Striking or melodramatic, beautiful or gloomy — your personal take on houses with black exteriors might depend on your view of the color itself. Conventionally associated with mourning and morbidity, black is often seen as dour and unwelcoming, especially when used with a heavy hand. But for those who appreciate it, black is effortlessly chic, the perfect counterbalance against which brighter colors, busy patterns, and dynamic textures can be properly appreciated.

"Hudson Valley House II," a complex of stark black cottages in Upstate New York.

Monochromatic black houses are certainly a bold choice, but they’re growing increasingly popular, and a new set of rural cottages in the Hudson Valley present an argument to continue the trend.

Thomas Phifer and Partners, an architecture firm based in Manhattan, completed “Hudson Valley House II” in 2018. Set in an idyllic clearing full of native grasses and surrounded by conifers and deciduous honey locust trees, this “house” is really a series of small black buildings arranged around a central communal garden. Perhaps you’ll look at the photos of these stark pointy structures half-obscured by trees and liken them to the foreboding huts of scary old witches, or perhaps you’ll be intrigued, drawn in by the interplay of the textural shingles and the lush green branches.

"Hudson Valley House II," a complex of stark black cottages in Upstate New York.
Inside the Hudson Valley House II cottages.
Inside the Hudson Valley House II cottages.

Two of the structures are connected, housing a living and dining room in one and a bedroom in the other. The third, which looks like an archetypal gabled house that’s been cut in half, offers the residents a tranquil chapel from which to contemplate the setting, just as singularly dark inside as it is out. But venture into the other structures, and you’ll find pale wood-lined spaces that feel bright, light, and well-ventilated, perfectly complementing their dark facades.

Each of the pavilions is covered in cedar shingles treated with Swedish black tar, a natural surface treatment made of 100-percent pine tar. Not only does this ancient treatment impart the look of black paint, it also acts as a natural preservative, creating a water-repellent vapor barrier that will keep the wood looking beautiful for decades on to come.

"Hudson Valley House II," a complex of stark black cottages in Upstate New York.

Set against the lush greenery of summer, the overall effect of the Hudson Valley cottages is subtle, but one wonders just how much the mood of the complex might change once winter arrives.

The firm’s website reads: “Since founding Thomas Phifer and Partners in 1997, Thomas Phifer has completed an expansion of the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, the United States Courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Raymond and Susan Brochstein Pavilion at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and numerous houses in the Hudson River Valley of New York State.”

Inside the Hudson Valley House II cottages.
Inside the Hudson Valley House II cottages.
"Hudson Valley House II," a complex of stark black cottages in Upstate New York.

“Since 1997, Thomas Phifer and Partners has received three Design Excellence awards from the General Services Administration and more than 20 honor awards from the American Institute of Architects, as well as numerous national and international citations. His projects have been published and exhibited extensively in the United States and overseas. A monograph on the work of Thomas Phifer and Partners was released in 2010 by Skira Rizzoli.”

All photos courtesy of David Miranowski