No Place like Home

At the end of a private road in Bernardsville, one would hardly expect to discover the contem­porary marvel called Bunny Lane. Architect Adam Kalkin turned heads by completely enclosing his pristine 1890s residence inside a massive industrial shed

At the end of a private road in Bernardsville, one would hardly expect to discover the contem­porary marvel called Bunny Lane. Architect Adam Kalkin turned heads by completely enclosing his pristine 1890s residence inside a massive industrial shed

At the end of a private road in Bernardsville, one would hardly expect to discover the contem­porary marvel called Bunny Lane. Architect Adam Kalkin turned heads by completely enclosing his pristine 1890s residence inside a massive industrial shed

Preserved as if in a museum, the original dwelling is the focal point of Bunny Lane’s main living area. Architect/owner Adam Kalkin and interior designer Albert Hadley located the main dining area on the cottage's front porch. The nine-grid, glass-enclosed area hosts the children's play space, bedrooms, an office, and a powder room. In the living room reside Hadley-designed sofas as well as vintage French pottery lamps.

Hadley created a chic Park Avenue-style library in the country home. The guestroom, described by Kalkin as an "Albert Hadley happening," features a playful grape headboard designed by the decorating luminary. The gourmet galley is used regularly by Kalkin, who knows his way around a kitchen. Bunny Lane's massive steel stairway can be viewed through the open-air ceiling. Kalkin likes the staircase because it promotes "movement within a tight space."

Kalkin (left) and family friend Hadley share an inspired moment.

If it’s true that every man is the architect of his own destiny, then you’d expect each to be working from his own detailed blueprint. Not so for visionary, problem solver, and humanitarian Adam Kalkin of Bernardsville.

Kalkin, a London-schooled architect, regularly makes headlines for his imaginative and unprecedented interpretations of the relationship between form and function. His playful signature designs—which incorporate a hodge podge of industrial materials, recycled steel shipping containers, and just plain junk—are recognized globally. Like Kalkin himself, his work fits no mold, and is continually evolving.

Back in 1997, he concocted the notion of enclosing one building within another. “I pretty much woke up one day with the idea, and just went with it,” Kalkin says. The following year, he constructed his personal residence—named Bunny Lane by his young daughter—in the woods on three acres in Somerset County.

When Kalkin first purchased the 1890s clapboard cottage and the surrounding idyllic property, he knew that the charming but tiny house would be inadequate for his young family.

Rejecting conventional ideas to add a room here or there, he decided to keep the original whitewashed house intact, and build a new structure—a massive industrial shed—around it. The result is a head-turning, 5,000-square-foot, three-story marvel with roll-up metal doors, a winding steel staircase, and a nine-grid, glass-enclosed area reminiscent of the Hollywood Squares television game show. Meanwhile, the pristine cottage rests comfortably inside the corrugated steel shell, preserved from the elements and displayed as if in a museum.

How do visitors react to the unorthodox dwelling? “Most people are filled with wonder, amusement, and laughter when they see it,” says the laid-back Kalkin, who admits he’s always “fooled around with pre-fab.”

“Architecture is one of the last sacred things in our civilization, but it’s been vulgarized and commoditized. Bunny Lane is what architecture should be—sacred, profane, intimate,” says the eccentric homeowner.

If Kalkin could start Bunny Lane from scratch, would he do anything differently? He responds with an unequivocal “No.”

Although the space might appear to be cold and industrial from the outside, it’s quite cozy inside, with a quirky assortment of American antiques and handsomely weathered furniture mixed with stainless steel and European elements.

A sculptor and painter in his early years, Kalkin reveals, “I never wanted to be an architect, and I don’t consider myself part of the architectural culture. I eschew any orthodoxy or allegiance or guild.”

Collaborating with Albert Hadley
Among Kalkin’s high-profile clients are supermodel Natalia Vodianova, fashion designer Cynthia Rowley, and patriarch of American interior design Albert Hadley. In fact, Kalkin invited Hadley to lend his keen eye to the interior spaces of Bunny Lane. “It was an easy collaboration, and he’s a good guy,” says Kalkin of his long-time family friend.

Throughout Hadley’s distinguished 60-year career—early on as a principal in Manhattan-based Parish-Hadley Associates, and now as Albert Hadley, Incorporated—he has created luxurious and comfortable spaces for such notables as William S. Paley, Brooke Astor, Ann Getty, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. When Kalkin invited the iconic designer to help decorate his unusual Bernardsville residence, Hadley embraced the opportunity for a change of pace—but was taken aback when he laid eyes on Bunny Lane.

“The first time I saw the place, I thought ‘What is this?’ admits Hadley. “Bunny Lane is totally different, but I like it very much and think it’s enormously imaginative. It’s a fascinating place—and it all makes sense. I believe Bunny Lane is very livable in a very unusual way.

“Adam and I worked together to interpret how his family wanted to live. We created the main sitting room downstairs, with the little house right there next to it, and a dining area on the original porch,” says Hadley. “Then we worked out how the far-end glass unit would be allotted for the children’s bedroom and play space.”

Hadley selected a neutral palette for the vast spaces, and chose more spirited hues for the intimate rooms. The result is inspired juxtaposition—industrial yet casual, straightforward but flamboyant.

Among Kalkin’s other attention-garnering projects are the Kalkin House in Shelburne, Vermont (another Hadley collaboration); the 12-Container House in Maine; and the traveling Push-Button House (see it at Kalkin’s book, Quik Build: Adam Kalkin’s ABC of Container Architecture, is available at, and he is a global authority on the architectural use of recycled trans-oceanic shipping containers. His present focus is a 50-container orphanage community in Johannesburg, South Africa (see sidebar).

Building Hopes and Dreams

Adam Kalkin considers himself to be more of a problem solver than a traditional architect. For years, his passion has been to provide people affordable housing worldwide, and he is presently consumed with the construction of an outside-the-box orphanage in Johannesburg, South Africa. The three-story complex will include layered indoor and outdoor spaces, mostly built of recycled steel shipping containers—about 50 of them.

“This is a real step forward,” says Kalkin, the father of two young children. “The New Jerusalem Children’s Home is an integrated space where 120 kids will live, eat, and go to school. It’s like a village with a town square. It’s pretty cool.”

Kalkin maintains that the modular, scalable Johannesburg project is a template for other orphanages and disaster relief housing. In fact, it applies to President Clinton’s efforts in Haiti, and Clinton’s people already have been in touch with Kalkin. “We’ll need to raise money for this important project because, I promise you, all real innovation is funded by the private sector,” Kalkin says.

“Of course, I can design a house,” he adds. “I’ve been there, done that. But this is creativity on a broader scale that cuts across cultures and addresses population shifts. This initiative can help change the course of lives of millions of orphaned kids all over the world.”

Kalkin, whose sights are set on bigger and better things, says his days of designing private residences are quickly coming to an end. “I’m accepting only very unusual private commissions,” he confides.

“Architectural projects like my orphanage can lead to a much broader, freewheeling conversation because they touch kids’ lives. Initiatives like these can spark the imagination and give hope in places where there is not a lot of it. “

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