A Recycled New York Castle

American Artisans, On the Road, People, Travel Destinations
on May 13, 2001

In 1968, Peter Wing brought Toni Simoncelli to the meadow overlooking his familys 157-acre, century-old farm in Millbrook, N.Y., and proposed to her.

He said, she remembers, that he was going to build me a castle and put me in it.

I did not, he says, grinning. But he did. Married, short on funds, long on dreams and youth, they decided to relocate an 1820 post-and-beam barn to the meadow and make it their home. Shortly after the barn raising, they moved in and began adding personal touches, tapping into Peters experience as a construction worker and building consultant.

I had an idea for a barn with two silos. The barn went up and the silos came out of the ground fat and squat, barrel-shaped, like those Bavarian castle towers, Peter says.

People who saw them said the silos looked like castle turrets. So I started with some conical roofs, and its easy to see how a barn with two silos can evolve into a castle. To me anyway, he says.

We needed a home, Toni, a physical therapist, says matter-of-factly, smiling. Neither thinks that what theyve built is out of the ordinaryjust a lifetimes work dedicated to a single goal, a castle of their own, complete with moat, pool, and two-car garage. Its style is perhaps best described as eclectic.

Peter studied books to fuel his flights of fancy. He acknowledges influences such as Gaudís Church of the Family in Barcelona; German, English, and Spanish castles; a Tibetan monastery; an English prioryand seeing things, where others might not, in nature.

I found forms and shapes in anthills, bees nests, and in trees ants had eaten, says Peter. You know, they leave these funny looking holes that just had a naturalistic feel to them, so I used them.

Some of Millbrooks 1,339 residents scoffed, dubbing the structure Wings Folly. Completing it was the best revenge, Toni says.

The castle is a creation of Peters imagination, made real in mortar and stone, arches and frames, pools and patios, gargoyles in the tower, and a character carved in stone in the courtyard. It all blends effortlessly, forming the whole.

Unlike medieval castles, built by thousands of stonemasons, quarrymen, and laborers, the Wings entire labor force consisted of Peter, Toni, and their two children, Charley and Tara. The footing and foundations took seven years. Their sole mechanical help was a backhoe, and in the last two years, a bulldozer. As the walls rose, they had to match the color, so as not to create a patchwork quilt of concrete. It had to look like its been here for hundreds of years, Peter says.

Everything here was something else, someplace else. The house is made of recycled materials, found objects, a potpourri of glass, steel, and stone that Peter has put to use.

The stone came from the foundations of 25 barns, one church, and an abandoned railroad bridge. The kitchen floor was formerly the winnowing floor of a grain barn, the kitchen door removed from a long-gone icehouse. The Catalonian bathroom has a sink made from a Victorian birdbath and a tub of cast iron scoured from a razed estate. The bridge of a sailing ship serves as a balcony overlooking their living room. The barn is still there, now covered over by 20,000 tons of mortar and stone.

Peter wastes nothing. Finding 12- and 14-foot-long, hand-hewn quarry stones in a foundation in nearby Wingdale, he created his own version of Stonehenge at the western edge of their meadow.

Hes not finished yet. The castle/home completed, his horizons have expanded. Hes halfway through the construction of a four-room bed & breakfast as a kind of outbuilding to enhance the feeling of a medieval village in the Hudson Valley, all together a single-minded monument to the Wing family name.

The early naysayers have been silenced, and the castle is on the cover of the county phone directory. Tours draw international travelers, and the castle is listed in the English Folly Societys (a group listing unusual antiquaria) directory of must-sees.

Build it and they will come could well be Peters credo as the never-ending castle grows.