Photography by Stefan Radtke
Through large glass sliding doors, the Papps can look out from their great room to see a sprawling, beautiful, 200-year-old copper beech tree. About five and a half years ago, when scoping out properties in Westport to build a custom home, the couple, with their two young children in tow, looked at each other after seeing this tree, along with a meadow and views of Heron Lake, and knew “it just felt right.”
“The way the breeze moved through the trees here and the birdsong — there was just so much natural beauty,” Alex Papp remembers. “There’s a kind of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespearean, magical quality. That’s the feeling that we got when we first saw the property.”
Moving from a standard two-story Colonial in Stamford, the couple honed in on Westport because of its outstanding public school system, vibrant town and proximity to New York City via Metro-North. While Alex works locally as owner of Bankside Partners, a boutique residential construction company, Jessica Robinson-Papp is a neurologist at Mount Sinai Hospital on the Upper East Side in Harlem. “Our dream was to have a place that had more land and that felt a little bit more private and secluded,” Jessica says. “I had this idea of a cottage in the woods, but at the same time I still had to go to New York City every day for work.”
They consulted with Alex’s cousin, Tom Papp, who at the time was a project manager with Laura Kaehler Architects, a custom architectural firm in Greenwich. One of the challenges, notes Laura Kaehler, principal and registered architect, was keeping the house far enough away from the copper beech so that the roots wouldn’t be destroyed when digging the foundation. Plus, a long property, which narrows as you get closer to the lake, as well as a desire for a one-story house with a two-bedroom in-law apartment for Alex’s mother, dictated the positioning of the home to be closer to the road.
“The entry drive was kind of a given because there were already two stone pillars, so we figured that we really should reuse them,” says Kaehler, who worked closely with Tom and the couple on the design before construction began in the spring of 2016. “And with the addition of the in-law apartment, it needed to be situated so that she’d have easy access to the front where she parks her car, and privacy from the family but also easy access to the family.”
Situating the four-bedroom, 3½-bath, 3,000-square-foot main house on the one-acre property closer to the road paved the way for a larger backyard where the kids could play. Plus, they could enjoy the lake from a few chairs in addition to views from the house itself. Town-protected land to the east offered a great opportunity to bring the outside into their home. “Thiswas an ‘aha’ phrase for us because we’re so outdoorsy and we love to be outside all the time,” Jessica says. “And we said, ‘Yes, bring it in.’ ”
Showcasing the meadow views and bringing the outdoors inside drove the contemporary design of the house. While Kaehler created familiar gable volumes to resonate with the Shingle-style homes around them, the walls of glass and spacious open floor plan make the house contemporary. “When you have the doors open, it really feels so expansive because you’re visually engaged with the outside and the environment all the time from every room,” notes Jessica, who wanted a one-level home because she was used to single-floor living growing up in an apartment inNew York City and liked the connectedness it lends.
Inside, Kaehler designed the layout of the spaces and the kitchen, integrating her signature “Portal Wrap,” a continuous “ribbon” of thick wood painted or stained that wraps around all the cabinets to tie them into the space. She also chose the recessed and built-in lighting, but anything decorative — colors, materials, tile and plumbing fixtures — Alex and Jessica selected either on their own or with Tom’s guidance. “Laura is amazing at laying out the space and how it flows,” Alex says. “The way she lines up windows and the way you enter rooms and how one hallway flows into another. She has such a talent for designing that you don’t even know why it feels good, but it just does.”
After seeing John Mellencamp’s kitchen with open shelving featured in Architectural Digest, Jessica jumped on the idea for her own. Not only did the shelves seem “masculine in a country, John Cougar Mellencamp way,” but Jessica says she also loved the accessibility and ease of use. Shiplap used on the kitchen wall was also a nod to the singer’s space. To make it their own, they chose Caesarstone quartz for the countertops (earthy-brown Ginger for the island, and crisp white-and-gray Fresh Concrete for the perimeter) and Inchyra Blue by Farrow & Ball for the cabinets. A unique, mature and sophisticated color, it changes throughout the day and night from blue to green to gray, Alex says.
Also colorful is the art on the entryway walls by Branko Paradis, a self-taught American oil painter originally from Croatia. The artist is represented by one of Alex’s childhood friend’s grandfather who had an art business, and Alex says the couple likes Paradis’ paintings because they are simple and have a childlike honesty. Bright and uplifting, the pieces made their way over from the Papps’ Stamford house. They fit the space well, complementing the overall laid-back vibe.
The couple made use of what they already owned wherever they could and even incorporated a large oak dining table that a friend was giving away when moving. Ironically, it also looks like it was custom made for the space.
Other natural materials include a walnut kitchen island and light hardwood floors, which help reflect light. A stone floor-to-vaulted-ceiling fireplace makes the great room feel warm and comfortable, while also bringing a rustic look. Some of the stone used, including the large header, were culled from the grounds of the property, while the rest came from a local quarry. With its warm feel and great views, the great room is the family’s favorite spot in the house. After all, it’s where they can look out over the patio at the beautiful beech tree, standing watch over the grounds.