Designed by two architects for their retirement, this compound is sited on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River, and comprises an extensive list of features including: a guesthouse, greenhouse, orchard, ballet studio, wood-working shop, root cellar, and secret passage within the main house.
Built partially atop the foundations of a pre-existing house that the owners razed, it is integrated with both the river and unique life experiences of the owners including the small love affairs they each have with far-away places. The house has a “sense of place” felt with the whole body and all its senses. Freedom of movement was paramount, so indoors and outdoors became one, and doors were minimized.
A “His Her” barn, built from trees cleared for an orchard, along with two gardens, a greenhouse and root cellar, support a large grow-at-home food supply. A woodworking shop off the garage, a skylit painting studio, a ballet studio with sprung floor and wall mirrors (she was a former dancer with American Ballet Theater), and a skylit drafting studio, connect to both the master bedroom suite in the main house and the guest house. A structure containing supply-air ductwork for the studios was fashioned into a “climbing tree” for the cats while creating a “proscenium arch” for the dance studio reflected in the mirror-wall. A wall frieze of favorite illustrators including N.C.Wyeth, Tom Thompson, Maxfield Parrish, Chris Van Allsburg, rings the dance studio.
The house is entered through a circular portal to create a sense of threshold between one world and another where the sound of a fountain, the scent of jasmine, the wave of grasses in the breeze, the spirit of animals, and the peacefulness of the lazy river combine.
The guest house has a third-floor bedroom overlooking the River, a mid-level living room seemingly suspended in mid-air, and a lower level kitchen that opens to the pool terrace to serve as a summer kitchen. A swan neck newel post and “dancing flower” motifs adorn its windows and art niches.
Connections to nature throughout found inspiration in Japanese buildings and organic houses by Frank Lloyd Wright. The living room ceiling with its gilded steps and perforated lay-light, in fact, steal from Wright. The glass walls and slender shape of the living room’s stone fireplace steal from Marcel Breuer. The mosaic column caps steal from Tiffany. The mural frieze in the Conservatory and Library framed by delicate woodwork steal from Greene&Greene and Sir Edwin Lutyens. The “Alhambra” inspired guest lavatory steals from Charles W. Moore.
A geothermal heating and cooling system combine with high-performance windows, foam insulation, and solar photovoltaic panels to make an energy efficient building. Broad roof overhangs, a perimeter French drain in lieu of gutters, zinc-panel roofing, fiber-cement siding, aluminum clad windows, and stone veneer make for a low maintenance exterior.
In sum, the house was designed as if cooking a meal. But, instead of spices and vegetables, the house uses textures, materials, ambiances, landmarks, daylight, aromas, natural shapes and sequences, mixing them together to make something tasty, nourishing, and memorable.