Architects & Firms
Discretion seems the favored modus operandi for those seeking to build among the rolling hills of Connecticut. Forget the razzmatazz of arresting architectural forms; as shown by the quietly restrained house Joeb Moore & Partners designed in Litchfield County, the sensitive solution is one that fits organically into the bucolic site. The architectural office, founded by Moore in 1993 and based in Greenwich, Connecticut, is renowned for embracing the regional vernacular of the New England cottage, but executing it with a modern minimalist savoir faire. In this particular case, the 5,800-square-foot weekend home for a couple from New York was to be located on 32 acres, where a portion of the land is protected by an open-space covenant.
Stone spheres by artist Alicja Kwade herald the approach (1). The main entrance is nestled into a glacial ledge (2). Photos © David Sundberg
Since the clients have grown children who would be visiting, along with other guests, they sought places for gathering outside and in, and rooms that could afford privacy as well as offer expansive views of the variegated landscape.
“There are four distinct ecologies of place,” Moore points out about the property: a hickory grove, a glacial ledge, a broad sloping meadow, and an old wooded area protected by the conservation plan. According to Beka Sturges, a principal of Reed Hilderbrand landscape architect, the team needed to tuck the house into a slope without disturbing the valued hickory, maple, oak, and beech trees on the site, and place a photovoltaic array (providing two-thirds of the compound’s electricity) out of sight.
A screened porch is divided from the great room by a fireplace. Photo © David Sundberg
Moore came up with a plan where four interlocking pavilions would be nestled into an incline between the rocky ledge of glacial schist and the large grassy meadow. (A fifth pavilion—for the garage—stands apart.) The different structures form a pinwheel plan around a central hall. The public areas of the house—living, dining, kitchen, and billiard room—are located in two rectilinear wings oriented in an L-shape on one side of the hall. On the opposite side, the main bedroom, library, and home office form an L-shape arrangement with the guest wing.
The garage is a separate building to the east (3), opposite the service entrance. Gutters are concealed behind the cedar cladding (4). The native plants in the garden pick up the colors of the art in the gallery (5). Photos courtesy of the owner (3), © David Sundberg (4 & 5)
Gabled roofs constructed from rafters or wood trusses top the timber-framed pavilions, while cedar clads the entirety, including the shiplap siding for the walls. The ensemble appears startingly abstract: no gutters, downspouts, or other protuberances interfere with the purist silhouettes. In order to arrive at this seamless effect, Moore created an invisible gutter hidden between the roof plane and the layer of waterproofing. Here, a space, 1½ inches deep, allows the water to trickle into downspouts, which also are concealed in an 18-inch-deep void behind the enclosing walls. To clean debris from the gutters, the architects designed removable roof boards near the vertical pipes. “The detail looks simple but takes a lot of thought,” says project architect Devin Picardi. (And perhaps the cleanup should not be handled by regular do-it-yourselfers.)
The inventive gutter and downspout detailing owes much to Moore’s sense of experimentation, reflective of his years of teaching in the architecture programs at Yale University as well as Barnard and Columbia colleges. Fortunately, he also had clients knowledgeable about design—the husband had studied architecture before going into real estate. As an architect manqué, he was active in the whole process, even to the point of sketching his responses to the schemes. “We had a great ongoing dialogue,” he says. The wife, an art advisor and independent curator, wanted to ensure her collection of contemporary paintings and sculptures played a dominant role in the house. She ended up with an art gallery, which now occupies the 58-foot-long, 18-foot-wide central hall, and finds this serendipitous use for the spine of the house offers a stimulating transition from the public to the private areas.
The great room (7) overlooks a hickory grove; its dropped gabled ceiling (6) floats above the sitting and dining area, edging an artwork by Kay Rosen. Photos © David Sundberg
The art gallery connects the main entrance door, where steps have been cut into the glacial rock outcropping, to the south window wall and its expansive view of the meadow and an off-axis swimming pool. Unlike those of the L-shaped pavilions, the gallery roof is flat and covered with sedum and wildflowers. Two rows of skylights edge each side of this turf; they are double-layered to protect the art from the sun’s rays: the topmost layer is a laminated membrane; beneath it is a matte membrane with ultraviolet blockers.
The living and dining area on the southeast corner of the house has a wood-framed dropped ceiling that seems to float over the space, its distinctive gable shape articulated by the reveal the architects created between the sloping ceiling planes and the wall. On the black steel shelves flanking the fireplace, the wife, working with interior designer Rebecca Wu-Norman of the firm WUNO, arrayed silver pieces and Chinese porcelain inherited from her family. The display forms a dramatic counterpoint to the modern furniture such as the Piero Lissoni sofa, a Charlotte Perriand daybed, a coffee table by Florence Knoll, and dining chairs by Gio Ponti. Elsewhere, family heirlooms, such as a Chinese console table in the entry area and Biedermeier chairs in the main bedroom, inject surprising traditional notes. And, throughout the house, fumed-oak planks for the floors, walnut shelving, and stained pine window framing add a natural warmth to the ensemble.
The main bedroom overlooks the older woods. Photo © David Sundberg
The architects, clients, and landscape architects all remark on the collaborative spirit that went into the creation of this complex. The give-and-take allowed spaces contained within straightforward volumes to unfold gradually and unpredictably, revealing colorful art-filled interiors that interact dramatically with the views of the arcadian landscape outside.
Click plan to enlarge
Click detail to enlarge
Joeb Moore & Partners, Architects — Joeb Moore, principal in charge; Devin Picardi, project architect; Thalassa Curtis, Robert Scott, project team
Edward Stanley Engineers (structural); GZA GeoEnvironmental (geotechnical); Berkshire Engineering and Survey (civil)
Reed Hilderbrand (landscape); WUNO (interior designer)
Richard E McCue
5,800 square feet
Metal/Glass Curtain Wall and Windows:
Flat/Green Roof: Firestone TPO
Solar Innovations; Newmat (solar fabric)
Lucifer; Tech Lighting; Pinnacle; Bega