You can’t go home again, the adage says, but a fortunate few do manage in one way or another to revisit places that hold cherished memories from their youth. Some, like Willa Cather and Mark Twain, do it through their art, describing remembered places in idyllic memoirs. For others the return is literal: For instance, the artist Jeff Koons bought back the farm in southeast Pennsylvania that once belonged to his grandparents and has been renovating it as a country retreat for his family.

I got the chance to go home again in a different way. In 2007 I was hired to design a modernist house along the Hudson River, in upstate New York, on the very farmland where my grandparents once lived. The farm had a historic pedigree. In the late 19th century it was the country estate of Frederick T. Adams, a successful financier and yachtsman who summered there with his family. Adams built a grand house at the highest pointn on the 140-acre tract, where a meadow meets a ridge, hence the property’s name, Meadow Ridge Farm. The spot affords sweeping views of the Hudson to the east and the Catskill Mountains to the west. On the farm’s western side, the meadow is filled with tall grasses and wildflowers when left fallow. At the opposite end, just beyond the forested ridge, are steep shale cliffs plunging to the river.

My grandparents, Gertrude and Jay Warner, were tenant farmers who lived in a two-story frame house on the estate. They had moved to the town of Coxsackie after the Great Depression, seeking work in the icehouses along the Hudson. But they eventually settled into tending Holstein dairy cows at Meadow Ridge Farm, which became their home for the next half-century.

Though I grew up mostly in Brazil, where my parents were teachers, I spent long periods at the farm. I even graduated from the local high school and made lifelong friends in the community. Then, after my grandmother died and my grandfather’s health declined, I interrupted my college studies and moved to the farm full-time to help him out. I stayed for three years, until his death, when the property was sold and out of my life—forever, I thought.