Their very secret spot, high upon a hill
Photographs by Elliott Kaufman, Portrait by Stan Godlewski
A cabin deep in the woods is what one might expect to find at the bottom of the 1,800-foot-long gravel drive that winds through the forested ridge above Cornwall Bridge. This conventional expectation led architect Larry Wente to create a playfully unassuming introduction to Carol and Larry Rand’s Sharon home. The rustic front door, flanked by a traditional red-stained exterior does indeed evoke a cabin in the woods. In the foyer, where red siding is echoed, an impressive native-stone lintel spans nearly eight feet before giving way to the home’s pièce de résistance: panoramic views of the deeply carved and mist-filled valley on either side of the Housatonic River below.
The Rands admittedly “went looking for a view” upon their retirement from Kent School. While the rocky outcropping at the edge of their property was not the first place the couple explored, what soon became apparent is that they already owned such a view. The Rands had been living at the top of the aforementioned driveway since 1969, in an old fieldstone house, where the elevation was a whopping 1,350 feet above sea level.
Carol recalls cross-country skiing through their extensive woods, spanning more than 45 acres, in the early mornings. She knew that upon emerging from the tree-lined skid roads, a beautiful vista unfolded encompassing views as far as Goshen and Cornwall. The Rands decided they could clear a wedge of land, retain 40 acres, and build on the very property where they already lived. Thus began a search for the individual who would help them actualize their dream home.
Carol remembers calling Wente, a New York–based architect, and articulating their goal: to build an eco-friendly, elder-friendly house that sits lightly on the land. She asked, “Are you interested?” Wente’s quick reply set the project in motion: “This is exactly what I’m interested in.” What ensued was a project shaped by the central organizing principle of bringing the outdoors inside. Attention to detail reverberates throughout the lofty space and culminates in sweeping perspectives. Nearly every room on the main level enjoys both close and distant views over the valley, a spectacle Larry Rand calls “remarkable for the constantly changing shadows created as the sun moves over the hills in the afternoon.”
A trinity of features—wood, glass, and stone—unifies the 4,500-square-foot contemporary home that reflects a true collaboration between architect and homeowners. Both the home’s exterior as well as interior walls and ceilings feature Western red cedar, a sustainable and durable wood highly revered for its resistance to rot, decay, and insects. Its qualities of being pitch and resin-free create a canvas of opportunities for color employed most notably in the sunroom, the stairway to the lower level, and throughout the guest quarters.
Stone, featured predominantly in the spaces mirroring the home’s largely glassed-in areas, is indigenous to both Connecticut and upstate New York. One of the couple’s favorite features is the double-sided stone fireplace, anchored between the living and dining rooms, boasting matching hearths. The twin of the stone lintel in the foyer was split in two lengthwise to create this dramatic focal point. The kitchen features Persian-granite counters and the sunroom floor is Connecticut bluestone. A symphony of hues and textures come together for a main level that is elder-friendly and requires no need to navigate stairs.
Wente’s philosophy—to use materials in the building process as they can be purchased—means many of the home’s spaces are based upon the materials’ dimensions in order to incur as little waste as possible. Further eco-friendly choices include a freestanding solar array, consisting of 24 panels, that supplements the Rands’ reliance on the grid. Both high and low windows throughout the home, coupled with ceiling fans, create natural ventilation and eliminate the need for air conditioning. The home’s radiant heat, spread across an impressive 12 zones, is fueled by propane.
While both Rands emphasize intellectual pursuits in their free time—as reflected in their connections to the Taconic Learning Center, the Sharon Women’s Club, and various volunteer positions on town boards—they enjoy cultivating their property, which has swelled to 70 acres, for gardening, harvesting firewood, and a lawn that includes 3,500 daffodil bulbs.
The Rands’ spacious hideaway is particularly bustling at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when family descends. The guest quarters, built at ground level, offers sweeping views as well. The couple’s three grown children and seven grandchildren enjoy the guest bedrooms, three full baths, and a colorful bunkroom that sleeps four. This, along with the regulation-sized ping-pong room designed by Wente, makes family gatherings relaxing and fun.
“The final result is very eclectic,” says Larry. Despite extended time in Italy, Spain, Morocco, China, Egypt, Turkey, Peru, and Ecuador, something about the Northwest Corner proves soothing for this couple. The combination of there being no married-couple quarters at Kent School and the Rands’ desire to buy “a little piece of investment property” decades ago has resulted in this sylvan sanctuary. Trading the small, dark rooms of their old stone house for soaring height and a fantastic sense of space has increased the Rands’ quality of life, a lesson worth learning at any age.