The spell was cast in minutes. One visit to this idyllic parcel of property and actress Marcia Gay Harden and her husband, Thaddaeus Scheel, were sold.
"It was October. Indian summer," recalls Marcia. "The trees were beautiful. The light, perfect. It was the magic hour. We knew immediately we had to buy it."
Twelve years -- and innumerable hours of TLC -- later, the couple have created a Thoreau-worthy retreat for themselves and their three young children-Eulala, 11, and twins Julitta and Hudson, 5.
Photography: John Bessler
Nestled in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, the 300 acres (including the aptly named Gossamer Lake) are now sprinkled with a slew of structures that Thaddaeus designed and helped build, including the lofty studio shown above.
"There's freedom here," says Marcia. "The kids talk about eagles, heron, catching frogs. It gives them a sense of play. Not to mention the adults."
Life at the lake consists of a multitude of chores peppered with downtime -- pedicures creekside courtesy of Julitta, homework with Eulala, post-dinner marshmallow roasting at the fire pit, and salamander wrangling with Hudson.
Inside the lofty studio, natural materials are favored. Walls throughout are rough-sawn pine. The studio's floors are slate. The classic lines of Stickley furniture mingle with salvaged pieces. An old farm sink plucked from a nearby field is carefully perched on red-painted cabinets from HomeGoods -- a favorite source. A pint-sized Gothic-style chair was meticulously crafted by Eulala. There's no Tony here, no Academy Award on display, though Marcia has one of each. Instead, her pottery takes center stage. It lines the shelves of a salvaged school cubby and is scattered atop a diminutive grade-school art table rescued from the streets of New York.
The centerpiece, though, is a hefty, custom-built pottery wheel, seen here with young Hudson. The pottery wheel was a gift from Thaddaeus. "He was still wooing me then," recalls Marcia. "He fabricated almost everything other than the seat, which is from my grandfather's tractor."
In the sitting area, wide-plank pine floors were heavily distressed by Thaddaeus, then sanded and sealed. Patinated materials cleverly give the illusion that the year-old structure has quietly stood sentinel in these woods for decades.
While Marcia's love of pottery began in junior high, years of hectic filming schedules kept her away from the wheel until 1993, while she was appearing in Angels in America-her Broadway debut, for which she garnered her first of two Tony nominations. (She won this year for her lead role in God of Carnage.)
"I found that throwing pots was a great way to center myself. You literally have to be centered on the wheel. And in your body and your feelings. You have to come to a place of focus."
A teapot with a woven handle.
The guest house perches just above the new pottery studio and accommodates guest quarters and Thaddaeus's shop.
Ranger, the family's border collie.
A spot for reading scripts?
Marcia Gay Harden's Inspirations
1. Reading. "It ignites curiosity, invites fantasy, teaches, heals, and inspires travel. Reading while traveling? Double whammy."
2. Music. "From Ennio Morricone to Eddie Vedder, music is universal in its ability to move us. I love Gregorian chants or yoga music for quiet head space. And always classical music."
3. Calming colors. "Whites and creams in light, beautiful spaces make me feel clean and at peace."
4. My children. "Their wisdom and laughter open me up."
5. Nature. "So much beauty! So many mysteries! A universal sanctuary. I am grateful to Sierra Club and Waterkeepers for all the work they are doing to protect it."
6. Scents. Her favorites? "Aveda Chakras. Amber incense while I'm throwing a pot. Roses in the garden. Lavender oil to sleep."
7. My Man! "My husband is capable of just about anything and has such an eye for beauty. He has built us a wonderful home on Gossamer Lake."
8. Irena Sendler's courage. "Irena Sendler was a young Christian woman who risked her life to save many Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto. Her words, 'We need love, tolerance, and humility' to get by in this world are so true."
9. The Ocean. "I love the ever-changing colors, the natural bounty, and the mind-stretching and eye-stretching vastness."
10. Work. "I love to work! Whether acting, throwing a pot, gardening, or sewing, work lets me be creative. I dwindle when idle!"