Arts & Crafts Class
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Modest homes on the Gold Coast—even if well constructed—are usually outshone by their grander neighbors and rarely, if ever, win accolades from the architecture community. It’s hard to deny the impact of an immense custom home, whose high style and meticulous details take your breath away, room after sumptuous room. So how did it happen that a small house (2,800 square feet counting the attic loft and basement, 1,600 counting just first and second floors) on a paltry parcel in shady Old Greenwich attracted the attention of AIA judges in the 2011 Alice Washburn Award competition?
Simple: The home, a modified foursquare with Craftsman details, is “clean, consistent and coherent,” according to this year’s jury, which named it the Honorable-Mention winner. Further, the judges noted that it is “nicely integrated into an urban lot . . . and its floor plan combines the very best of contemporary and traditional lifestyles.” In other words: It loves where it lives, and it shows.
What makes the AIA prize even more interesting is the fact that this was a spec house. “The lot was found and purchased by a development company,” says the architect, Paul Fioretti, Associate AIA, principal of Edificio LLC in Hamden. “It was determined from the start that an existing structure would be demolished and a new house constructed. My client wanted a style that conformed with the neighboring homes and could appeal to a broad market.”
The home sits on a 5,000-square-foot lot in a neighborhood of like-sized houses, many with architectural interest and charm. “I began with the elementary rule to let the surrounding area dictate how the house would best be situated and conform to the site,” says Fioretti.
As for where the Arts & Crafts inspiration came from, “When I first visited the site and saw the charm of the neighborhood, I immediately reflected on the Spring Glen area of Hamden,” recalls Fioretti. “I have lived most of my life in Hamden and have come to know this neighborhood. The homes are eclectic in size and architectural style—and oddly enough, there are many home there designed by Alice Washburn herself.”
There’s a friendly quality to the façade; this house has curb appeal in spades. A tidy stone wall creates a pleasing boundary out front, and the welcoming porch is a Craftsman essential with its requisite tapered columns and deep overhanging roof. The porch sits on the left side of the house just beyond a Belgian-block courtyard that slows entry from the street. A carport on the right side draws in the eye and creates a counterpoint to both porch and house.
“Reducing the scale of a tall house on a small lot was my greatest concern,” says Fioretti. “I softened the height of the house by making the entry approaches gradual in the rise of elevation as you moved inward. This along with colonnades, supporting hip-roof overhangs and the auto port reduce the overall height to create a gentle approach from the entry court, walks and gardens.”
The architect’s choice of exterior materials is consistent with Arts & Crafts style. He used cedar-shake siding with painted flat trim, corner boards and banding boards. The exposed part of the foundation is covered in brick, as is the chimney, which has a simple rectangular relief detail. The front-porch floor is mahogany, “to recreate that Old World charm,” while the rear porch is tiled, giving it more of a terrace feel.
Given the small footprint of the house, Fioretti knew he had to optimize the circulation pattern within. “I essentially used the main stairwell to create a spine with rooms branching off,” he explains. “The location of windows and closet doors for the convenient placement of furniture has a huge effect on how tight a room can become.”
The first floor is composed of a small, efficient kitchen and dining area, a mudroom and half-bath, a surprisingly spacious enclosed porch or “garden room,” and a living room long enough to accommodate two sitting areas. Three bedrooms and two baths are on the second floor, and on the third, accessible via a pleasant open staircase, is an attic loft.