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Alice Washburn Awards: A SoNo Retreat Combining Traditional and Contemporary Detail Takes Top Honors

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See more photos of the winning projects in the slideshow above.

The Alice Washburn Award: Connecticut is rich with architectural traditions that provide cultural continuity. Traditions of the competition are defined by a wide variety of underlying styles, including, but not limited to, Colonial, Georgian, Greek Revival, Queen Anne, Shingle and Vernacular. The award is named for distinguished Connecticut residential architect Alice Washburn, an early-20th-century Connecticut designer and builder, largely self-taught, whose work is known for its thoughtful, stylistic and programmatic invention. The Connecticut Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Connecticut) Alice Washburn Award program acknowledges excellence in traditional house design. Winners were honored in three categories: new construction, accessory buildings, and additions/renovations. The three jurors chosen for their expertise were: Walter Chatham, FAIA, of Walter F. Chatham Architects, Hudson, New York; Jennifer A. Huestis, AIA of Huestis Tucker Architects, Woodbridge; and Rachel D. Carley, architectural historian and preservation consultant, Litchfield. Here’s a look at this year’s honored projects in home design.


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This contemporary coastal compound that sits on a peninsula along Long Island Sound in Rowayton features a spacious great room and plenty of water views through large windows. The house earned the new construction award in the 2019 Alice Washburn residential archiecture contest.

New Construction — Winning Project

Coastal Compound, Rowayton

Beinfield Architecture, South Norwalk

Alice Washburn sited the 90-plus Colonial Revival-style homes she designed and built in quiet, tree-lined neighborhoods surrounding her hometown of Cheshire. But have no doubt that, were she here today, the architect known for her gabled roofs, intricate woodwork and yen for large windows to let in the light would most heartily approve of this windswept contemporary coastal compound flooded with the latter.

Situated on a small peninsula, with sweeping blue views of Long Island Sound, this bright, family-oriented retreat is composed of what architect Bruce Beinfield calls “an ensemble of traditional New England forms.”

Its spacious great room is made up of exposed steel beams, a ceiling of reclaimed barn siding and large spans of glass on opposite walls to create a sense of structured openness. Within the great room is a modern kitchen and walk-through pantry, complete with clean, contemporary cabinetry concealing high-end appliances. Adjacent to the kitchen, above the glass-walled family room, a fly-bridge links the master bedroom with the children’s wing, connecting and unifying the space.

The interior finishes are clean and deliberately void of moldings in order to accommodate the client’s vast collection of contemporary art. “The idea,” Beinfield says, “was to give the house the feel of a gallery inside.”

The understated exterior, which echoes traditional coastal New England architecture, is a palette of soft grays, with individually hand-painted shingles giving the appearance of a naturally aged patina. “Simple gabled forms were assembled in such a way to take in the views as well as the needs of its young, active family,” Beinfield says. Think clean silhouettes and a pool at its center.

“Throughout all categories, our jury has shown a preference for projects that show some modesty and clarity combined with imaginative detailing. This house exhibits all of these qualities,” says Walter Chatham, FAIA, one of the contest’s three judges. “The way the house can open up in good weather is especially noteworthy. The interior spaces are pleasant and nicely detailed without anything excessive or out of place. They speak quietly but forcefully. Everything, inside and out, works together to create a wonderful light-filled house.”

Alice would be so proud.


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This "new old barn" on an 88-acre farm in Washington was transformed from a suburban 1960s garage using salvaged antique timbers and 200-year-old methods to complement existing barns on the property. The structure earned the accessory building award in the 2019 Alice Washburn residential archiecture contest.

Accessory Buildings — Winning Project

New Old Barn, Washington

Haver & Skolnick Architects, Roxbury

When Roxbury architect Charles Haver’s clients purchased an 88-acre farm in Washington as a weekend retreat, the historic property in the Litchfield Hills was “blessed” with a series of distinguished 18th-century barns, but “cursed,” Haver reports, with a suburban 1960s-style garage. Haver, who also happens to own his own antiques business specializing in country Americana of the 18th and 19th centuries, more than understood his clients’ distress and, with partner Stewart Skolnick, made it his mission to fulfill their request for a “new old barn” that would serve as a home for the couple’s two much-loved antique cars.

Local barns were studied for form and proportion, so that the new structure would complement the surrounding antique structures, most notably an 18th-century barn across the courtyard that Haver had already restored and reimagined as a center for entertaining (i.e., a party barn) for his clients. The “new” 900-square-foot structure would be designed in the footprint of the previous, well, eyesore, and built of salvaged hand-hewn antique barn timbers, hand-joined and pegged using 200-year-old methods. (“What’s not to like about honoring the tradition of mortise-and-tenon joinery — one of the oldest building methods in Connecticut?” judge Rachel Carley says.)

Interior walls were lined with vintage barn siding, while 3-inch-thick salvaged antique pine planks were used for the flooring. Even a foundation crafted of native fieldstone was laid without visible mortar to simulate a dry-set stone wall of old. “When you approach the barn from the outside it is very handsome,” Haver says, “but it’s the inside that is really something else.”

As for that exterior, the gabled structure features a mix of materials (vertical siding and wood roofing on the main gable, stained wall shingles and a standing-seam copper roof on a lean-to) that reinforces the suggestion that the building has evolved over time. “We wanted everything to look authentic,” Haver says. “A lot of barns were added to over time and the farmers used whatever materials they had on hand. They didn’t get so caught up on materials matching as often happens today.”

The resulting beauty blends seamlessly with the surrounding antique barns, and appears to visitors of this “gentleman’s farm” to have been there for generations.

The only problem? “It just might be too nice for cars,” Haver laughs. “You almost want to host a square dance instead.”


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This reimagined farmhouse in New Canaan earned top honors in the additions/renovations category of the 2019 Alice Washburn architecture awards.

Additions/Renovations — Winning Project

Connected Farmhouse, New Canaan

David D. Harlan Architects, New Haven

This 1800s New Canaan farmhouse was once part of a large dairy farm. The original farmhouse shell, stone foundation, some flooring and mantle remained, but after years of idiosyncratic additions, it needed, well, some reimagining. (Read: The sleep-deprived homeowners would prefer that they and their preschoolers have bedrooms on the same floor — especially in the event of 3 a.m. wake-up calls.) Architect David Harlan Jr. analyzed the “sequence and flow of the home’s public and private spaces” and came up with a vision — one of a “unified home, emphasizing farmhouse character and materiality.” In other words, a “Connected Farmhouse.”

A stair was relocated to the entry foyer, with a complex cherry rail (which judge Jennifer Huestis, AIA, deemed “an elegant reimagining of a farmhouse railing”) leading to the second-floor landing. The living room was refocused, positioning the fireplace to the outside wall. Porches were added for scale and transition as well as to clue new pathways. A new library would anchor the house sightlines from the foyer, while a new master-suite wing would be near both the children’s bedrooms and a study. The original stone foundation was even excavated, waterproof and insulated.

As for interior detailing, “one owner is an artist,” Harlan says, so “we planned lots of natural and artificial lighting and gallery-white open space for her photography.” Further “hierarchy of detail and design restraint” focused on the living room ceiling and fireplace; library fireplace, bookshelves and boarded walls below a tray ceiling; and the master ceiling accentuated by beams and boarding. The bedrooms each sport extensive built-in cabinetry, Harlan designed custom furnishings for the library, master suite and study, and fireplaces boast brownstone and granite recycled from building demos at Yale University (where one owner went for undergrad studies).

“The elongated north elevation and the neatly tucked west entry are well handled — and the fence with its stone posts is a handsome detail,” judge Rachel Carley says. “I was also struck by the high quality of the interior detailing, which is understated and elegant — a subtly contemporary take on traditional forms, especially in the entry hall.”

It’s all about going with the flow.


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Norman Cottage in West Cornwall was expanded and updated by Reese Owens Artchitects of Washington Depot and picked up an honorable mention in the additions/renovations category of the 2019 Alice Washburn architecture awards.

Additions/Renovations — Honorable Mention

Norman Cottage, West Cornwall

Reese Owens Architects, Washington Depot

Built in 1931, this French-Eclectic cottage was once a residence of renowned architect Philip Goodwin, who is known to have designed additions to the cottage in 1953, and is suspected to have designed the original structure. After serving as a weekend escape for more than 80 years, the cottage needed to be both updated and expanded in order to suit the retirement needs of its new owners: a pair of accomplished cooks, gardeners and dog lovers who would be year-round residents.

In the spirit of Goodwin’s pinwheel design, an addition extended an existing gable to create a live-in kitchen with the original façade preserved. The addition presents a long, low wall to the house’s formal entry court, and finishes with the integration of the property’s original pump house. On the southern side a new hipped roof covers a family entry, laundry and mudroom (aka dog room) and wraps around a kitchen garden.

Shapes, patterns, details and materials of the addition were all derived from the existing cottage. Brick, stone, timber, slate and plaster were once ordinary, but have become premium materials, but fortunately the client’s will to preserve the palette outweighed considerable concerns about cost.

“We were all impressed by the beautifully designed and executed extension of the existing house,” says judge Jennifer Huestis, AIA. “The addition was added in a really seamless way, such that it was difficult to tell where the existing house ended and the addition started.”


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The Gores Pavilion for the Arts in Irwin Park in New Caanaan was originally a pool house, but is now an art gallery run by the New Canaan Historical Society. The structure earned a special commendation for sensitivity and restraint in preservation in the 2019 Alice Washburn residential archiecture contest.

Special Commendation for Sensitivity and Restraint In Preservation

Gores Pavilion for the Arts, Irwin Park, New Canaan

William D. Earls Aia Architect, Wilton

The Gores Pavilion for the Arts in Irwin Park was originally a pool house designed by Landis Gores, one of New Canaan’s “Harvard Five” architects, for the Irwin family. When the Irwin estate was purchased by the town of New Canaan to be used as a public park, the pool was filled in and plans were made to demolish the 800-square-foot building, which had not been in use for several decades and suffered from substantial neglect.

A group of preservationists under the auspices of the New Canaan Historical Society, however, raised private donations for the building’s restoration and rebirth as a mid-century modern gallery devoted to modern art and open to the public.

“The Gores Pavilion is a quirky, ugly/beautiful little charmer of a building,” says judge Walter Chatham, FAIA. “The restoration architects are to be commended for the sympathy, restraint and delight that they brought to the repurposing of a formerly unloved relic of a more playful and possibly imaginative time.”

The New Canaan Historical Society currently leases the building from the town of New Canaan and a view easement has been recorded with the town to ensure that the view of the building will remain unobstructed. “The art gallery is an elegant space,” judge Rachel Carley says, “but this project is arguably most noteworthy for being made possible by the creative collaboration of preservationists, historical society and municipality — yes, it is possible for such groups to work together successfully!”

This article appeared in the July 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.