A new family home embodies the warmth And charm of its predecessor in a more spacious environment
Photograph by David Dumas
Finding a home with the perfect combination of attributes—good design, appealing proportions, and location, location, location—is very rarely a simple matter of luck. So when one Westport couple happened upon a charming 1920s Cape that easily fulfilled this wish list for themselves
and their twin toddlers, they jumped into a bidding war to win it. “It had everything we wanted,” recalls the wife. “It was surrounded by
beautiful property in a great, quiet neighborhood, and it was central to downtown and the beach. We were thrilled to find it.”
That all happened a decade ago, and the couple thoroughly enjoyed living in the compact, white-shingled house. But as years passed and the family grew, the home began to strain to accommodate busy lives and active youngsters. The homeowners loved the established neighborhood and the wooded property; they didn’t want to move anywhere else. The house just needed an expanded footprint. So, about five years ago, they enlisted Southport architect David Dumas to help.
Dumas, who grew up in Greenwich amid neighborhoods full of spacious, well-built homes of the twenties and thirties, understood the couple’s love for its crowded house. While smaller than some of the early-twentieth-century homes in backcountry Greenwich, it shared certain charms that are not so often found in new construction. “Many people love houses of this vintage,” says Dumas. “They like the traditional proportions, cleaner details and simpler surfaces.” In this case, there were attractive trim and details that spoke of a different era, such as a built-in niche for the telephone—a charming anachronism in these days of wireless communications.
The couple’s first instinct was to enlarge the existing house, but Dumas recognized building constraints. “The house was so petite that any add-on would have dwarfed the original structure,” he says. Also, the lot was hemmed in on one side by wetlands and on the other by a steep drop-off. Reluctantly, the couple agreed to start from scratch, taking down the old home and creating a significantly larger house within the usable area.
“They truly loved the spirit of the place, even though they had outgrown it,” says Dumas. “They insisted that their new home retain the kind of warmth they felt in their old house.”
To find the needed space in a footprint that would settle comfortably on the lot, Dumas created volume with a series of gabled sections, in the New England Colonial–style tradition of a large central form and smaller, stepped-back additions. Finished with dormered windows, dark-painted shutters and clapboard cladding, the design sits gently on the land with some of the vintage charm of the former Cape.
Before the demolition crew arrived, Dumas saved a piece of wainscoting and two pairs of French doors—“the old-fashioned kind with glass panes in the upper portion and wood panels on the bottom third,” he says. Both the trim and the doors figured in the new plan, which took a year to complete.
THE LOOK INSIDE
As construction got underway, the wife began to ponder her design needs. With four children and a packed schedule, she took a gradual approach to furnishing the interiors. Her priorities for moving day were finished bedrooms for the children and a family room. “I knew I couldn’t take the time to finish the whole house at once,” she remembers, “and I needed someone who would be comfortable working this way.”
A search led her to Patti Lynch. A mother of three when she met her new client, Lynch had an understanding of the need to fit a design project within the confines of a family-centered life. “I was already working on a house on Cape Cod for another client, and when I went to their rental, I saw a picture of their old house hanging in one of the rooms.” The client’s husband, who shared his wife’s strong sentiments about the original dwelling, had commissioned a house portrait by a local artist before they moved and made way for the new construction. Looking at the painting, Patti understood the couple’s design direction.
“Her old house had a traditional New England grace and integrity, plus the informality and comfort of the Cape Cod style. These were characteristics that she wanted to bring to the new home,” Patti says. “At the time we met and first started discussing her project, the water was very much in our thoughts. Both of us spent a lot of time at the beach when our children were smaller. While it wasn’t going to be a true beach house, it was always intended to be an approachable, non-imposing home. It had to speak family, and friendly, and fun.
“My client also visited my house, which is a 1940s vintage stone house in the Old Hill neighborhood. She related right away to the feel of it, probably because like her old home, it has interesting details: built-ins, dormers, arches and bay windows. We decided that each room in the new home would have special characteristics, too. We didn’t want everything to look brand new.”
The pair met once a week for a year to finish the first phase of the project. Patti took a methodical, though unconventional approach. “I would show up at the door with a big pile of samples,” says Patti. “We would build a theme by the very easy process of making piles. I can usually see ideas about color and texture emerge from what a client chooses and what she discards.”
Because each child had input to their room designs, clear personalities emerge in the finished products. One daughter’s room is pink and red; while the client wasn’t sure about the combination, Patti found a crystal chandelier with ruby-colored droplets that helped her see the possibilities of the pairing and, ultimately, won her over. The room, with two canopy beds, features a custom built-in corner cupboard, which Patti designed for the daughter’s treasures. Another daughter’s bedroom is bright pink, softened with green accents, and features a cushioned window seat. “My children always say they love living here,” says the client, “and that means a great deal to my husband and me.”
The family room presented a different challenge. The dramatic space opens onto the patio and backyard. To give it warmth, David Dumas equipped the openings with French doors modeled after those in the old Cape and added built-in seating to flank the fireplace. But even with these elements, the room’s soaring ceiling and massive hearth demanded some careful thought to the choice of furnishings. The room accommodates plenty of furniture and works for entertaining a crowd as well as creating a comfortable space for the family of six to relax together. Facing the hearth, a trio of sofas anchors the main seating area; one of them was the first major piece the husband and wife acquired early in their marriage. “We bought it at a sample sale at the upholsterer George Smith’s showroom,” the wife recalls. “My husband always jokes that it cost more than his car at the time. Now it’s been recovered and the new pair has been added, but it still has a place in our home.”
Once the family was installed in the newly finished house, the collaboration between Patti Lynch and her client to fully furnish it continued, in a moderate-paced, technology-assisted mode that suits them both.
Having plentiful home furnishings resources in town and nearby also helped move the rest of the project along. “Patti would call and tell me to check out something at Dovecote, Bungalow, HB Home, or L’Antiquaire, and I could put it on my route,” the client remembers. Darien’s Good Goods fabric emporium and the antiques warehouses south of I-95 in Stamford also provided a trove of finds. The interiors were completed over three years. “It was a pace we could handle,” the homeowner says. “We took time with the plan and got things just right. And because it took time, we also could also spread the cost. We got everything we wanted.”
Everything includes a bit of the magic of the house that it replaced. Anyone who puts the couple’s quiet street on their walking route and passes the distinguished clapboard Colonial set back in a wooded landscape would assume it was not newly built. It looks as if it’s always been there, and no one could be happier than the family who built it.