Meet KDA One of the Hudson Valleys Hottest Architectural Firms
We are thrilled to share this month’s exclusive interview as we shine a spotlight on Kristina Dousharm, founder of KDA, one of the Hudson Valley’s hottest architectural firms. Whether building new structures or renovating historic townhouses, architect Dousharm responds to each site with clever space planning and a distinctive style. Her work beautifully presents a bespoke, minimalist design approach that marries historical research with contemporary innovation. She first caught our attention with her work for The Hutton Brickyards on Kingston’s waterfront, and the more we looked into this firm it became crystal clear why KDA is in such high demand.
When tasked with transforming the defunct Hutton Brickyards into a high-end lodging and event space, Dousharm found an unconventional way to use the bricks scattered along the Hudson River property. With respect for the site’s history, she encased the reddish bricks in wire baskets known as gabions, using the structures to define borders and as columns to accent fencing.
“We thought it would be a great way to showcase the brick, and there’s so much brick,” she said. “You literally put a shovel in the ground, and you hit a brick. It’s an inch of soil and then brick. They manufactured the bricks and would dump the bad ones in the river, which even expanded the coastline.”
“It has really been fun being involved in the evolution of that whole space,” said Dousharm. “Originally, we were looking at tents. There was going to be one big tent where people would eat in the summer and the accommodations would be beds in tents. But it became apparent that there are certain disadvantages to tents. Sound travels. When you’re in a tent, you hear everything going on in every other tent. And tents aren’t that great in the winter.” As the idea evolved, Dousharm and the property managers, Salt Hotels, decided to build solid cabins.
“We have all these existing pavilions,” said Dousharm. “One of them was right down by the river but in the floodplain. This is the ideal place for people to sit, eat and experience the Hudson River because how many places in this area have access to the river where the train tracks are not in the way.”
They decided on a mobile restaurant. “So, even those brick cages are designed so that you can come in with a forklift and move them around. Every piece in the whole restaurant is mobile.”
Her firm KDA is now engaged in renovating the adjacent Cordts Mansions, which previously belonged to artist Hunt Slonem. The nine-plus-bedroom mansion will be transformed into a hotel and provide an indoor winter restaurant for the Hutton Brickyards project. According to Dousharm, the house contains Slonem’s artwork and furnishings. “We’re renovating it, incorporating some of the old antique furnishings and reinterpreting some of them. It’s another project where we had to come in and take stock of an incredibly historically significant building and consider how to take a single-family residence and turn it into a hotel. We had to be respectful of the architecture, the woodwork and the beautiful plaster crown moldings.
Many of Dousharm’s Hudson Valley projects are renovations, considering the valley contains numerous historic homes in need of a dignified makeover. Whether she’s renovating a Victorian house in Hudson, a Catskill cottage or a bistro in Rhinebeck, her architectural approach honors the structure’s original features adapting it for modern life.
“When it comes to historic homes, my approach has always been respectful of the original architecture, of the parts that are significant,” said Dousharm. “Preservation is great, but what matters is that the building is relevant to how we live our lives in 2022.”
In a 1900 Victorian home renovation in Hudson, she fitted the kitchen with sleek steel kitchen fixtures and expanses of pale tile while dramatically highlighting the original woodwork, window and door frames with glossy black paint. It’s an elegant yet modern take on a historic home.
“We painted the frames of the window black and the rest of the room white to make it lighter,” said Dousharm. “It was an existing renovation with a lot of panes of glass throughout the project. The decision worked to lighten it up and create balance throughout. The way the light comes into the home is always something we consider.” As much as Dousharm loves renovations, she also enjoys constructing modern homes and having the opportunity to ensure that a home design flows well.
“In our residential work, it’s a lot about getting to know the people and really understanding how they live their lives. We then assess how we can make their home better—how it can flow better,” said Dousharm. “That’s one thing you can never go back and change. You have to correct the flow the first time around. You can add whatever materials you want, but if you’re dealing with something that doesn’t flow right, it’s never going to get there. That’s one of the core concepts of our work. The Hudson Valley naturally has a lot of beauty, and the vernacular of the farms and barns—the simplicity of that— lends itself to that same kind of approach.”
During her tenure as a Hudson Valley architect, Dousharm has seen more homes built in a sustainable and environmentally sensitive way. “This area, in general, is lucky in that there’s a lot of energy toward building in the right ways. Sustainability is something we look at across all projects and budgets. It’s often part of the conversation. In terms of the siting of homes, that’s another consideration that we do with respect to the landscape and the environment. When you have the opportunity, you want to see if you can build the home in a place that still gets views but is maybe on the edge of the forest instead of clearing a whole lot of land.
Dousharm’s creations use clean lines and a carefully defined palette to focus attention on the beauty of the building materials—whether they be rough bricks, polished concrete or softly glowing wood. “In modern design, one thing that’s important is that the space doesn’t feel cold, so for me, wood is a good way to balance that,” said Dousharm. “Wood always feels warm, and I don’t mind at all mixing tones of wood.
All wood is beautiful. In my own home, we mixed a lot of different kinds of wood. The kitchen is walnut, the floors are bleached white oak, and we also have bookshelves made out of mahogany. The fireplace is cedar, but it all comes together in a way that makes it warm.”
Dousharm studied at the Pratt School of Architecture and worked in New York City before moving to Tivoli in 2003. Her husband, Steve Dousharm, was originally from Red Hook and now has a custom woodworking business, Dcor Design Works, in Germantown. In 2019 the family moved to Red Hook, renovating and updating a mid-90s Cape Cod-style home.
The renovation involved tearing down a poorly constructed garage and rebuilding the structure with a master bedroom above it. The addition also includes a gym with windows that face the morning sun, so Dousharm can work out as the sun rises. One of her favorite features is a mudroom where the children can drop their belongings. And there’s a separate TV room/den where the children can have their own space when the grown-ups want to entertain.
A member of the town’s planning board and chair of the town’s Economic Development Committee, Dousharm enjoys living and working in Red Hook. “Our house is about a mile from the center of Red Hook, so I have proximity between my house, my office and my kids’ school. We found a home that was on the edge of town, so it’s still walkable, which is great for the kids.”
Although Dousharm started her Red Hook-based firm on her own, the firm is now very much a team endeavor, with over 70 projects in the works aat the time of our interview. The team’s success provides her with an ongoing source of motivation.
“I find it ironic that the firm’s name is Kristina Dousharm Architecture,” she said. “I chose it initially because of the unique spelling of my name. I thought that would be an advantage. The irony is that the company is the antithesis of one person. It’s about all of the people on the team and finding people’s unique talents, building on their strengths. It’s really been fun watching people grow and seeing them take over different aspects of the company and feel empowered by that. So, that motivates me a lot. Just creating something that other people are proud to be a part of. I don’t feel like I can ever take credit for any of our projects. It’s always about the team approach.”
Asked if one project stands out for KDA, she said that The Hutton Brickyards remains one of her favorite local projects.
“Hutton is definitely up there,” said Dousharm. “I’m really proud of it. I’m proud of our team.”
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Photos by Harrison Lubin and KDA
Kristina Dousharm Architecture | KDA