2014 Alice Washburn Architectural Award Winners

 

Sara Bronin

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 (AIA) 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. This year, projects had to be one- or two-story houses completed after June 30, 2008, 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: George Dickinson, AIA, Duo Dickinson Architect, Madison; William Grover, FAIA, Centerbrook, Connecticut and Dennis Wedlick, AIA, Barlis Wedlick Architects, LLC, New York City and Hudson, New York.

 

Winning Project, Renovation and Addition

The Connecticut Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has been honoring residential architects as part of its Alice Washburn Awards for over a decade. It goes without saying that the competition is always stiff, and this year was no exception. Top prize was awarded to an urban property, completely remodeled and updated to suit the needs of a young, vibrant family.

The Hartford brownstone of the Bronin family (above) is both the first rehabilitated property and urban property to win the Alice Washburn Award. According to Joanne Rees, program director of the Connecticut Chapter of the AIA, the award competition was opened to include renovations and additions two years ago after the economy dipped in 2008 and new construction stalled. The Bronins’ brownstone may be the first to check both boxes but it was selected for the top prize because, “The project was simply the one that the jurors thought the best,” says Rees. And when you move through the grand residential home of Luke and Sara Bronin and their three small children, it is easy to see why.

The property, which is part of the Elm Street National Register Historic District, was half-abandoned and completely derelict when the pair purchased it in July 2012, but they were undaunted. They could see the house’s potential and the beautiful life they would be able to live after a renovation. They had spent three years, from 2006 to 2009, living next door to (and pining for) the brownstone. They had moved away to Washington, D.C., for three years, but Sara Bronin say they “always had their eye on this house,” because they always saw downtown Hartford as an ideal place to raise children. Between Bushnell Park (theirs is the only single-family home directly on the green) with its carousel and playground, and the multitude of cultural and educational opportunities housed in the state capital, the pair knew Hartford would offer more opportunities for their family.

They were able to move into the home after nearly a year of work, and now that they’re settled Bronin admits the location is as wonderful as they always imagined it would be. Bushnell Park is directly across the street from the brownstone and they are immediately adjacent to the State Capitol, which allows her husband, who serves as the governor’s legal counsel, to walk to work every day.
 

The dramatic 32-foot kitchen-dining room, with two working fireplaces, was created by combining four different rooms. The owners painstakingly restored the historic mahogany paneling at right, and added a complementary wine cabinet.

 

There was a lot of work to be done before the brownstone could be turned into their dream home including restoring damaged or missing historical features, refinishing the façade and reorganizing the interior space. Bronin, a law professor at the University of Connecticut, served as architect of record on the project, the first time she did so in many years. The Washburn jurors honored her contribution to the project by saying, “[The design] is sensitive to the historic building, and its renovation, both economical and courageous, could not have been done without an architect.” Winning the award has inspired Bronin to open her own architecture and design practice, Studio Voladizo.   

What emerged was a meticulously decorated, four-story home where each generation is given its own private living space—the kids on the top floor with parents below on the third. “We thought the kids would love having their own floor, and they do!” said Bronin. “From their playroom, they can see City Hall and most of Bushnell Park…The third floor is the ‘adults’ floor.’ It’s where I work—my desk overlooks Bushnell Park. My office doubles as a library and family room.”
 


 

The second floor, which is the main floor of the house, is arranged for versatility, allowing the couple to throw small dinner parties or large family gatherings. Bronin explains that, “There’s a flow on that floor but with distinct spaces separated by the historic staircase.”

A number of important energy-efficient upgrades were also made. The home now boasts eight heat pumps, denim insulation and the highest-performing windows and doors. There is no VOC paint, floor stains or other surface treatments used, which contributes to superior air quality. The family used formaldehyde-free cabinetry and innovative materials like Plyboo in the project.
 


 

“There are nice details; the new front bay was perfectly rendered,” said the Washburn jurors. “Given the tone of much of the work entered, the jury appreciated the wit that was shown in the blending of aesthetics celebrated in this project. This is a good example of what this award program is hoping to achieve, bringing the traditional to the present.”
 

Resources
• Architecture, Interior Design and Furnishings: Sara C. Bronin, Studio Voladizo, Hartford, (646) 228-7336
• Associate Architect: Joel Raphael, Raphael Associates, Hartford, (860) 560-9191
• MEP Design: Wayne Nelson, LN Consulting, LLC, Winooski, VT (802) 655-1753 lnconsulting.com
• Lead Carpenter: Roark McCutcheon, Hartford Builders LLC, Marlborough, (860) 977-4452
• Mason for Brownstone Restoration: Sebastian Damiata, Damiata Masonry, Cromwell, (860) 635-1179
• Mason for Interior and front courtyard: Sal Giarratana, K&G Masonry, Farmington, (860) 827-1110
• Mason for Interior:  Rollo W. Jones, Capital Masonry, Hartford, (860) 493-0650
• Mechanical/HVAC:  Kevin & Dean Kral, Connecticut Heating & Cooling LLC,, East Hartford, (860) 985-1252
• Electric: Corey Gengenbach, CLG Electric LLC, Somers, (860) 803-7330
• Plumbing:  Anthony Nelson, TC Plumbing LLC, Hartford, (860) 250-7329
• Painting: Bruce Washbond, Washbond Custom Painting LLC, West Hartford, (860) 233-8314
• Custom Cabinetry:  Pat Hart, Heartwood Custom Cabinetry, Marlborough, (860) 295-0304, heartwoodcab.com
• Back Courtyard Landscaping & Design: Jeff Hutton, Earthworks LLC, Tolland, (860) 875-3539, earthworksct.com
 

 

 

Merit Award, New Construction

The classic aesthetic of late 19th- and 20th-century country homes was perfectly blended with modern upgrades to create a home that’s both beautiful and functional in this property, which was given a Merit Award.
 

Created by Saniee Architects LLC of Greenwich, the layout of the home is centered around the kitchen and the family room—the literal heart of the home. Whether the configuration is used for busy parents who want to watch over their children while they cook or for social couples who want to throw dinner parties for their friends, an adjacent kitchen and family room is essential for modern living. In this home, the two spaces are optimally located for short and long views. The entire home, including the basement, benefits from plenty of natural light. In construction, the architects took pride in making the home environmentally responsible.

The sequence of movement within the house is designed to promote stimulating experiences like the entryway that guides the eye upward to the translucent ceiling or the long naturally lit gallery that creates a horizontal flow toward the informal part of the house. A floating ceiling of slatted gray-blue beams brings down the grandeur of the vaulted living room making the space feel more comfortable and homey.
 


 

“It is innovative, yet uses traditional forms and details to mitigate the potential of size to overwhelm the site,” said the Washburn jurors.  

Saniee Architects, LLC, Greenwich, (203) 625-9308, sanieearchitects.com
 


Merit Award, Accessory Building

Gone are the days of traditional blacktop driveways leading up to utilitarian garages used to house your vehicle and discarded household junk. This homeowner reimagined a detached single-bay garage used to house a motorcycle in such an inventive and aesthetically pleasing way that a Merit Award was obvious. “The project stood out for its sensitivity to the integration of architecture and landscape,” said the Washburn jurors. They proclaimed, “…siting, porch, deck and outbuilding [were] all well thought out.”
 


 

Instead of the flat black slabs of most driveways this one is made out of stone, creating a visual river that draws the eye to the garage, though that word doesn’t adequately describe this outdoor living space. It functions as a studio, music room, party event space and off-street parking. A generous deck and pergola wrapped in heirloom grapevines transitions off of the existing house to help mingle the interior and exterior spaces. A millstone—uncovered while creating the driveway—was salvaged and transformed into an eye-catching water feature at the far end of the garden.

Arbonies King Vlock, PC, Branford, (203) 483-9900, akvpc.com
 

 

Honorable Mention, Combined Renovation and Accessory Building

The architect was careful to not lose the original structure and storied history of this Southport home when updating it for the modern day—a consideration noted and rewarded by the Washburn jurors. The existing house was built by author, printmaker and architect Louis Rosenberg for himself in 1929. Rosenberg designed the cottage with steep gables clad with board and batten. Portions of the first floor and chimneys were constructed out of brick. Not surprisingly, when the home was purchased by a new owner in 2010, requests for a larger kitchen and living spaces were made to accommodate a contemporary family. The task was to design an expansion without overwhelming the existing structure or the property line.
 


 

Construction was crafted to achieve the maximum usable space within the minimum volume including the addition of a breakfast space and lounging area in the north end of the house. The existing two-car garage was reduced to a one-car garage to create a passageway and home office. To make up for the lost parking space, a two-car accessory barn was conceived with a loft space above for guest accommodations and recreation space. The new barn was given a separate drive and gravel footpath to connect it with the house. The kitchen and baths in the house were all newly configured. On the second floor an increased footprint allowed for larger children’s bedrooms in the space that once housed staff quarters. All windows, stairs, trim and millwork were replaced and moisture problems in the cellar were solved with an under-slab drain system.
 


 

The Washburn jurors appreciated the creative use of expanded space, noting, “The architect did an excellent job of maintaining the existing structure, with its great character, while still adapting it to the needs of its present family. Rather than subvert the original home’s character, usefulness was expanded by adding a new three-car barn with additional living space. The garage itself is appropriately complementary to the original home.”

J.P. Franzen Associates Architects, PC, Southport, (203) 259-0529. franzenarchitects.com
 


Honorable Mention, New Construction

The inspiration for this four-acre parcel of land in Greenwich was Marie Antoinette’s Petit Hamlet on the grounds of Versailles. The owner wanted to create his own oasis, expanding the lush gardens on his adjacent Georgian estate. What better way to do that than to get a little more space and create a French normal farmhouse nestled into the garden landscape?
 


 

The building has a steeply pitched, graduated slate roof, pierced with timber dormers and walls of half-timbering, in-filled with rustic terra-cotta brick tiles. A pair of heavy oak doors set in a carved stone entry brings visitors into the central great room, the focal point of the house. The eye soars upward two and a half stories to the ceiling composed of antique timber planks supported by a dramatic system of reclaimed, hand-finished timber trusses. The room opens onto a true chef’s kitchen complete with the most high-end amenities. Stairways, all carved from solid-oak timbers, lead to the overlooking guest bedrooms above, and the garden ‘receiving’ room, wine cellar and root cellars below. The master bedroom suite, housed in the tower on the eastern side of the home, comes complete with breathtaking views of the property.  

Charles Hilton Architects, Greenwich, (203) 489-3800, hiltonarchitects.com
 


Jury Commendation, Hermit’s Hut

The whimsy of this New Canaan project, sweetly named the Hermit’s Hut, captured the Washburn jurors’ attention. In this design by Richard Bergmann, FAIA, “the tradition of a hand hewn outbuilding was upheld,” said the jurors. It was an inexpensive project, but “the jury appreciated its humor and wit.”

Richard Bergmann, FAIA, New Canaan, (203) 966-9505

 

2014 Alice Washburn Architectural Award Winners

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