After happily living in a contemporary house close to Long Island Sound in Norwalk for 12 years, marketing executives Nada and Avery Stirratt decided it was time for a change. This time around they wanted more land, even if it meant not being near the water. “We were drawn to New Canaan, in part, because of its modernist roots,” says Nada Stirratt, who found a house at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac on 3-plus acres. “It was a perfect location for us because we were both commuting into the city and, at the end of a hectic day, we instantly feel serene when we pull into the driveway.”
Like their previous house, their new ranch home had a contemporary feel, but it lacked a truly modern aesthetic. It was a typical construction with standard windows, and when they thought about living there, they envisioned a lot more openness to the environment.
“It was originally built in the 1950s and got added onto in the ’70s and again in the ’90s, so it lost any kind of architectural identity,” Stirratt says. “What we wanted was as much glass as structurally possible to enjoy the beauty of the woods from every room.”
The Stirratts realized that what they thought would be salvageable in the old house didn’t make sense from both a structural engineering or aesthetic standpoint. For example, in some areas, the foundation didn’t go deep enough and in others the wall thickness wasn’t to code. In the end, it was more economical to tear it down and rebuild.
Stirratt and her husband interviewed six architects before deciding on Specht Architects (then called Specht Harpman), which has offices in New York and Austin and specializes in modern home design. “The original project was to take a look at this house and do some tweaks here and there to make it more modern and functional for them,” says Scott Specht, owner of Specht Architects. “Early in the process, after talking about what we could do, we imagined what it would look like if you walked in and saw this brand-new kitchen, but then immediately walked into an older section and it didn’t flow.”
Specht notes that some houses are easier to renovate than others. Some you can do in pieces, and there’s a seamless transition between the new and old parts. But in this case, it seemed to only point out the flaws of the existing house.
The house is perched up on a hill, and Specht says that they looked at different approaches to it, yet ultimately went with the plan he liked the best. It presents a long, winding drive past the house and up around the other side to parking at the crest of the hill and entry on the second level. Alec Gunn and Heather Morgan of Gunn Landscape Architecture, based in New York City and the Hamptons, worked alongside Specht in repositioning the driveway to create the ideal outdoor circulation.
“From the start of their driveway, you’re down below the house and looking up at it through the trees,” Specht says. “And what you’re actually looking at is not the entry side but the back side of the house. So, it cantilevers and hangs out over the forest canopy as you look up at it. You see it in the distance up on a hill with lights on inside and it’s very inviting, but it’s screened a bit by the forest.”
Once inside the front entrance on the second level, a giant wall of windows looks out at the canopy of trees. There’s a feeling of “floating in the treetops,” says Specht, adding that it’s the ideal arrangement to enjoy the seasonal color changes.
Working within the original U-shaped footprint, Specht’s design of the three-bedroom, 4½-bath, 7,000-square-foot house placed the main living spaces and all bedrooms on the upper floor. A secret staircase behind the fireplace descends downstairs to a library, lounge/bar and a workspace for both Nada and Avery. Outside the downstairs lounge/bar area is a large seating area with a fireplace. From here, an outdoor staircase runs directly up to the pool and cabana. A pathway flows between the interior and exterior, seamlessly connecting the spaces.
“There are all these wonderful areas when entertaining,” says Stirratt, who notes that while a pool came with the original house, it was rebuilt in a smaller footprint, with a cabana added to mimic the form of the house. “When we have guests, they move from the bar to the pool area to the fireplace. We call the fireplace area the Lower East Side — all parties end up here.”
The home’s interior styling matches its modern architecture. The couple chose the husband-and-wife team of Jesse Carrier and Mara Miller, owners of Carrier and Company Interiors Ltd., based in New York City, because they knew the homeowners wanted a house that, while modern, was warm and inviting. Stirratt provided them with a stack of binders dating back to a 1993 Metropolitan Home magazine with tear sheets of her dream interiors, textiles and finishings. “Just about every part of our home can be traced to those binders,” she says.
The Stirratts also knew where they wanted their kitchen and how it should function. It was strategically placed within the main living and dining areas, so that when food prepping, they are part of conversations in those spaces. It was also designed so that everything is hidden.
“We love to cook and entertain, and built the kitchen to specifically work for us,” Stirratt says. “I’m 6 feet tall and my husband is 6-foot-3. Our counters are the right height for us for chopping and prepping. And from a space standpoint, because the cabinets go all the way to the ceiling, which are really high, we have a lot of storage and therefore no clutter on the counters,” says Stirratt, who credits both Specht and his right-hand person, Amy Lopez-Cepero.
“They did a phenomenal job and spent a lot of time with us,” Stirratt says. “The attention to detail was the most impressive with working with Scott and Amy. They were surgical in putting things where they made the most sense, which included asking, ‘What’s the right height if you want to chop onions?’ ”