House in Greater New Haven

This house for a pair of empty nesters rose from the ashes of their earlier home, the victim of an electrical fire. Their insurance-proscribed budget limited the size and finish of the house. Their wonderful old landscape – large trees, an orchard, and gardens survived, making it easier to nestle the new house into the site.

He was a retired engineer who wanted to help build the house. She was a Swiss ceramicist who wanted to display her own pottery and that of her friends. They wanted plentiful daylight, but limiting the heat of the summer sun.


Private Residence

Location Connecticut
Size 2,690 Sq. Ft.
Year Completed 2005
Photo Credit Albert Vecerka/Esto

Our early studies revealed that the old basement was not suitable for reuse, but one standing stone wall – the front of the old house complete with living room fireplace—could remain. We used this as a memorial of sorts, an outside wall forming an entry court. The new house has one wing, the master bedroom, which parallels the stone wall; but the rest of the house swings out away from it 15 degrees to form the entry court.

The house has a gable roof with large overhangs, allowing substantial floor-to-ceiling glass for views and indirect daylight. The roof is sliced across at the shift that creates the entry court. One large new chimney anchors the form. Thus, a simple shape becomes rich and interesting in the tradition of Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund.

An entry path of reclaimed bluestone leads from the driveway, under the overhang, and along the courtyard to the front door. This door is patterned mahogany boards and uses the doorknob from the old house. A stepped garden of grasses and thyme parallels the path up to the front door and the entry court. The garden steps down past the front door to a gravel terrace with an espaliered pear tree and a stone seat with storage for wood for the outdoor fireplace. The charred side of the memorial wall now has a lattice of cedar stick-work, with patterns reminiscent of Swiss fencing.

The entry door leads to a grand two-story space that combines an entry hall, living room, dining room, music area, and the eckbank, or breakfast bench, that backs up on a free-standing pantry “aedicule” (little building). Although the functional areas are separated by the pantry and fireplace, light and a sense of openness infuse the house. The high ceilings reveal the split in the house, with a gable form emerging from their intersection. Walls and the fireplace have many nooks and shelves to accommodate a changing display of pottery. Several of the nooks have frosted glass glowing from powder room lights.

The kitchen is in an alcove to the west. Above it are open “windows” looking down into the great room from the second floor. Behind them a balcony office and two guest bedrooms sit above the kitchen and garage. The stairs have a light sculpture – a collaboration of owner and architect. At the opposite, east end of the great room are doors to the master bedroom suite and laundry.

The master bedroom has another cathedral ceiling to bounce light about. The master bath is tiled in slate, with a tub sitting free in the room, next to an open shower.

With its substantial overhangs offering protection, the house can be open and especially glassy despite winds and rain. Sliding glass doors and windows run in continuous ribbons on the first floor, and in bouncing rhythms on the second. These openings admit the winter sun and cooling summer breezes, while the strong summer sun is shaded by overhangs. The great room opens out to terraces on both sides. On the south is the entry court, feeling like another room with its walls and fireplace. To the north is a dining patio, sheltered by one of the large old trees. Details throughout the house are modern, though reasonably priced in view of the budget. Though the house is dynamic, it has a calm light coming from all directions to settle our once-bereft owners in their new, tranquil homestead.