Located on a marsh in the upper reaches of the Lieutenant River in Old Lyme, the existing house was well-sited and well-built, but the design failed to exploit the views and more importantly was a confused combination of contemporary and traditional elements. The new homeowners, a successful businesswoman and an accomplished artist and photographer, were interested in creating a fully-contemporary environment to open up space, connect indoors with outdoors, display artwork and showcase the husband’s distinctive photographs.
One glaring deficiency was the curb appeal and approach sequence: the grade sloped down and the path to the house followed, but this led to an uncomfortable dip and abrupt rise to the front door. By creating a virtual “moat,” occupied by a grid of raised-bed grasses contained in aluminum-clad boxes, and spanning the moat with an ipe bridge, the approach becomes level and engaging. The façade of the existing house was blank and bland, and with no cover. Adding a deep overhang with a wide porch creates a welcoming, covered condition, accentuated by a 6’ wide pivoting front door that feels more like a moving piece of wall.
Another deficiency was the connection to the outdoors. By adding glass to the front and back of the house, and removing interior walls selectively, the house takes on a diaphanous quality that allows one to see through to the marsh beyond, even when in the driveway. The raised-bed grasses act as abstract, geometric versions of the marsh beyond. A large, pyramidal skylight establishes a spatial hierarchy around which the rooms revolve.
The house featured several tray-ceilinged spaces – living room, kitchen, and master bedroom – that were poorly-proportioned and with panels at the top that resembled inset flat panel doors. The solution was to use a different strategy for each: the bedroom turns the ceiling into an eggshell through the use of a creative trim detail; the living room has an oversized sculptural, backlit lighting element; and the kitchen has a collage of painted rectangular forms that support or include lighting pieces.
A palette of concrete, blackened steel, stainless steel and colors carefully chosen by homeowner and architect create an interior and exterior environment punctuated by moments that are as artistic as the featured works in the black-ceilinged gallery.
Lots of glass front and back, combined with select removal of interior walls, created new, light-filled transparency, enhanced by an oversized, centrally-located skylight. The flourishes are dramatic: a ponderous concrete fireplace surround; a tectonic orange light cloud; black ceilinged gallery space for the owner’s stunning photography.