Photography by Robert Benson
With a welcoming red door and broad gable shape reminiscent of Shingle-style architecture in New England, particularly the seaside escapes of Newport and Nantucket, Roland Wikstrom and Yvonne Lynch’s custom-built home sits beautifully on its site near Long Island Sound in the Pine Orchard section of Branford. Classic, yet casual, the home’s exterior matches the inside’s modern, streamlined, coastal vibe. Its style provides for ultimate summer and weekend getaways for this family of four from New York City.
“We are within 50 yards of swimming in the ocean, boating at the club; tennis is 25 yards away and the first tee within 100 yards,” says Wikstrom, adding that the family previously owned a seasonal home in Madison before searching for a house close to the Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club, of which they became members when their children, who are now teenagers, got to be school-age. “We wanted something where, in the mornings when having our coffee, the kids could just take the 50-, 100-foot walk over to the tennis courts to start playing or run out the door for 8 a.m. swim lessons.”
The Branford house was built in 1895, but it had lost its original charm through episodes of patchy additions and alterations. The old house was extremely dark and closed in, with small, chopped-up spaces. So, based on recommendations and their own research, the couple tapped Tony Terry, of Terry Architecture in Branford, to open it up for today’s lifestyle.
Terry set out to restore a wholeness to the house, reducing it to a primary space and adding about 25 to 30 percent more footprint to the side and back. He retained most of the original envelope of the house, which allowed for zoning advantages, such as maintaining the existing proximity to boundaries, and keeping the large portion of open property between the house and club. While not a teardown, it was a complete gut renovation with not one piece of the old wood used.
“It had a good position on the site and we never could have built the house in the same spot if it was a teardown,” says Terry, who worked with Madison-based CJ Builders & Remodelers, a company that specializes in working with old structures. “The house is set back into the corner, so it has a front yard that’s exposed on two sides. It was better for the neighborhood to keep the house in its current location, instead of bringing it closer to the street.”
Wikstrom agrees: “The footprint was fabulous in terms of proximity and where we wanted to be. It also has a two-tier lawn, so the house sits on this upper level and we turned the lower level into an open lawn space for gatherings and kids running around.”
By preserving the bones of the house, the shell lent itself to a classic broad gable shape, with the children’s and guest rooms on the second floor and the master bedroom suite taking up the entire third floor with dormers. The master features separate dressing closets, a wine bar area, and a view to the Sound.
“One idea that I had asked Tony to incorporate was this beautiful, sloping triangular face with this extended, long gable,” says Wikstrom, who has moved from a 30-year career in banking to investing in private companies. “I had seen this in the Hamptons and in what Tony refers to as the Low Housebuilt in Newport. He took that idea and ran with it.”
Terry emphasized the continuous roofline with stepped dormers instead of crowding the facade by spreading them across the width. By concentrating the dormers toward the middle, the shape of the gable flows down toward the front entry, toward the windows in the living room and draws your eye to the entry with stone steps leading up from the street to the red door. “It all works together,” Terry says.
Inside, transparency of space is the theme, with an open first floor having an easy, casual flow. Running through the middle of the house, from the first to the third floor, is a floating staircase, which opens up the entire living space. A skylight cut into the roof at the top of the stair creates cascading light that penetrates through all three floors. All the second-floor rooms and spaces wrap around it, situated to maximize light in each room. “That staircase floats as well as it does thanks to a very clever detail by my structural engineer,” says Terry, who tapped Michael Horton, of Michael Horton Associates in Branford. “He enabled the floating staircase by using steel plates to support the landings, and he also helped with an unobtrusive steel support system for the old structure.”
While the house is three stories and about 3,400 square feet, Lynch says space was at a premium. She collaborated with Terry to maximize every square inch. Deep closets were created instead of being walled off under the eaves, and dressers and desks were built in to avoid having furniture take up precious floor space. Horizontal interior lines, extending to broad window placements in both the dining room and kitchen, and a molding strategy, erase any perception of original low ceilings.
Lynch also had specific things in mind for the functional arrangements of all the spaces. While she liked an open floor plan, she didn’t want it to be totally open. For example, it was important that the kitchen be a separate space. She worked with Terry to place the refrigerator and pantry away from the windows to achieve wraparound views of the backyard and street. With its simplicity and clean lines, the kitchen is open and airy, while connecting effortlessly to the backyard for eating on the deck, gathering on the patio, and easy access to the walkway across the yard to the club.
In addition, Lynch worked closely with Julie Furey of Julians Interiors in Madison on furniture and decorative items, as well as specific lighting fixtures. But, as far as the color palette, the couple knew what they liked. They were drawn to strong primary colors — blue, red and yellow — with a neutral gray backdrop.
“Julie was helpful in tying everything together,” says Lynch, who has done aesthetic work in her real estate career, along with having a passion for decorating and an eye for design. “I would show her magazine photos of what I liked and she would narrow the field and bring me five lighting fixtures to choose from so that I wasn’t looking at 2,000, which can be time consuming and overwhelming.”
The ceilings, particularly on the first floor, were quite low, and Furey says a challenge was getting the right scale of furniture pieces for the size of the rooms. The furnishings were also chosen to create a feeling of casualness with low maintenance. Additionally, Furey was brought in at a time when she could influence the interior detailing as it was being developed to enhance overall spatial and material effects. “They had some beautiful architectural details coming from the character of the house, and what Tony created, and Roland and Yvonne were very open in using textures and real color to accent them and make them a feature,” Furey says. “These design details make spaces that ordinarily might not seem the most interesting, suddenly become great little gems.”
Furey also put her stamp on the artwork for the home. And because the couple wasn’t afraid of color, she was able to do some big, bold pieces. With lower ceilings, the art makes the space seem and feel more interesting, she says. Black-and-white family photos and beautiful beach scenes flank the surrounding hallways of the stairs, while coral shell shadow boxes and bright sea-life watercolors convey the sea theme.
“The art really dialed it up,” Furey says. “It’s the icing on the cake.”