Compiled by Devon Fleming
Window Shopping highlights furnishings, décor and seasonal items from local stores in Fairfield County. Have a favorite store we’ve missed? Send us an e-mail at email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you!
Compiled by Devon Fleming
By John R. Mastera
I’m designing a “Millennial House” for a good friend. It’s a great design project that perfectly integrates the best of what today’s science and architecture offers. And by artfully combining both, the result can be mind-bogglingly beautiful.
It is, however, expensive. In fact, any building incorporating “green” or the latest technology, while noble in its mission, is usually far too expensive for the average architecture enthusiasts.
So what if you aren’t one of those million-dollar clients but just want a better house? How can you live a modern life in a dated older home without buying all of the latest technology and making it green, purple or whatever? Actually, it’s easy.
The secret is being selective enough to focus on what visually matters most, and while practically it can sound like a frivolous expense, it has just the opposite effect — it raises the inherent value of the property and your quality of life. With some architectural intelligence, the transformation is wonderfully simple and not so expensive.
Stand back and take a look at your home. It may be a sow’s ear, but it probably has some redeeming shape to it. The details may not be so attractive, but most homes do have some nice geometry in relation to the roof and walls (or need only simple changes to improve that geometry). Finding that geometric theme allows you to directly and inexpensively address the problems associated with the existing construction through added trimmings.
One example is the split-level gone rogue. While a great idea when handled with skill, these buildings were taken over by non-design professionals and built with little thought across the United States. However, it turns out that the geometry is very easy to fix. See the mass of the garage to the left in our example? It’s too light and squat compared to the mass of the right side of the house. There is no balance, and while the lines and trim are trying to be very modern, this is really a cross between a split-level ranch and a colonial. It’s not sure what it wants to be. So you need to make it something — give it some character and style and do it with emphasis.
The solution is to add mass above the garage and to change the slope to the main roof, which earned this home another 1,000 square feet of living space. More importantly, we focused on giving the house the right thickness, overhang and amount of trim. It is important not to be shy about adding some depth to the trim on your home (the rake trim on the example is 14 inches from top to bottom). It adds character and a little shadow under the roofline. This serves much like an eyebrow, casting shadows that give us our special identity through the sculptural shapes of our face. Homes also need sculptural shape, to give them an identity, so give your home some!
The same house is more visually intriguing with the three-part rake and cornice and a sweep added to create the roof over the entry. A couple of other special features round out the design: the round window, arched garage head and curved balcony shape this into a work of architecture.
Notice that the key to this approach is to add simple shapes in context with the geometric theme. It is not an exercise in slapping accessories onto the building in a haphazard way. Each shape, each piece of trim has its purpose and is therefore an integral part of the whole composition. In this way, fewer pieces can be used, and the cost goes down.
This is a very inexpensive way to transform your home into a completely new work of architecture. The differences between the “before” and the “after” are staggering, and while it may look like a million-dollar project, adding some geometry and trim is surprisingly inexpensive (about $19,000 to add more visual trim, up to $110,00 for the project shown) and yet valuable in transforming your home into an architectural masterpiece. It looks expensive, but isn’t. That’s exactly what you want for value — a million dollar life at home.
Architect John R. Mastera is a New Canaan resident. His company, John R. Mastera + Associates Architects, has offices in New Canaan and New York City. www.MasteraArchitects.com.
By Jennifer Abel
Whenever I throw a holiday party I greet my guests at the door, express sincere happiness at their arrival, then lie to them. “Please excuse the mess,” I say, making a vague gesture to encompass the house I’d been cleaning frantically all the previous week. “You know how hectic holidays are.”
Technically speaking, this is not a lie but two completely unrelated sentences that just happen to be close together. If people mistakenly assume a connection — that the holidays rather than my own bad habits are responsible for any lapse in neatness standards — well, I never say anything because a good hostess knows it’s rude to contradict guests, especially when they’re just arriving at your party.
Even if you’re a better housekeeper than I am, and never resort to grammatical subterfuge to make people think otherwise, you can still relate to my (entirely truthful!) statement about holiday hecticness. Neater-than-me people like you still find themselves falling behind on ordinary household tasks this time of year.
Fortunately, there are ways around that. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Ramadan or any other winter holiday options, seasonal decorating tropes can make even a house like mine look like … a house worthy of mention in nice magazines like this.
You know the houses I mean. Maybe you live in one yourself. They’re photographed for articles like “Five Easy Steps to Revitalize Your Kitchen,” and owned by people organized and diligent enough to do minor housekeeping tasks every day, rather than let messes pile up all year until holiday season.
How I admire those houses, and the elegant Spartan simplicity of, say, a glossily polished wooden table adorned with a single blossom in an exquisite vase. I actually have a table like that, and the vase, too. The problem is my table also holds some antique paperweights, brass gewgaws from India, car keys, pens, a paperback, loose change, hair clips, the extra coffeepot I won in a raffle and my grocery list, which is longer than usual because I’m having a party and how can I get this place clean in time?
I can’t. That’s why I rely on subterfuge.
The at-the-door apology helps set the mood. Also, before the party, I visit friends with preschool children and gush enthusiastically over the kids’ Play-Doh sculptures. The flattered children usually respond by offering me the sculpture as a gift, which I display in a prominent spot on my already-cluttered table.
That way, instead of “Look what a mess this table is,” my party guests think “Awww, isn’t it sweet how our hostess encourages the creative aspirations of the young!” That’s how warm, fuzzy holiday memories are made.
Speaking of fuzzy, my knickknacks all have that soft-focus look items get when they haven’t been dusted since before the Play-Doh sculptor was born. You can hide this with strings of tiny colored bulbs or little electric candelabras, which cast a festive and (more importantly) dim holiday glow. Using these lights for illumination makes your guests think “What a dramatically lit party!” rather than “She’s banking on the darkness to hide the dust bunnies behind the bookcases.”
In the bathroom, candles with festive holiday scents have the same effect and also provide aromatherapy benefits that are especially useful if, to save money In This Economy, your appetizer table includes lots of inexpensive recipes such as bean dip and deviled eggs.
Of course, none of these ruses would be necessary if I were the type of organized person who kept abreast of daily housekeeping tasks. But that’s a flaw to address in my New Year’s resolutions, which I’ve had no time to write yet because I have to finish cleaning my house for my holiday party.@
“We were just looking for something interesting,” Sandy Bremer says. “We didn’t want the cookie cutter house that looked like everyone else’s. And we wanted property.”
They certainly found that unique space in the Fairfield home they and their four children have now occupied for 10 years. Originally built in the late 1800s as a stable and converted to a house in the 1940s, the Bremers have kept its historic character, yet made it their own through an addition that enlarged and modernized the kitchen, added a family room and created a master bedroom suite, complete with a closet room and a fireplace in the bathroom.
“I actually thought the house was beautiful,” Bremer confessed, laughing. “It was Tom who had all of the visions of the changes — how we could make it our own and get more enjoyment from it.”
Sitting down with an architect helped her to envision the potential, like creating the master bedroom suite. The addition included a large room for their bed, leaving them free to turn what had been the actual bedroom into a spacious sitting area that leads to their private deck.
And her husband’s love of beautiful, rich woods is carried throughout the house — even into the bathroom, where black mahogany (and a fireplace) beckons, adding a coziness to the space. They even incorporated leaded glass — similar to that in some of the home’s original windows — into the cabinet doors around the fireplace.
“The construction on this house gave a lot of fine craftsmen the opportunity to be creative because Tom worked right with them, constantly,” Bremer says. “They knew that Tom wanted things that were unique, so whenever they had an idea for something different they told him about it.”
The expanded kitchen and island makes use of cherry and again brings leaded glass into the cabinet doors. And the detailed archway along with the butler’s pantry transition into the dining and living rooms, where beautiful wooden floors and painted columns (middle right) add a touch of simple elegance the Bremers wanted to save — and repeat in other rooms.
The family room, or great room, boasts striking ceiling beams that harken back to the home’s original use as a stable. And the quarter sawn oak used extensively here complements the strong traditional feel throughout the house. The window seat (far right) is an added touch that gets a lot of use, Bremer says, especially because people are drawn to the painted sky above it.
“Again, it was Tom’s vision,” Bremer says. “And we found a great faux painter who did a fabulous job and was able to execute the idea very nicely. “
As is the case with most older homes, the Bremers had some not-so-nice surprises when they renovated, finding problems nearly every time they opened a wall. But the mystery that comes with history can be entertaining as well.
Bremer says they’ve been told that New York gangster Dutch Schultz may have buried money on their property before his murder in 1935. “I guess there was a special on The History Channel about it,” she says, laughing, adding that while they were renovating, someone asked if they could go over the property with metal detectors.
No treasure yet, although you could say the Bremers have already found one in the home they share.@