unit was strategically tucked away atop a steep hill.

CONCEALED COOLING

The air conditioning will definitely be necessary once the renovations are completed (in about three to five years) and Dragon Rock is open to the public. However, because the home is a historic landmark and originally did not have cooling, it was mandatory that the system be totally hidden from view.

That posed some problems, says Clarke. “The house has a flat roof and most of the basement is way underground. In a normal house, we would have placed the condensing unit on the roof. That couldn’t happen, because then you’d be able to see it.”

With this challenge in mind, Clarke and his team dug a 4-foot hole against the side of the house to prevent the pipes for the furnace exhaust and the air conditioning refrigerant from going up through the living space. The pipes were installed horizontally in the basement, run up the hole on the side of the house, and out through a former water line hole. The team strategically tucked away the compressor atop a steep hill covered with vegetation.

Fortunately they were able to use existing ductwork, which is hidden within the stone walls. There are no typical vents in the home; air flows from underneath cabinets and from stones in the walls and stairs.

A few adjustments were made to bring fresh air into the basement. Patio vents were removed and replaced to bring in fresh air, and the grates are hidden in wells on the patio. Low-voltage wiring had to be installed for all the control panels throughout the home.

Before the new systems could be installed, the existing heating system had to be removed.

TAKING IT APART

Before the new systems could be installed, the existing heating system had to be removed. The home originally had two oil furnaces, both of which were 110,000 Btu. Each furnace was used to heat a different zone in the house.

While it was time-consuming to remove the furnaces, Clarke says the old Landmark units were relatively easy to take out.

It wasn’t their size that was awkward, says Clarke; “it was their weight. They’re much heavier than the new equipment. Fortunately, [old] Lennox furnaces were sectional. One section was the heat exchanger and another section was a blower, and they were stacked. We just had to take them apart and haul them out.”

The new gas furnace Clarke and his team installed is 125,000 Btu. “The furnace varies the speed of the motor and the input of the gas, so if only half the house is calling for heat, everything runs at half speed. If the full house is calling, then it all runs at a higher speed. It’s a very comfortable, nice system.”

Wright's design blurs the distinction between the indoors and the outdoors.
He’s not the only one impressed with the new HVAC system. Those who work in the house are also impressed. “Once we hooked up the system, we turned on the heat, and we had the new air cleaner running,” Clarke recalls. “The employees asked, ‘What did you do? It smells completely different in here.’ That air cleaner took all kinds of odors and musty smells out in just the one day, which was fascinating to us.”

The comprehensive heating and cooling system will play a major role in preserving this home, says Jim Horend, director emeritus and former executive director of Manitoga Inc. “It [the home] has many unique features and so much history. The new HVAC system goes a long way towards preserving artifacts.

“When you have climate control, it makes it possible to protect artifacts such as paintings, floor finishings, and fabrics. All portions of the house are better protected because we now have a complete system.”

For more information on Manitoga/The Russel Wright Design Center, visit www.manitoga.org (website).

Publication date: 08/19/2002