A dramatic home overlooks Long Island Sound
By Carolyn Rundle Field
Photographs © Peter Aaron/Esto
How does a couple who looked at countless center-hall colonials and then decided to build a shingle-style arts & crafts home end up buying a pyramid-shaped glass-sheathed house with a 12-foot-deep swimming pool in the living room? The fact that the husband grew up in Florida and the wife grew up in New Mexico might explain part of it.
Set on top of a spectacular hill in Wilton, yet not visible from the road, the house offers sweeping views of Long Island Sound and the surrounding landscape. “Because the site is so incredible, and the house so unusual, I think Tom expected we’d tear it down and build the shingle-style house we’d been talking about in its place,” says the wife, referring to their architect, Tom Kligerman. “He was surprised when we decided to keep it and build an addition instead.” The couple loved the views and the feeling of the space—the soaring ceilings and the fact that the rooms were so open and flooded with natural light. They hired his firm, Ike Kligerman Barkley, to renovate the existing structure and design an addition that would include a new master bedroom suite as well as guest bedrooms, a family room, fitness room and music studio.
The exterior of the new wing recalls the strong vertical lines of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, yet seamlessly complements the original pyramid-shaped structure. Despite its commanding size, the house also shares Wright’s respect for nature and interest in integrating interior and exterior spaces. It hugs, rather than dominates, the hill upon which it sits. Inside, a long hallway provides a transition from the old to the new part of the house. On the main floor, a frosted glass bridge leads to the new master bedroom. “We thought the hallway below might be too dark. Using a glass floor would allow more light in, although it turns out that light is not an issue,” the wife explains. Sun streams through the wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and doors along the south-facing side overlooking an outdoor pool and the native wildflower meadow. The owners replaced all the aluminum windows and doors in the original structure to match those in the addition.
The interior of the existing house underwent a significant renovation that included stripping the stained-wood ceiling, which had darkened to almost black, in the main living space and installing new skylights that would allow in more natural light. Dark brown tiles covered most of the original floors. The owners removed these and put in large limestone pavers. They replaced the rustic fieldstone wall in the foyer with a plaster wall. “We wanted to keep as many original elements as possible while reflecting our own tastes and the way we live,” says the wife. They also completely renovated the pool, which occupies a large area of the living room, sheathing a wall bordering one side with shimmering glass tiles. The couple never considered filling it in. “We hadn’t been looking for a house with a pool in the living room, but it was an integral part of the space. We use it mostly as a plunge pool after taking a sauna. In fact,” she adds, “there isn’t a room in the house we don’t use.”
The renovation also involved removing some original walls to reconfigure several rooms. The owners cut into a small area of their daughter’s bedroom to install a minimalist wood staircase. It replaces a spiral one that lead to the glass-enclosed office, which appears to float above the dining room. They incorporated a tiny front bedroom into the foyer to create a powder room and larger hall closet, and enlarged the kitchen. “My husband is a serious cook, so he picked out all the appliances,” says the wife, pointing to the stainless-steel professional ovens and warming drawers, built-in wok, and refrigerator. Custom concrete and stainless-steel counters offer ample workspace. The blue lacquered cabinetry made by Snaidero, an Italian company, injects an intense burst of color in an otherwise muted color palette, and evokes the wide expanse of sky visible from almost every room. “From the time I saw an ad for these cabinets in a magazine, I knew I wanted them. They come in great colors like Ferrari red; in fact they are designed by Pininfarina, the firm that designed classic Ferraris.” Windows form the exterior walls on two sides of the kitchen and overlook a juniper hedge. “Looking out these windows is like watching a nature movie—so many animals live in those hedges,” says the wife.
The interior design includes many other eclectic finishes such as pearlescent Venetian plaster walls rubbed with beeswax in the dining room and living room. “They’re very durable and easy to wash down. When they finished the walls, the whole house smelled like honey,” says the wife, with a laugh. Built-in cabinetry in the dining room provides storage space; crafted from claro walnut and topped with a slab of striated oil shale, its doors are covered in a silvery mesh phenolic board, a material used to make circuit boards. An expansive yellow ocher-colored wall—providing another burst of color—creates a dramatic backdrop for the grand piano and the seating arrangement in the living room.
With so much glass, maintaining the optimal interior temperature could be a challenge, but the house has been retrofitted with a geothermal heating and cooling system and a solar hot water system. The addition’s large overhanging roof allows the sun to shine in during the winter, warming the rooms, and blocks most of the direct sunlight in the summer when the sun is higher in the sky. And while many of the rooms have window treatments, the owners don’t pull them closed often because they enjoy the views. “I love being surrounded by nature, and being able to look out and see the seasons,” says the wife. “Philip Johnson made a comment about how living in a glass house was like having ever-changing wall paper,” says the wife. ” I now understand exactly what he means.”