Winter Light


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In leafy seasons, the house sits quietly hidden on its steep site, sheltered under a canopy of tall trees, a protective hill at its back. Foliage on the half-acre lot is so dense that passersby scarcely know it’s there.

But when the leaves are gone, this bold contemporary comes into its own; bare branches are reflected in clerestory windows, red-orange cypress siding is set ablaze by the low winter sun, dramatic angles soar up to the cold, clear sky.

This is a house that wears winter well

Designed by Peter MacPartland of Elm City Architects, the unabashedly modern home sits close to the street in a “conservative” neighborhood in Branford, near the water. MacPartland and his wife, Lynn, are the homeowners.

“I’ve been designing houses for 30-odd years, and I always had a notion, a conceptual idea, of the house I would build for myself,” says MacPartland. It took a piece of property that no one wanted, a site that was “right on the edge of being unbuildable,” for the architect to bring his idea to fruition. “We took a big risk by essentially buying the side of a hill,” he says, but the wooded surroundings clearly informed his design—once he’d dispensed with the small matter of carving a plateau for it out of rock.

The house works on many levels: It’s suited to its site, environmentally friendly and appropriately designed for aging in place. Its interior is sophisticated but not stuffy. Moreover, the home evokes a spiritual something they don’t necessarily teach you in architecture school—not even at Yale, where MacPartland earned his degree.

In sync with the site

Initially, the couple was in the market for property somewhere between Southington, where Lynn works, and her husband’s offices in New Haven. After two bids in Hamden fell through, they started looking in Branford because they both enjoy the beach. They found the unruly lot (it took two, actually, to equal one viable piece of land to build on) and got the requisite building permits. Then the tricky construction process began.

“We wanted to respect our neighbors and the environment, so no blasting was done during the excavation,” says MacPartland. Rock by hefty rock, the site was leveled to accommodate the house, which was located on higher ground to take advantage of the natural slope for runoff. A major rock outcropping was left intact to create an outdoor room in back. “The first time I saw it, I had the unmistakable sense that it was meant to be a grotto,” he says.

The 3,000-square-foot house is clearly vertical, which allowed the architect to increase livable space while keeping the footprint in check. Steeply pitched rooflines punctuate the hilly terrain. 

CT Home Winter Light

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