Elements of Surprise


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Unexpected pleasures are plentiful in this award-winning family home.

Call it an act of architectural alchemy. A trick played on tradition. A contemporary rabbit pulled out of a classic hat.

Whatever it is, this is a house whose style can’t be named—not easily, anyway. At first glance it looks like an iconic Gold Coast home: stately, with a stone and clapboard façade—but there’s more going on here than meets the eye.        

“Pared-down vernacular” is as close as Mahdad Saniee can come to describing the Greenwich home—and he’s the architect who designed it. “It’s the only thing I can think of,” he says. “This house was designed to bridge a gap between the familiar and the new.”

It was also a happy compromise for homeowners Liz and Chris O’Brien. Chris envisioned a traditional home, one with character, presence—and a grand entrance. But because they’d been living in an expanded Cape “with small rooms and no architectural detail” for seven years, Liz was leaning toward a more minimalist design. “We both wanted something a little cleaner, less flowery,” she says. “We wanted more open space. But we wanted to stay in the neighborhood.”

The site they found—a private, leafy enclave at the end of a cul-de-sac—clearly influenced the home’s design, but Saniee, inspired by a “quieter, gentler” take on formal and often fussy classical architecture, took the couple’s wish list a few steps further. “A few old Tudor neighbors provided a good starting point,” he says. The architect then “freed up traditional elements to act in new, and sometimes surprising, ways.”

Abracadabra: An enchanting home that surprises at every turn.

It’s a winner, too—quite literally. The project, executed by Saniee Architects LLC in Greenwich, was honored by AIA Connecticut in this year’s Alice Washburn Award competition. The jury loved its “crisp geometry and inventive use of materials . . . the graceful angles, which create contemporary volumes and allow for the viewing of other parts of the house.”

Elements of Surprise

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