By Michael T. Brigandi

Building with Inspiration, Imagination and Integrity

This story takes place on the St. Lawrence River and, in particular, its majestic headwaters. Here, for a stretch of 60 miles, waters from the Great Lakes flow around more than 1500 islands en route to the sea. These granite islands, formed during the close of the last Ice Age, are home to hardwoods and conifers, summer sun and winter ice. Today, the islands and the river form the border between New York State and Ontario, Canada.

For the past 40 years, Steve Taylor has been adding his mark to this historic archipelago. Born in Syracuse, New York, and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Steve was fortunate enough to spend most his summers among these islands. After attending college in Ohio as a philosophy major, Steve joined the Peace Corp, where he served in Morocco. Upon returning stateside and accepting the fact there was a limited demand for philosophers, Steve gravitated back to the islands to work with his father-in-law, Thomas Mitchell, a local contractor. It was then that he picked up many of the skills necessary to become a successful builder in the islands.

James A (Arch) Kerr, a gifted and sensitive architect and designer mentored Steve and inspired him to explore the potential for imaginative design with nature as a backdrop. In 1975 Steve founded his company.

Designing and building on islands can be fun but it is also challenging. First, it challenges the imagination to be sensitive and respectful of these beautiful and natural settings. Then, it challenges the ingenuity to build within the constraints of rugged, difficult to access sites.

During most of the year they use a scow and several smaller work boats for transporting workers and building materials to job sites. For transporting heavy equipment and other hefty loads, they hire Navy surplus landing crafts. During the winter months, they use ice-boats, snowmobiles and sleds, depending on ice conditions.

Our island clients share an attraction to island living for its promise of recreation and fun, and its call for self-reliance and independence with the thrills and challenges of living intimately with nature and her forces. Many of the families in this river community have been coming here for generations.

There is a fine architectural tradition here too, stretching back to the late 1800’s. Many of the finest homes on the islands were built around the turn of the last century featuring native-granite fireplaces, weathered or stained wood siding and cedar-shingle roofing, with interiors paneled with patterned beaded yellow pine or fir. We continue to employ these material in contemporary ways.

‘We have found that a house is most successful when it is designed with an appreciation for the land itself, as well as an understanding of the clients needs and wishes. The home then becomes a sanctuary for the spirit. Luis Barragan, the great Mexican master once said, ” … any work of architecture which does not express serenity is a mistake.”