The riverside town of Essex has more than its share of beautiful homes. This one, however, a custom Shingle-style residence situated on the banks of the Connecticut River, just might be unlike any other. As part of its structure, it boasts a 40-foot windmill with 20-foot blades.
The original windmill was built in the early 1970s by the previous owners of a stately Victorian home that still stands nearby today. It was created for aesthetic purposes, as well as to function as a guest house. While not historic, the windmill has been a beloved, iconic landmark in the town for many years, with many people, including boaters, artists and photographers, enjoying it from both land and water.
When Angela Halperin and her husband Michael found this particular property, they could not fathom tearing down the structure that came with it. Instead, they opted to incorporate it into their house plans.
“We never imagined that we could be lucky enough to make this dream property a reality,” says Halperin, who had been looking with her husband for years up and down the eastern Connecticut shoreline for a property near the water and close to town. When it came time for the Halperins to find a property to create their “forever” home, they were open to either renovating or building from scratch. They wanted to customize a home to suit their active lifestyle with their family and share it with relatives, friends and future grandchildren for years to come.
For the best Connecticut Magazine content, plus the week's most compelling news and entertainment picks, delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our weekly newsletter.
Ironically, years earlier, when the original Victorian house along with its windmill was first on the market as one 11-acre parcel, Halperin went to see it “for fun” with her daughter, who at the time was a toddler. Later, the property was bought by a developer and sub-divided, giving the homeowners the opportunity to buy their current 1.2-acre property, which included the windmill.
“My daughter pointed from a window in the house and said, ‘windmill,’ ” Halperin remembers fondly. “We took the several-acre walk and we were able to look inside. I took this opportunity to snap a few photos of my daughter running toward it in her shiny, black patent-leather shoes, never imagining that this windmill and gorgeous backdrop would be part of our lives someday.”
Having both built houses before they met, Halperin and her husband knew exactly what they wanted in their coastal forever home. They brought their past experiences, along with Angela’s organized Pinterest folders containing specific architectural design elements, construction materials, fixtures and finishes, to their initial meeting with Old Lyme-based Point One Architects.
“Angela came with a wealth of resources, knowledge and ideas,” says Rick Staub, partner at Point One. “As the architect, we listened to her thoughts and dreams and then organized them into a cohesive and ordered set of plans, taking into account what the building site presented to us — windmill, views, sun, wind, zoning constraints and more. We determined how the building works with the site as well as how the spaces work inside the home in relation to flow, views, light, storage, and which rooms go where and why.”
Zoning restrictions meant the new house could not be built along the bluff, where the existing windmill stands. “The Halperins wanted to keep the windmill, but not have it in front of the new home’s major view,” Staub says. “So the concept developed to move the windmill back to the home, away from the bluff. This also had the added benefit of creating a bit of a yard and area for the pool.”
The original four-story windmill was converted into a two-story structure and incorporated into the house during construction in 2018. The home’s exterior with cedar shingles matches the original windmill style. In addition, it was important for the homeowners to keep the windmill in a similar position so that neighbors and those passing by would continue to enjoy watching the blades turn as they had for many years prior.
“The main challenge was determining the use of the windmill space,” Staub says. “It was finally decided that it should be at the heart of the home. Therefore, the kitchen made perfect sense.
“One of the concerns was what would happen when the blades got moving fast. Would the home shake or tremble as the winds rattled on? So, we took some measures through engineering to make sure that we made the entire home stable around the windmill.”
It has an internal skeleton of stainless-steel, tie-down rods that extend from the concrete foundation up to the top of the structure. And because the house is attached, it has the extra support of steel beams. Stainless-steel cables also connect the tips of each blade to the adjacent ones to add enough stability to withstand high shear forces of wind.
“The other night, the wind was howling with gusts up to 50 miles per hour,” Halperin says. “We saw the blades going very fast and they handled the storm without incident. Actually, the blades haven’t been damaged since Hurricane Sandy.”
Being at the base of the windmill, the kitchen has a unique shape. A 15-foot-high, mahogany, octagonal ceiling canopies over a mix of dark and light wood cabinetry, metal grill accents, polished-nickel hardware and light fixtures and state-of-the-art appliances. With home design and construction a passion, Halperin helped design the kitchen’s custom cabinetry with Glenn Baller and Nicole Lafontaine from Glenn Baller & Company of Mystic. Off the main kitchen are a butler’s pantry, library and mud hallway.
A theme of coastal elegance with a modern flair prevails throughout the light-filled, comfortable home. The spacious kitchen, living room and dining room flow seamlessly as one, while also connecting to the exterior dining space on the covered porch. Thoughtfully considered, the layout features walls of oversize windows to provide uninterrupted water views.
Also on display is a sleek, floating, floor-to-ceiling fireplace constructed of quartzite stone, which adjoins the foyer and the living room. Natural stone surfaces, wood and metal add to a serene atmosphere. A neutral color palette of whites, grays and blues allows the custom millwork, furniture, lighting, artwork and personal items to stand out in the sightline.
The master bedroom, which was a first-floor must-have, sits on the opposite side of the open-concept living space. A central, welcoming foyer crowned with a large cupola built 30-feet above a herringbone oak floor with brass inlay sits in between the two areas. The interior wood ceiling of the cupola is mahogany, like the kitchen windmill ceiling. Both the cupola’s size and exterior profile complement the windmill and add balance to the roofline of the house.
The second floor of the windmill became a covered outdoor deck, which the homeowners enjoy year round. This is the highest elevation in the house with panoramic views of Essex, Old Lyme and the Connecticut River.
To construct their vision, the homeowners hired Peter Giordano Jr. of Prominent Development’s Tier 1, a luxury home builder out of Mystic. Halperin, with no professional background in design or construction and deciding to take time off from her marketing career, collaborated daily with Giordano and his subcontractors. Since she was a child, Halperin’s parents built and renovated several of the homes she lived in over the years, so the process came naturally.
“When I was young, my late father and I would stop on the side of the road when we saw a house under construction,” she says. “We would sneak on site and analyze the floor plan. It was incredibly exciting for me to walk through and dream ‘this will be my room.’ When I first showed my father this property he said, ‘Now that’s a breath of fresh air.’
“Our home was completed during the last year of my father’s life. I was very fortunate to be able to share each stage of the project with both of my parents. I would bring them to the site, and in their kitchen share details on the computer. What a blessing to receive their words of wisdom and utilize them as sounding boards during this labor of love. With my parents’ experience and approval hovering, there was additional fuel to create something really impressive that all our family would enjoy.”
Michael and Angela Halperin used an existing windmill from their property in the design of their new home on the Connecticut River in Essex. From left are Jessie Halperin, Ryan Halperin, Alex Halperin, Michael and Angela, and Sophia Bonanno.
The octagonal wooden ceiling in the kitchen of Angela and Michael Halperin’s home is the footprint of the windmill above.