Editor’s note: In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the homeowners report that although the rising water covered their pool and a number of trees on the property blew over, the house itself sustained no damage.
After living in central Greenwich with their young daughters for a couple of years, Keri and Kevin decided they wanted to relocate to one of the more family-friendly associations in Old Greenwich. Their search in 2002 led them to an early 1920s home on an acre of land on the tidal water of a cove. While they loved the property, they were not too keen about the house, a center hall colonial that from a distance looked fairly nice, but up close was another matter.
“There was a lot of deferred maintenance compounded by the problems that come from being near the water — like several inches of moss on a flat roof,” Keri said. “Also, because of its age, any renovation would have involved lead paint and asbestos amelioration, so we felt tearing it down and building something more appropriate to the site and today’s way of living would be the way to go.”
Knowing some of the neighbors objected to that idea, after purchasing the property in early 2003 the couple invited the neighbors to a cocktail party to see the house, meet them and talk about what they wanted to do. “It turned out that most of them had never been inside the house before,” Keri said, “and once they got in and looked around, they understood.”
The couple gave thorough consideration to how they wanted to live before they began working with an architect. Keri, a self-described “architectural junkie,” had long collected photos of homes and elements that appealed to her, noting she loves “big, old shingle-style homes.” Before moving to Greenwich, the couple had lived at The Ansonia in Manhattan and liked the feel, the graciousness of its Beaux Arts architecture “which inspired the type of house we built.”
When Keri sorted through her collected images, narrowing them down to her favorite 15, she was surprised to discover that seven of them had been designed by Shope Reno Wharton, and one by an architect previously affiliated that office.
“Once we met with them, we knew we wanted them to design our house,” Keri said. They worked most closely with Bernard Wharton, who gave them his original concept sketch when the house was completed, which now hangs where it is easily seen by visitors. The Arts and Crafts-style home with cedar shingle exterior, including roof, was built by Davenport Contracting and is accented by a window-topped tower that accommodates the three-story staircase, deep overhangs and Essex green paint.
In addition to its acre size in a neighborhood of mostly quarter-acre lots, the property slopes toward the water, and land on either side belongs to the Greenwich Land Trust. From the street, it is reflective of other homes in the neighborhood. From the water, it fully takes advantage of the site.
From the beginning of the waterfront approval process to completion took about two years; the family moved in at the end of 2005, when the children were four and six. Looking back, Keri said, “It was a fun experience for me to live through the process. As part of it, I created a website to keep our scattered family and friends informed during construction.”
The interior design features both formal and informal spaces; Keri jokes about her love of right angles and said it was one of the guiding design principles, although the staircase that rises the three levels of the home has curving handrails and open spaces between them — an influence of The Ansonia— and a low eyebrow window near front ground level.
The light-filled home is entered through large double doors, opening into a wide hallway — another Ansonia influence; it may have the widest interior corridors in New York — with barrel vault ceiling between the front door and the living room. “When you entertain, people tend to mill about the hallway anyway, so we figured we’d give them a lot of space to do it,” Keri said.
It has the charm of an old house with all of the conveniences of a new, as well as “fun features” like a swing door between the kitchen and a hallway, black and white tiled kitchen floor and a large outside dog sculpture, a Valentine’s Day gift from Kevin to Keri. There are dark oak floors with mahogany inlay and tall, predominately white, wainscoting throughout, as we well as “live-in-it” touches.
“We wanted the rooms where we spend the most time to face the water to maximize the views. The dining room, which is generally used when it is dark outside, is on the front of the house,” she said. The square room with a large round table, soft lighting and fireplace has an enveloping elegance, while most of the other rooms have a rectangular openness; each room throughout is gracious and the transitions between the rooms flow easily.
The house has 10-foot ceilings, eight-foot doors and exterior walls lined with tall, double hung windows that were situated so 6-foot-4-inch Kevin could look out of them with his view unobstructed by the frames or panes in the upper windows.
The kitchen has a stool-high counter where a snack or bowl of cereal can be grabbed or conversation can be held with those preparing food. A three-window-sided room off the kitchen holds a table for family meals and Keri’s office is on the other side of one of those window walls so she can enjoy the views while working from her desk. The low couch opposite her desk is often occupied by one or both of her daughters; they say it is one of their favorite spaces in the house.
Shooting off the corridor alongside her office is the “work section” — the laundry room with fold-down ironing board and clothes chute, the mud room with bench where each family member has enclosed space, and the trash room, which has a locking door from the hall and opens from the outside for pickup as well. No worries about chasing blowing garbage cans at this house!
From the stove side of the counter, the kitchen opens into the spacious, casual family room with its view onto the cove and across the Long Island Sound to New York City. A door from the family room enters onto to a wide, wraparound porch, perfect for entertaining, that ends at a curved stairway leading down to the expansive back lawn.
“One of the things we really liked about the property is the slope that lets you get into the yard directly from the lower level,” Keri notes. Kevin especially likes this feature, as it provides easy access to his assortment of watercraft. A member of his college crew team, he enjoys rowing a boat, guiding a kayak, or riding a paddle board as often as possible, activities enjoyed by the whole family. A large play/party room with arched exterior door is next to the boat room.
The house was decorated slowly — bedrooms and family room first, then Keri’s office and the mudroom, followed by the Douglas fir woodwork, including beadboard ceiling, in Kevin’s office, a reminder of his hometown of Seattle. The office also has a fireplace, as does the living room and master bedroom.
The living room, dining room and entry hallway were completed only a couple of years ago, with the assistance of Marcia Tucker of Greenwich who suggested the gray-silver marbleized plaster on the walls in the living room, hallway and powder room. The powder room floor is accented with what Keri calls her “mosaic moment.”
In addition to the five en suite bedrooms, two for guests, the upstairs has a work area for the girls, which can also serve as a social area with their friends. Their bedrooms have twin-bed-size window seats that can easily accommodate sleepovers. And with their mother’s recent agreement, they are excited at the prospect of redecorating their rooms more to their tween and teen tastes.