A Welcome ConneCtiCut Home Home by Elizabeth Keyser Photography by Robert BensonA contemporary take on 19th-century shingle style combines an open planwith intimate spaces, with artful views inside and out. When they started looking at houses, a shorelinecouple encountered many a grand façade—and littlequality craftsmanship. Arisaig, the house they eventu-ally built on the coast, reveals a different set of priori-ties. Beyond its modest shingled entry lies a wealth ofartistic detail. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Its curvinglines and whimsical elements reflect a lively familythat likes to laugh. Working with architect Tom Edwards, AIA, of Nel-son & Edwards Co. Architects in Branford, was themost fun the homeowner says she’s ever had. That she The façade, while hinting at the eclectic interior, was designed to fit into the low-key beach neighborhood.
Clockwise from top left: The foyer, with its custom staircase and balusters evoking abstract lighthouses (or is it violins?), establishes architect Edwards’ penchant for whimsy; it’s all about the view in the dining room, where Edwards designed the elegant table for 10; the library, with double glass doors that look out across the foyer through the living room to the Sound, gets a masculine feel from dark cherry paneling and cabinetry and a coffered ceiling; the first floor exemplifies what the owners wanted: a house that, without being grand, is unique (a series of octagonal rooms connected by curves and arches), ac- cessible (open flow) and eminently livable.48 CONNECTICUT March 2009
enjoyed the creative collabora- The ultimate waterfront home amenity is this indoor pool, tion surprised the multi-degreed with a pavilion whose clerestory windows open at the push (and -faceted) mother of a teen- of a button. The trifold glass doors fold back unobtru- aged son and daughter. She ad- sively, so in summer it’s like being outdoors. This time of mits that she usually thinks her year the homeowner floats on her back, gazing up at the own ideas are best. Luckily, she architecture. “It’s like living in a sculpture,” she says of and her architect agreed 90 per- the arched beams and triangular trusses that support the cent of the time. multilevel ceilings, all of Douglas fir. The lemon and fig Arisaig, named for the Scot- trees thrive year-round thanks to the humidity. tish coast the couple love, is al- most upstaged by its view. The house bestows panoramas of Long Island Sound from almost every room. From living room, kitchen and dining room, the sun glitters across a rippling blue expanse. From studies, bedrooms and baths, cumulous clouds gather above steely white- capped swells. From showers, lofts and even the laundry room, gulls swoop and ships sail.Above: The boy’s bedroom in one of the octagonal Below: The master bedroom, above the dining room, hastowers offers Sound views not only from his bed but similarly enveloping views of the Sound. Here, however,from his curved “pulpit” in the loft area above. Here one can clearly see (by looking up and around) the octag-he works on his compositions and can look across onal-tower design that maximizes the sense of space andto the tower’s clerestory windows, which frame brings in more light. The homeowner chose the furnish-horizontal “paintings” of the Sound. Right: Architect ings with the architect, opting for a mix of contemporary,Edwards designed a whimsical staircase/dresser traditional and antique pieces, a neutral palette and anconnecting the room and the loft. uncluttered look so as not to upstage the view. The half-acre property is nes- tled in a cove along the shoreline east of New Haven. A promon- tory stretches to the west, while the Thimble Islands scatter to the east. The “wow” is the view, but af- ter the sun sets, the owner still wants her eye engaged. Hence the open flow, curves and arches that connect the series of octag- onal rooms on the first floor. To one side of the sunken living room, fronted by French doors, the open kitchen leads to the dining room. The kitch- en’s shape echoes Arisaig’s wa- terfront façade of octagonal towers embracing the heart of the house. Edwards designed hanging octagonal glass cabi- nets crowned by carved wood brackets to mirror the towers. 50 CONNECTICUT March 2009
They gently enclose the honed black granite feet), most of the rooms are not large by to- steps and they’ll demonstrate how the pavilion’scountertops and custom cabinets of bird’s-eye day’s standards. The living room, at about 520 clerestory windows open at the push of a button.maple and cherry. square feet, is the largest. The owner, who did The trifold ground-level glass doors fold back un- Looking closer, you see that utility is spiced not want a house that seemed too grand, says obtrusively, so in summer it’s like being outdoors.with originality, function infused with fun. that “the coziest spots are where the kids show This time of year, the owner floats on her back“Anytime we offered Tom a chance to do some- up”—they do homework at the curved built-in in the heated pool, gazing up at the architecture.thing whimsical, he took it,” says the owner. kitchen table facing the Sound, squeeze in next “It’s like living in a sculpture,” she says. Above her, In the boy’s room, the whimsy is nautical. to their parents on the Chesterfield sofa in dad’s a series of arched beams and triangular trussesThe architect designed a steep staircase/dresser cherry-paneled library, and hang out in mom’s support the multilevel ceilings. Through thethat climbs to a loft overlooking the sea. Brass study (“aka “the command center”) behind the clerestory windows she sees her bedroom turret,pulls, a plain brass handrail and an oar resting dining room. topped by an octagonal lantern.on the landing enhance the maritime feel. On It was music that first drew the couple to- Her husband readily admits that he “disin-the balcony above the owners’ dressing room, gether. “One of the things I found attractive termediated” himself from most of the decisionEdwards met the code requirement for a railing about him was his voluminous record collec- making. “That’s why we’re still married,” sheby creating a picket fence made of cherry. Fur- tion,” she says. “He’s more into jazz; I’m more jokes. But there were a few things he wanted.thering the sense of fun, airplane and bumble- into ’20s, ’30s and ’40s popular music. Classical The outdoor kitchen by the pool pavilion wasbee tech lights spring from the wall. In one of is our shared love.” one. It is outfitted with a Viking grill and a pizzathe two cozy seating areas in the living room, Music fills Arisaig. The couple’s son is a bud- oven imported from Italy. The pros at Pepe’s inEdwards designed (and his son Vincent built) ding violinist who composes in his “pulpit,” look- New Haven have been giving him tips, he says.coffee and side tables, whose curved legs mir- ing across the tower’s third-story windows to the The other place where the husband, a boater,ror the legs of the upholstered Donghia chairs. sea. (These clerestory windows frame views right made his wishes known was in his third-floorThe outlines of the glass tops complement the out of Kensett paintings.) Their daughter plays loft. Here, in the low-ceilinged mahogany roomcurved loveseat. flute and bassoon. A computerized AV system with its sleek black leather furniture and a ze- Edwards lavished attention on the smallest sends music throughout the house. bra-striped carpet, three large windows face thedetails. When the owner couldn’t find the water. It’s like a ship’s helm. Sitting on theright kitchen cabinet pulls, he designed couch facing the windows, he is the cap-stainless-steel drop latches and had them tain. All that’s missing is the ship’s wheel.forged by a metalworker. Even the balus- Utility is spiced with origi- “Sunset finds us here,” says his wife.ters are custom-designed, with the open nality, function infused with In decorating the house, the ownercenters of the flat, carved wood evoking at first felt unsure. She interviewed in-abstract lighthouses. fun. “Anytime we offered terior designers, but found the idea of “There’s something unique about hav- turning Arisaig over to another per-ing an architect who is also an artist and Tom [Edwards] a chance to son’s vision “frightening.” She turned todesigns furniture,” says the owner. In fact, her architect. “Tom told me it would beEdwards’ fine art is in collections at the do something whimsical, he easy—like putting a dress on a beautifulMetropolitan Museum of Art in New girl,” she says.York City and at the National Museum of took it,” says the owner. Edwards gives her 60 percent of theAmerican Art in Washington, D.C. His credit for the interior design. The housedetailed paintings, etchings and draw- is furnished in a clean, uncluttered,ings hang as well on Arisaig’s walls, in a series The couple host musical galas at their home, comfortable mix of contemporary, modern,of niches along a curved hallway. its signature curves creating excellent acoustics. antique and Tom Edwards-commissioned The owner’s artistic eye was no doubt influ- The English cellist Rafael Wallfisch has per- pieces.enced by her father, an advertising photogra- formed and been an overnight guest. “Rafael “Collaboration” is a word architects love topher whose black-and-white photos from the went from room to room to try out the acous- toss around. But in the case of Arisaig, there1960s hang prominently in the living room. tics and he decided the studio was the best,” was a concord of client, architect, builder,She herself studied art, English and biology recalls the owner. artists and artisans that resulted in enduringbefore becoming involved in film production. The studio, about 500 square feet, which sits friendships.After working in Hollywood, she “sold out,” got over the garage in the back of the house, was And friendship, say the couple, is the realan MBA and moved into finance. Today she is a originally envisioned for use by the kids but “magic” of the house.full-time mom (“the hardest job I’ve ever had”) has evolved into an informal party room for all. “There was a harmony when we workedand is active in New Haven’s arts community. The owner’s true personality is here—the way together,” Edwards agrees, settling into aHer husband is also in finance. she’d live, she says, “if I were single.” chair beneath a triptych of his paintings. Leading the team of skilled builders and The self-described “clutter monster” is a col- Leave it to others to complain about theartisans working on the house was contrac- lector. And indeed, the room feels like a lively hassles of construction. The owner presentedtor Ed Flamand of Flamand Builders and Re- mini-Smithsonian, with antique model planes, her architect, builder and major subcontrac-modelers of Guilford. “Ed was the grown-up,” flags and signs hanging from a cathedral ceil- tors with bound and printed books of pho-says the owner, to which Edwards counters, ing, more antique signs and a working rotary tographs documenting the project. Flipping“That’s because he had to make it work.” He phone on the walls, manual typewriters and an through its pages on a recent afternoon, shedid so with the help of Guilford Woodworking, old 45-rpm record player on shelves. paused, remembering the barbecues sheDonald Boulé of Boulé LLC and Haddam Neck “Kids don’t know about these things and they would throw for the workers (“until Ed madeKitchen Cabinets, all of whom had a hand in find them fascinating,” she says. In eclectic con- me stop because he thought it was interrupt-the kitchen cabinets and woodwork, as well as trast, glass cabinets are filled with her collection ing the work”). The next-to-last page showsBill Burns of Prestige Tile in West Haven, who of English royalty commemorative porcelain. the family on the front lawn, taking in theinstalled the tile. The studio’s windows look down on the in- first sunset after the house was complete. The Despite Arisaig’s size (about 5,500 square door pool pavilion. Follow the couple down the final shot is of the first sunrise.52 CONNECTICUT March 2009