Fabulous views on this meticulously maintained Pequot Avenue home
Extraordinary is the word that comes to mind upon encountering this Southport estate on Pequot Avenue. The one-and-a-half-acre property features a tennis court, pool, Jacuzzi, built-in outdoor barbeque with refrigerator and wok cooktop, and separate office. In addition to those amenities, it also includes more than 200 feet of private beach and boasts an impressive view of Long Island Sound.
Even more treasures are uncovered inside the nine-bedroom Dutch Colonial. Built as a beachside cottage in 1908, the house underwent a major transformation after owner Michael Sonnenfeldt purchased it in 2002. Using Richard Henry Behr Architect in Scarsdale, work on an addition and more traditional renovation in keeping with the home’s New England roots got underway in 2004, but soon took on a global collaboration. “We were in the middle of beginning the renovation when I was sitting in Kyoto looking at a beautiful garden with a koi pond and the fish were swimming in the pond and I said, how could you create that same illusion in a floor?” Sonnenfeldt says. What came out of his inspiration was a meticulously designed work of art led by architect Giancarlo Alhadeff of Milan, Italy, who himself had grown up in Tokyo in the 1960s. The living room, dining room, and family room floors were inlaid with cherry and a handful of other woods to depict a single continuous pond filled with fish, water lilies and frogs. As you pass through each room, the seasons shift, starting with a winter image in the living room and ending with summer as the fish swarm in the family room.
The same fine craftsmanship, although on a more complex level, was employed in the powder room off the dining room. Sonnenfeldt calls it the “jewel box” of the house. He says the room is a seamless, three-dimensional vision of what it would be like to sit under a cherry tree in full blossom with hummingbirds flying around you. These installations evoke a type of Asian art form that aims to capture a moment, explains Sonnenfeldt. In the powder room, almost all of the blossoms are on the tree, but that shifts on the dining room floor, which depicts the moment in spring when the blossoms have fallen off the tree and are being blown to the edges of the room.
The Japanese influence that started taking shape spread throughout the first level of the house. The dining room, built as a perfect ellipse, is surrounded by walls made of natural cherry grain. A thin, wood veneer ceiling oval allows light in to enhance the candlelit chandelier, and under counter built-in drawers are clad in a Japanese wooden basket weave called ajiro. The dining room opens into the family room with its authentic Japanese tea house ceiling and built-in cabinets with doors of Japanese paper, all made by craftsman Jim Blauvelt. Though that floor shows a moment in summer, there’s a large fireplace that would be perfect to cozy up beside in the winter as you look out at the stunning view the room offers of the Sound. Sonnenfeldt says after the design of other rooms changed, it presented the opportunity to create the Japanese guest suite. The suite’s bedroom contains a Murphy bed, hidden behind Shoji doors, but when it isn’t down, the space can be used as a meditation or massage room. The bathroom is even more impressive. The floor is slate while the walls are made of an authentic Japanese kaisodo plaster and granite. The bathroom also holds a traditional Japanese soaking tub, which Sonnenfeldt describes as “an amazing, sensual experience.”
While the Asian influence isn’t as overt in the upper levels of the home, the master suite does tie in elements like closets with Shoji screens and bathroom doors with glass panels exhibiting pictures Sonnenfeldt captured in Japan. The suite also has other aspects that set it apart from the rest of the house—and most other homes. For starters, there is a massive bathroom, with a free-standing copper and nickel tub, a shower made of Verde Ming marble slab, double sinks, and Baccarat crystal sconces. There is also a year-round outdoor sleeping porch that Sonnenfeldt says is like resting on a boat. “It’s one of the greatest and truly unique experiences and it’s just one of quite a number of those type of experiences that we’ve created in the house.”
After spending so much time and effort on those experiences, Sonnenfeldt wanted to make sure they were protected. Long before Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, he fortified the property. He had studies done on anticipated hundred-year flood levels. Based on those, a seawall with a protection system in which a hurricane gate is used to hold back seawater was created. The home also has high-grade windows and hurricane shutters, as well as pumps to keep water out of the basement or minimize its damage. When the hurricanes did hit, the property held its own. “The amount of damage we suffered in the two storms was about the equivalent in dollars and percentage of having to replace the side view mirror on a fancy car,” says Sonnenfeldt.
Now he’s looking to turn the keys over to the next owner, having listed the house with Dee Cohen and Miriam Luck of Coldwell Banker Riverside. He just hopes they will appreciate the masterpiece Cohen aptly describes as “a house of passion.” Sonnenfeldt says, “it would be really wonderful for people to take the time to really understand what it is that’s been created there and to preserve as much of it as possible, because it will give joy and pleasure for many, many years.”