Conn. farmhouse balances modern, traditional styles

Design New England Style
The design incorporates New England vernacular such as a covered front porch and a steep pitched roof.
The design incorporates New England vernacular such as a covered front porch and a steep pitched roof. Robert Benson

As architect J.B. Clancy began sketching a country retreat for his longtime friends from New York City, he was looking for the right balance between modern and traditional. Clancy, a principal with Albert, Righter & Tittmann in Boston, refined the drawings with his clients’ input, and each variation included more New England vernacular — a steep pitched roof, a generous overhang of eaves, and a covered front porch — while retaining light-filled, open spaces within.

“They wanted it to feel fresh and new but still fit in with the rural Connecticut landscape,” he says.

What the owners now call their modern farmhouse sits high atop a rise at the front of their 112-acre wooded property in Litchfield County, Connecticut. A gravel driveway that winds its way up from the road follows a path beside an old stone wall.

This lofty perch wasn’t the most obvious place to build their two-story vacation house. A large, open field deeper into the property and accessible by a grassy path from the road would have been far easier. But the owners, a husband and wife with three children now aged 8, 11, and 13, decided to keep the green expanse pristine, save for a tennis court. It is not easily seen from the house, and getting there requires a short walk. “It’s nice to kind of discover,” says Clancy.

Designed to accommodate multiple activities at once, the kitchen is part of a central gathering space. Rustic materials such as reclaimed white oak flooring and barnboard on the wall add texture and a sense of age. —Robert Benson

To speed the building timeline, the owners hired Huntington Homes of East Montpelier, Vermont, which specializes in energy-efficient, factory-built, modular construction. The house has a superinsulated envelope, and the main rooms are oriented south to capture passive solar heat.

The exterior design was influenced by Massachusetts photographer Steve Rosenthal’s book, White on White: Churches of Rural New England (Monacelli Press, 2009), which captures the ever-shifting tones of white on village churches in varying lights and seasons. Clancy enhanced the white stain with horizontal banding on the lower half and vertical bands above. The bands, he says, cast shadows and alter the tones of white at different times of the day.

Inside, rustic materials add texture and a sense of age. The spacious foyer, for example, has slate flooring and walls of reclaimed barnboard. Elsewhere, most of the floors are reclaimed white oak.

The foyer faces a sculptural stairwell made of cold-rolled steel supports, oak steps, and LUMAsite panels. “We labored on that a long time and went through many iterations,” interior designer Mary Chan of Bartleby Objects in Brooklyn, New York, says of the stair design. The translucent LUMAsite reads like a shoji screen, but the “more robust” material is better suited for a household with three children, Chan says. A paper lantern by Isamu Noguchi above the stairwell subtly ties in with the Asian sensibility. An illuminated stone “pillow” by sculptor Mark Mennin beneath the stairwell glows a warm shade of orange.

At the front of the house is the kitchen/great room, the family’s primary gathering space. From their experiences renting other vacation homes in the area, “we knew that, functionally, that was how we were going to live,” says one of the owners.

A wood dining table with seating for 10 takes center stage in the room, with the kitchen at one end and a slate-front fireplace at the other. A window seat generously topped with pillows creates a cozy corner nook. A wall of windows opens to the trellised terrace. “The idea was for there to be one big room where multiple activities could be going on at once,” Chan says.

A separate study is a more intimate space, with built-in window seats on both sides of the fireplace. —Robert Benson

An island nearly as long as the dining table defines the kitchen. Lined with white cabinets, it is topped by thick slabs of marble and houses a built-in gas range. Behind it, the wall holds open shelving that exposes rough-hewn wood paneling, more cabinets, and a porcelain farm sink.

Off the kitchen is a large playroom where a swing hangs from the vaulted 20-foot ceiling and two hammocks are strung from wall to wall. Art supplies line another wall, and there is a flat-screen television surrounded by built-ins on another.

A balcony overlooking the room from the second floor was conceived as a place for children to put on puppet shows for an audience below, Chan says, but proved too high for easy viewing. Instead, it became a quiet reading space with a sliding LUMAsite panel to close it off for privacy.

A cozy study completes the main floor. Here, window seats flank the fireplace. A built-in wood desk made of ash with thin-plate steel shelving was custom-designed by Mark Williams of December Box in Brooklyn.

Upstairs, there are four bedrooms, including a kids’ room with two sets of  bunk beds built into one wall. A sliding door can divide the room into two separate spaces.

A glass garage-style door opens to the pool. —Robert Benson

Off the terrace, stone steps down a slight slope lead to the pool area, where a steel-and-glass pavilion extends from the pool house to provide shade for the rock patio. On the front of the pool house, a glass garage-style door can be raised for easy, open access to and from the patio. A green roof helps insulate the building from the sun.

Another Mennin sculpture, this one a large rock with a sculpted impression that suggests a human-shaped indent, sits by the pool. Clancy says the sculpture makes a warm resting place when it heats up in the sun.

From the back of the house, a walk through the woods leads to a sea of green — a mowed field for outdoor games, with another field and the tennis court beyond. The court is flanked by an entire Mennin rock installation that includes several sculpted recesses for seating.

Overall, the effect is what the owners wanted: a casual, not-overdesigned living space, plenty of room for kids to let loose, and finishes with the patina of age rather than the shine of the new.

“It was really very much about being away from the city,” Chan says, “and making things feel easy.”

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