A French architect with a small mustache and - big ideas has taken two hilly acres in northern Bergen County and performed a tour de force. From the outside, the house Daniel Krief designed looks like nothing more than .a vast and very stylish air-raid shelter. Once inside, the sense of confinement disappears as if by magic, and you are in a wonderfully fresh world of air and sunlight and lush greenery. "I wanted to design a house that offers lots of privacy, yet feels totally free within," Krief says of the house, which took a year to build. His clients, Henri and Roberta Cardeaux, who head the Tenafly-based firm of Cardeaux Cosmetics, say Krief could not have achieved his objectives in a more felicitous way. Before moving to their new home 10 months ago, the Cardeaux family, which includes two daughters and two dogs, had lived in a heavily developed Bergen community, in an old Colonial house sandwiched among others just like it. In making a change, the family sought a sense of privacy, but they also cared about a rustic setting that allowed for a maximum amount of outdoor living. The custom house Krief designed met both needs.
To a visitor, heading up the winding approach road, the Cardeaux house appears as all roof, as a great blanket of hand-split cedar shingles hugging the ground. It looks almost uninhabited, and this, in fact, was the effect Krief was trying to achieve, for optimal privacy and security. Inside is a totally different world. Like a magician pulling brilliantly colored scarves out of a very ordinary top hat.
Krief has created beneath the blanket of shingles a world as complex and as natural as the outdoors. Divisions between inside and outside spaces are subtle and constantly shifting.
Through the generous use of skylights and the glass that makes up 75% of the walls, the outside is brought in at every opportunity. Natural materials, wood, stone, brick, and stucco abound. Every possible natural element of the original site, from huge boulders to towering oaks, has been retained and integrated into the design. Needless to say, clearing and preparing the site was done with a deft hand.
The design is emphatically modern. Only a few traditional elements, brass chandeliers in the French Empire style, for example and glass partitions with Art Deco maidens, suggest another time. "The design is so unusual, I wondered if he house would be livable," Roberta Cardeaux admitted. "But it's unbelievable. And it's laid out so conveniently. It's really a very warm house."
Her husband added, "It's an ideal house for a businessman. There are so many different areas, you can find complete rest and privacy if you want it; you can be alone miles away from the children. Then, if you want to be with the family, you can do that, too."
The centerpiece of the house, esthetically and structurally, is a 40-foot by 40-foot atrium, around which living and sleeping quarters are arranged. The focal point of this grassy indoor garden is a dying oak, which has been reincarnated as an abstract fountain. At night, this garden is transformed into a shimmering fairyland of colored lights.
There's almost as much nature in the living room proper. The main seating area is surrounded by a thriving garden of ferns, begonias, cacti, and more exotic blooms. Potted plants suspended in macrame' hangers enhance the outdoor feeling, as do the low stone wall framing the living room area and the rope accents on the sectional seating units. A redwood cathedral ceiling that reaches 20 feet at its peak follows the slope of the roof.
Off the living room and overlooking it is the music area, situated in such a way that playing there is like playing in a garden. The music area has appropriate emphasis in a house full of pianists. It occupies a raised platform covered with sisal matting. An antique French Grand piano has the place of honor on a nubby white rug.
From the music area one can see the indoor-outdoor pool, heated in winter to the temperature of a warm bath. The fiberglass ceiling casts eerie reflections on the pool's free-form green surface, as do floor to ceiling glass windows that open to a patio.
There are other places to relax, among them a cozy family room, with a stone chimney framed by the images of forest in the distance and an area which features deep red Mexican floor tiles and glass partitions carved with Art Deco Style maidens, which eventually will be a library and game room. "Don't say they're y girl friends," Krief cautions, pointing to the glass girls. The partitions, like just about all the furnishings in this home, are of his design.
Almost everywhere one looks from the living areas one sees the atrium and the hills beyond. With sky and trees in every direction, it's the closest thing possible to living in a forest. Even the white, browns, and cool greens that dominate the kitchen suggest a world of growth.
The five bedrooms, each with its own bath, all make use of similar elements. - platform beds, large hanging plants, built-in furniture and thick carpeting that climbs partway up the walls. Though different color schemes are used in each room, certain elements are repeated from room to room: flowered velvet with a Chinese flavor that is used to upholster the bedroom doors, for example, and woven blinds of rich earth tones that shield the windows.
The master bedroom "Roberta Cardeaux's special hideaway" suggests a champagne cocktail come to life. Plush carpeting of pale gold covers both the floor and wall base and several pieces of furniture. A round bed with a quilted spread of peach and persimmon is heaped with pillows, as is a nearby seating area. An overhead television is built into the ceiling, and another TV sits on the dressing table of the 300-square-foot master bath. Mrs. Cardeaux likes the bathroom TV best; she can watch it and do her hair at the same time.
From the master bedroom one can see the 100-foot oak framed by the main entrance. The roots go so deep, and the tree stands so close to the house, it was necessary to cantilever the base of the entrance to save the tree.
Not only was the oak preserved, so were dozens of other trees even a few feet away from the house. "In summer the house virtually disappears in a sea of green," Krief says proudly.