The peninsula that reaches into Long Island Sound from downtown and stretches to Shippan Point seems a world away from our city’s hustle. Everyone’s backyard consists of blue water and big sky. For one couple, the location evolved into their perfect spot to settle in for the long term.
The wife talks about finding the Stamford shoreline with her realtor. (Her family has a history in town, with a country house in the northern ridges, and generations-long business ties to the state in the Connecticut River Valley.) “I had rented a place in the Hamptons, another on Martha’s Vineyard, and I’ve always loved the water. I had no idea that such a beautiful, peaceful and secluded location existed just a few minutes from the train station and less than an hour from the city, right here in Stamford,” she recalls. When she and her husband, both with grown and nearly grown children—she has one, he has three—married a decade ago, they had looked for a place that would shelter everyone comfortably, and conveniently, close to Manhattan. “I suddenly had a large family,” she says.
Choosing a house that was once a waterfront location for a tennis court that was on an estate of three homes built for three
sisters in the early twentieth century, the couple savored their spectacular views. Then, in 2012, Sandy worked to devastating effect on parts of the neighborhood, and their attention was drawn to the shorefront lot adjacent to their home. Its existing structure was once the main house of the three sisters’ dwellings that had been owned and then subdivided some years later by the actress Faye Dunaway. Now that house had become unsalvageable, too low on the shore to absorb the effects of another large storm. So the pair decided to make some lemonade from a now-unlovely lemon, and began to hunt for an architect who would build a place that they could shape together, from the ground up.
The wife recalls that a carpenter who was working on their existing house recommended John Fifield, a Westport-based architect whose practice encompasses many high-profile residential and commercial projects. She called him, and discovered that Fifield was a great listener who could capably realize their wish list: a Shingle style exterior, views from every room, space for all members of the blended family, hyper-compliance with new building codes specified for coastal properties, and high standards for energy efficiency. His plan checked all the boxes, and much more.
Because the home site needed to be raised, one design challenge was creating a structure that would be stormproof, yet sit naturally on the site. To create this base of terra firma, the couple and Fifield enlisted the expertise of landscape architect Diane Devore. Devore, using a tiered system of buried and visible retaining walls constructed by Bethel stonemason Anthony Manca, created an open and natural site for home, pool and gardens, accessed by a serpentine driveway that leads to a cobbled courtyard and elegant front entry. This artful design completely disguises the seventeen-foot rise between sea level and house.
Equally impressive is the building envelope, shaped in an ell around the courtyard so as not to create a massive front façade, leaving expansive windows and terraces to open at the back. Fifield’s design connects the home’s widest elevation to its most beautiful vista—the waterfront—while providing an arrival space that is both welcoming and sheltered. The soft grays of Connecticut fieldstone used for the visible walls, gravel driveway, cobbled courtyard and flagstone pathways harmonize beautifully with the cedar sheathing, which is gently weathering.
Since husband and wife possess an irrepressible collecting bug, each had a need for space to merge and display a trove of finds collected over a lifetime—his, hers and theirs. She, a daughter and granddaughter of collectors, has sought out folk art and furnishings; her husband has an eclectic assemblage: books, paintings of many vintages, Delft ceramics, Chinese porcelain.
Although the house has the presence and character of a structure many decades its senior, Fifield crafted interior architectural details that are comparatively spare and simplified—an ideal backdrop for displaying objects and furnishings to their best advantage. While wall space was necessary, Fifield designed passages between the public rooms on diagonals, resulting in view corridors that capture the light and the panorama of the Long Island Sound in every room. Between its seaside surroundings—the Stamford lighthouse is just one lovely view—and the art and antiques, one could spend hours here, just looking.
In just one corner of the living room, built-in arched, open cabinets display a good roundup of his and hers ceramics and other small pieces, including two Delft bulls; her grandparents had a herd that was shared with other members of the family. A series of blue-and-white Chinese export porcelain bowls—his—lines the mantel. Above it is a grand example of her “woolies,” nineteenth-century needlework pictures that were made by sailors, or by their wives waiting at home. “When I was a young married woman, looking for some art for the walls, I discovered woolies at an antiques shop in Manhattan,” says the wife. “They were inexpensive but very attractive. It was the start of a long relationship with these pieces.” She estimates that her collection now numbers in the dozens. It is like that in this home. One can look at the sea, and then enjoy examining a small treasure that always has a story.
However, the house is much more than a gallery of beautiful things; it is a comfortable and tranquil home base for the couple and their family. Built into the structure are modern systems that will easily propel its tenure through the twenty-first century. The house is warmed and cooled by a ground-source well and pump, and portions of a fifteen-kilowatt solar array arranged on the home’s south-facing roofs can be glimpsed from the family quarters upstairs. Not only do these innovative systems provide an economical energy source for operating the house, several of the array’s panels are employed as a partly translucent roof for the pool house patio that faces the water. “We thought it would look great as a stand-alone roof in that spot, and it does,” she says.
Architect: John Fifield, Fifield Piaker Elman Architects, PC, Westport, 203-222-5600, fpe-architects.com
Landscape Architect: Diane Devore, Devore Associates Landscape Architects, Fairfield, 203-256-8950 devoreassoc.com
Builder: Paul Tallman, Tallman Building Company Inc., Southport, 203-254-3055, tallmanbuilding.com