A couple creates a serene outdoor haven
The homeowners think of the oversize primitive head sculpture (Moonrise East February by Ugo Rondisnone) as “a good sentinel who watches over our property."
Photographs by Jane Beiles
What at first appears to be an unassuming Colonial farmhouse situated in a picturesque meadow, upon closer examination turns out to be much, much more. This Silver Spring property initially delights, then surprises, and finally astonishes. The thoughtful planning, care, and, yes, whimsy that went into the design of the house, outbuildings, and landscaping is nothing short of extraordinary.
Jennifer and Claude Amadeo already owned a perfectly good house nearby but yearned for more property. “I was driving around with my real estate agent,” says Jennifer, “and we happened to see part of an old horse paddock for sale.” The paddock in question was previously part of the Firestone property, where horses were kept, back when the oval street was a racetrack. “I grew up on a farm, and because of my agricultural roots, there was just something that really appealed to me about the land,” says Jennifer.
The Amadeos were taken with the idea of designing and building a new home that would reflect their respective tastes. “We didn’t want the house to look like a McMansion spec house plopped in a field,” says Claude. “We wanted it to look like it was part of the vernacular. But we also wanted to include more modern elements.”
The couple collaborated with Norwalk-based Beinfield Architects who designed a house that has a New England farmhouse feel in front and a sophisticated, modern aesthetic in back. But the old and the new still speak to each other. The agrarian motif is effectively woven throughout the building and landscape designs, with a purposeful mix of materials including wood timbers, aluminum cladding, and zinc tiles. “The idea was to make the structure appear like it was added to over time, the way farmhouses would have been in the past,” says Claude.
But most farmhouses don’t offer up the garden of delights that this one does. Immediately off the kitchen and living areas are two terraces for casual family dining or large-scale entertaining, as well as a meticulously maintained vegetable garden with raised beds. Behind the house is a charming teahouse, a fully equipped pool pavilion with a sleek 60-foot pool, a fire pit, an orchard, beehives, and even an observatory.
That’s right, an observatory, complete with a rotating roof that opens wide to the starry night skies. The building has been cleverly designed to evoke the look of a silo, but below the observation deck you won’t find grain storage, but rather, an elegant art-filled retreat, perfect for a different kind of observation. With glass walls on three sides, there are views of the terraced gardens and the numerous sculptures that dot the property.
“Our overarching plan was to litter sculptures all around, to create destinations that we could walk to,” says Jennifer. The couple becomes animated when discussing their art collection. Some purchases are deliberate, while others are more serendipitous. For instance, the story of how they came to own Synapse, a luminous silver tree by Roxy Paine.
“Paine had a show on the roof garden at the Met,” recalls Jennifer. “We saw his piece Maelstrom and from that point forward he stuck in our heads. Then we saw a piece that we liked at Art Basel in Miami, and one thing led to another.” Claude adds, “He had a drawing and a small model of Synapse, but the large-scale version was unrealized.”
The Amedeos’ commissioned the full-size, eye-catching piece, which now stands in a field of wildflowers and is intentionally visible from the road for all passing by to admire. The couple keeps Paine’s small-scale model in their Manhattan apartment. And Moonrise East February, a giant, primitive head by the pool pavilion? “That’s by Ugo Rondinone,” says Jennifer. “He’s an eclectic artist. The piece is part of a series he did of different monster faces. This one is delightfully evil, but happy. We think of him as a good sentinel who watches over our property.”
The stone head may guard the grounds but Wilton’s LaurelRock Company is responsible for maintaining them, providing an estate gardener, a maintenance crew to take care of the fine gardening, and a garden manager who works with Jennifer on the edible and container gardens on a weekly basis.
LaurelRock’s purview expands annually as the Amadeos add new elements such as a berry garden, a squash and potato patch, and an asparagus bed. “They really have been a partner in the development of the property,” says Jennifer.
Burt DeMarche, president and co-owner of LaurelRock concurs. “Steven Stimson and Associates, a Cambridge-based landscape architecture firm, did the original design. We worked very closely with them to bring the designer’s vision to life.”
Surprisingly, the biggest challenge for DeMarche has been nurturing the growth of the meadows. “It’s complicated because it’s very easy for a meadow to be taken over by weeds. Cultivating the wild flowers and keeping the invasives out has been challenging.” So far they’ve won the battle and today the meadows boast a colorful array of poppies, digitalis, bachelor buttons, lupine, buttercups, and forget-me-nots co-mingled with tall grasses. “We didn’t want a formal, heavily manicured look,” says Jennifer. “Everything is here for us. It’s a serene and happy place.” Claude smiles at his wife and adds, “And it works.”
Indeed, it does.