Crafted to Last

Traditional millwork and cabinetry details distinguish a new old house that's fit for generations to come

14-foot-wide archway
Photo by Jim Franco
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Introduction

 

Introduction

A nice piece of land never loses its appeal, but sometimes the house that's sitting on it falls into dated obsolescence. That's precisely what architect Jay Haverson found when he checked out a just-on-the-market lakeside property in his hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut. By far the best thing about it was the site, 11?3 sunny acres beside little Frye Lake, a rarity just 10 minutes from town. The worst thing was the house, a deteriorating 1960s builder's Colonial with zero architectural merit. "It was truly ugly," says Haverson. "But it had one redeeming feature: the foundation."


What made the house's humble underpinnings beautiful to the architect was the way they hugged the shoreline. The original structure was configured in a Y shape, with three wings that came as close as 15 feet to the water. The foundation had weathered well, and the local wetlands conservation agency would allow for a new home to rise over the old footprint. "I look at lots of properties," says Haverson. "But I fell in love with this one right away."

Of course, whenever a house is demolished, it's always reassuring if its replacement is architecturally sophisticated enough to be worth the sacrifice. Knowing that his new house had to be deserving of such a special site, Haverson, an architect for more than 25 years, knew in his gut that a lakeside interpretation of Shingle style would fit the place perfectly. "It's a casual, open style of architecture, very picturesque and full of character with elements like steep gables, flared walls, towers, porches, and decks," he says. "A Shingle style could flow with the site and really be married to it."

To get from love to marriage, Haverson also had to think about how to fit such a house to the way people live today. "This is not a center-hall Colonial with a formal room to the left and a formal room to the right," he says of the new four-bedroom home, which has a great-room kitchen and plenty of casual seating areas inside and out from which to enjoy the view. "I envisioned a place that felt like a weekend house all week long."

Floor Plans




A nice piece of land never loses its appeal, but sometimes the house that's sitting on it falls into dated obsolescence. That's precisely what architect Jay Haverson found when he checked out a just-on-the-market lakeside property in his hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut. By far the best thing about it was the site, 11?3 sunny acres beside little Frye Lake, a rarity just 10 minutes from town. The worst thing was the house, a deteriorating 1960s builder's Colonial with zero architectural merit. "It was truly ugly," says Haverson. "But it had one redeeming feature: the foundation."


What made the house's humble underpinnings beautiful to the architect was the way they hugged the shoreline. The original structure was configured in a Y shape, with three wings that came as close as 15 feet to the water. The foundation had weathered well, and the local wetlands conservation agency would allow for a new home to rise over the old footprint. "I look at lots of properties," says Haverson. "But I fell in love with this one right away."

Of course, whenever a house is demolished, it's always reassuring if its replacement is architecturally sophisticated enough to be worth the sacrifice. Knowing that his new house had to be deserving of such a special site, Haverson, an architect for more than 25 years, knew in his gut that a lakeside interpretation of Shingle style would fit the place perfectly. "It's a casual, open style of architecture, very picturesque and full of character with elements like steep gables, flared walls, towers, porches, and decks," he says. "A Shingle style could flow with the site and really be married to it."

To get from love to marriage, Haverson also had to think about how to fit such a house to the way people live today. "This is not a center-hall Colonial with a formal room to the left and a formal room to the right," he says of the new four-bedroom home, which has a great-room kitchen and plenty of casual seating areas inside and out from which to enjoy the view. "I envisioned a place that felt like a weekend house all week long."

Floor Plans




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Beams, Trim & Molding

 

Beams, Trim & Molding

19th-century Shingle-style architecture
Photo by Jim Franco
A tower with flared walls, a steeply pitched gable dormer, and a porch with square columns topped by a balcony balustrade are some of the many elements that make the house's design a modern-day interpretation of 19th-century Shingle-style architecture.
Designing for casual living led to a largely open plan with hallways relegated to the house's landlocked side. Each leg of the Y is one room deep, ensuring that all main living areas look out onto the water. "It's like you're in a boat sailing out onto the lake," says Haverson of the vista out the living room windows.


Yet for every great outdoor view there's an equally engaging show going on inside. One scene-stealer: cedar-wrapped beams, some of them arched, all of them naturally finished to show off the wood's tight, straight grain and medium-brown hue. They visually raise the ceilings, which already range from 10 to 12 feet high,"and the arched beams create a sense that the ceiling itself is curved," says Haverson. They also echo painted wall arches like the one that spans the opening between the kitchen and family room to informally connect the two spaces.



The red cedar dressing up the beams also covers the three fireplace mantels. At first glance, those mantels might look the same, but to avoid an off-the-shelf appearance, chief finish carpenter Al Syr incorporated subtle variations in their details, like the size and shape of the support brackets or the profile of a molded edge. "We did that to give each room a slightly different flavor," says Syr, who with his two sons and additional crew installed thousands of feet of molding.

Slimmer and less prominent than the beams and mantels, the moldings are no less distinctive, as much because of what they don't contain as what they do. Haverson's window and door casings, crowns, chair rails, and baseboard moldings stick to a consistently geometric theme of wide, flat planes bounded by crisply stepped and sharply beveled edges. Absent are the familiar rolls and curves that typically soften a molding's profile. "We deliberately created a palette of moldings that reinforced the interior architecture, which is a series of angles and planes coming together,"?says Haverson. "We also wanted to give the rooms fresh appeal by showing people moldings they hadn't seen before."

Wainscoting clads many of the walls in Haverson's design, formed by a grid of flat stiles and rails fastened over flat, recessed panels. They're made either of poplar, painted white, or natural, clear-coated cherry. To keep the seams tight and flat for decades, says Syr, it's best to join stile to rail with biscuit splines and glue. Haverson varied the height from 3 to 5 feet, specifying the higher version for the living room and hallways and keeping the other rooms to the lower. "That's a typical Shingle-style treatment," he says. "Paneling like this traditionally protects walls from wear and tear, but with the house's complicated geo­metry it also has a simplifying effect by creating continuity."

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Cabinetry

 

Cabinetry

1st Floor floor plan
Illustration by Ian Warpole
Simplicity and continuity are also the hallmarks of the cabinet designs for the kitchen, bathrooms, and sitting rooms. The cabinet doors echo the wall paneling with flat panels set into square-cut frames. They were built by Hibernian Millwork, which is led by Cathal McGreal. At just 36, McGreal has been working with wood for more than 25 years. Like Al Syr's tight-tolerance trimwork, McGreal's cabinetmaking shows the craft at its best. His joints all but disappear under paint, and with his natural-wood units he carefully chooses material for both color- and grain-matching.


The seeming simplicity of the trim and cabinets belies what it really took to get the job done. Haverson had the kitchen cabinets painted in place and the natural wood hand-finished in a technique called a French polish. The wood was rubbed and buffed with pads dipped in a combination of low-sheen lacquer and stain, producing a timeless sheen. "We wanted to give the wood a shimmer," says Haverson, "as though it had become burnished over the years."

McGreal has worked with Haverson for more than 10 years. "After all this time," he says, "I know what he's trying to achieve." This kind of familiarity fosters better teamwork, which is key to getting quality results on time and on budget. Steady communication, coordination, give-and-take, and early error correction among the several different teams are all paramount, and for this house that job fell to Al Syr. "When Al came on, he threw a wide blanket over the whole project and made sure that everything went right," says Haverson. "There's so much complexity, five or six things going on at once, it takes someone who really cares about the big picture."


As the new old house neared completion, it was snapped up by a couple who fell for Haverson's vision of an open, light-filled, low-key home free of excess formality. "What blew us away was the light and the 270-degree view of the lake," says one of the new homeowners. "And when you look at the whole package, the room proportions, the woodwork, the tilework are all so well done." And so, at last, Haverson's ideal site got the architecturally distinguished house that suited it. The Shingle style, he says, "has its own integrity and spirit, and so the house becomes a piece of our environment that will live on beyond all our years. Being able to produce something like that gives you a great feeling. It's why architects are architects."

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So You Want to Build a New Old House?

 

So You Want to Build a New Old House?

2nd Floor floor plan
Illustration by Ian Warpole
Building a new home with historic character means learning from the past while thinking toward the future. If you're looking to work with your architect to design a classic, here are a few tips, gleaned from Jay Haverson's Greenwich, Conn., project, that will add to your new house's timelessness and craftsmanship.
  • If you're tearing down an old house, be sure its replacement is worth the sacrifice. Amp up the architectural details, and decide on a style—and size—befitting the neighborhood and site.


  • Define spaces with beams or wainscoting. New houses can feel oversized and impersonal. Wood ceiling beams or paneling connect large, open spaces and make rooms feel more intimate.


  • Incorporate long sight lines that make the most of natural sunlight and call attention to the flow of your floor plan.


  • Moldings on the interior doorways frame each room and make spaces with high ceilings seem cozier. To add warmth, match finishes to show off the wood's natural grains and hues. Give one or two rooms a slightly different flavor by using different woods, stains, and subtle variations in style.


  • Make small details count. Cabinet latches, bin pulls, a farm sink with an old-fashioned faucet suggest age.


  • Employ contractors and subcontractors who have worked together before. It'll make the job go a lot easier.


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Where to Find It

 

Where to Find It

long sight lines maximize natural light
Photo by Jim Franco
Long sight lines, like the one running from the kitchen through the dining room to the living room, maximize natural light and showcase the flow of the floor plan. From room to room, molding-trimmed passageways frame and punctuate the view and make the high-ceilinged spaces more intimate.
Architect:
Jay Haverson
Haverson Architecture and Design PC
Greenwich, CT
203-629-8300
haversonarchitecture.com

Windows:
Pella Architectural Series
Pella, IA
800-374-4758
pella.com

Front door:
Custom Mahogany,
Midland Sales
Dayville, CT
860-774-8255

Exterior hardware:
Rocky Mountain Hardware
Hailey, ID
208-788-2013
rockymountainhardware.com

Siding shingles:
R&R red cedar with 4-inch exposure with Duroseal cherry stain,
West Haven Lumber
West Haven, CT
203-933-1641

Wood floors:
3-inch strip white oak throughout with random 3-, 5-, and 7-inch in kitchen only,
Phoenix of Fairfield County
Norwalk, CT
203-845-8094

Countertops:
Soapstone,
New England Stone
Milford, CT
203-876-8606

Custom kitchen cabinetry:
McRoy Millwork
Bridgeport, CT
203-521-9586

Cabinetmaker:
Cathal McGreal
Hibernian Millwork
Cortland, NY
914-804-0088

 
 

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