Elements of Surprise


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On with the Show

The first room to catch your eye is the formal dining room; it foreshadows the rest. Thanks to a generously scaled custom table and upholstered chairs with decorative nailhead trim, the space steals the spotlight. “There were a few things we wanted, and a round dining room table was one,” says Liz.

She credits designer Beth Joy Goldstein with creating a look that complements the interior architecture perfectly. “I absolutely love her work,” Liz says. Goldstein used almost all of the furniture from the O’Briens’ old house, suggested more pieces, then offered up some surprises, like a glass table and wicker chairs in the kitchen’s dining area.

“Working with her was easy,” says Liz. “We went on a few shopping trips, then I trusted her completely. She installed everything in just two weeks. It was amazing.” Adjacent to the dining room, Goldstein furnished the formal living room for style—and comfort.

A picture-perfect yard comes into view instantly through French doors beyond the dining room—again, by design. “We wanted to offer transparency to the back yard . . . it creates a sense of layers,” says Saniee. “You can see to the patio, then the grass, the steps, the pool.” Multiple points of entry connect peaceful outdoor rooms to the house; long patios lead to a manicured lawn and a few wide steps link the yard to a graceful pool. A pool house to one side, dining and sitting areas complete the alfresco paradise.

Back inside, walk from the dining room through a tidy butler’s pantry with onyx countertops to the pure and simple, but elegant, heart of the home. The white-on-white kitchen won Liz’s heart from the moment she saw it in Christopher Peacock’s Greenwich showroom. Cabinets are from the “Scullery” collection; perimeter counters are marble, while the center island is topped with teak. An interior hallway connects the kitchen to the family room, Liz’s office and the “back door,” where the family’s three dogs come and go through a pet door. A laundry and mudroom complete the service entrance.

The kitchen seamlessly turns into a casual eating area, and from there, into a cozy family room, with fireplace and television over it. Doorways on both sides allow access to the two-story sports memorabilia room. This place is like Cooperstown (Chris is a rabid Yankees fan, but it’s not all about baseball). “It kind of evolved,” says Liz. “Chris needed a place to hang his collection, and we wanted a pool table, but then it grew.” Now every wall in the space—essentially a circular catwalk that overlooks a billiard room—is filled with collectibles, from photos and autographed jerseys to championship plaques. A spiral staircase takes you down to the lower level, where signed baseballs, NFL helmets and Olympic torches are on display.

But wait, there’s more! Through another door sits a home theater, then an open room where the boys play “knee hockey,” then another more laid-back TV room and a workout room. There’s even a secret hideaway behind a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. The architect’s touches are evident in details throughout. For example, from the beginning Chris was sure of one thing: He did not want boring ceilings. And Saniee couldn’t have agreed with him more. “I believe ceilings are the most underutilized design element in the home,” he says. He played with the idea of bringing in light in slightly unorthodox ways.

In four spaces (the entry, family room, master suite and memorabilia room), he created works of art overhead. The ceiling beams (coffers) found in traditionally detailed homes were “recreated and loosened up to hang down, to float, play with light, and move the eyes up and around the ceiling,” says Saniee. “We took the coffered-ceiling idea and really went to town with it.

“I like surprises,” he adds. “At first glance, you look up and see the patterns, and it’s satisfying. Then you look again and you wonder what’s going on here!”

It’s simple, really: Pure magic.

The Award

The Alice Washburn Award is named for the distinguished Connecticut residential architect of the 1920s. The annual award program is a joint effort of the Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects and Connecticut Magazine to acknowledge excellence in traditional house design. Focusing on style, the program honors the thoughtful adaptation of tradition to address 21st-century needs. The competition is open to architects licensed and residing in Connecticut; projects had to be one- or two-story houses completed after March 1, 2005 and designed in a style considered traditional—including but not limited to Shingle, Georgian, Queen Anne, Gothic, Colonial and Greek Revival. The three jurors chosen by AIA Connecticut for their expertise in traditional design were: Martha Buck, former museum assistant, Department of Prints and Drawings, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven; Helen Higgins, executive director, Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, New Haven; and John P.  Franzen, FAIA, JP Franzen Associates, Architects PC, Southport.

Elements of Surprise

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