Neutral Ground

Jerome and Terri Jessup’s colonial — based on the principles of simplicity, subtlety, sublimity and silence — is a study in neutralism that seamlessly blends interior spaces with the outdoors.



When Jerome and Terri Jessup went property hunting in Connecticut seven years ago, they needed a convenient location. But beyond proximity to highways and in-town amenities, they sought a place that possessed other, more intangible qualities.

The couple — he’s a fashion designer, she designs interiors — envisioned a serene space that would afford their family of four an atmosphere of secure comfort and quiet.

So when they found a traditional 1920s center-hall colonial on a rolling plot of land in a secluded neighborhood close to downtown in their shore community, Terri saw its potential immediately.

“I liked the setting,” Terri says. “I knew we could realize our vision using the essential qualities of what was already there.”

Urbanites accustomed to apartment living, the Jessups had accumulated an impressive collection of mid-century modern furniture, paintings, ceramics and sculpture. Yet they were drawn to the pristine, almost austere form of colonial architecture.

“Anywhere you go, you can find a house in almost any architectural style,” Terri explains. “But we wanted a home that says ‘Connecticut,’ and for us, the colonial fits.”

To accomplish the required — and major — renovations, the Jessups assembled a team who could understand and execute their unique checklist: an 18th century form that would accommodate their 20th century collections, and a busy 21st century family, with style and grace. In their quest for design talent they discovered architects Bruce Beinfield and Jonathan Wagner, known for their ability to create homes that distill the essential elements of Early American architecture, while comfortably accommodating contemporary lifestyles and tastes. Able to make the connection between the simplicity of a 1700s farmhouse and the pure lines and curves of iconic furnishings of the 1950s and ’60s, they were an ideal choice.

Terri and Jerome like to move their collections around, juxtaposing different chairs and tables, rearranging seating patterns, changing groupings of objects. For this reason, they wanted the interior space to have a consistency of theme and a disciplined set of materials that would create a unified and simple backdrop for their furnishings. Beinfield brought on board his colleague at the time, interior designer Havilande Whitcomb, to develop this concept.

To complete the master plan, the Jessups chose landscape architect Bruce Eckerson of Wesley Stout Associates in New Canaan. His charge was to create a design for the grounds that complemented the Jessups’ goals for the home; the landscape should seamlessly connect the indoor spaces to the outdoors and nature.

Eckerson says, “The Jessups’ inspiration, and our work, were guided by three adjectives — simple, subtle and sublime. Our shorthand to each other was, “Remember the three S’s.”

Using the footprint of the original 1920s structure as the foundation for the main house, with an addition to its back, as well as a detached garage, Beinfield created a relationship between these elements following the early New England building cadence: “Big house, little house, back house and barn.” Clapboard, divided-light windows and door trim in simple, classic patterns and a traditional five-bay façade for the central portion of the home provide a dignified and traditional public face, one that calmly says “private,” to passersby.

To achieve the desired effect for the front elevation, a steep slope in front of the house was graded to a gentler incline, leaving a portion of the foundation exposed. In their travels, the Jessups had loved the character of the rough granite used on early Pennsylvania houses, and decided to face their home’s foundations with native stone, thus grounding the structure in its setting.

Searching supplier O&G Industries in Bridgeport, Terri found some Connecticut-quarried, reclaimed stone with the right look, subtle colors and texture. When she discovered that the yard had just acquired a huge quantity of the same granite, she bought the entire inventory.

“I didn’t quite know what we’d do with all of it,” smiles Terri. “I called my husband and told him I’d just bought five hundred tons of stone.” As the plan evolved, the material became a pivotal element for the project.

The neutral colors of the granite guided the home’s palette, inside and out. The stone is used to striking effect in the outdoor rooms that surround the house. All of the walls and many of the steps, as well as bold corner posts marking the perimeters, and equally imposing stone pillars marking entry to the property, are composed of the reclaimed granite. Adding to this seemingly infinite supply, Eckerson obtained new cut stone of the same type and color from Getty Granite for all the flat work: stone steps in a formal, graduated pattern at the front, a stunning set of cantilevered steps that connect courtyard and pool area, as well as patio surfaces, pond coping and pool surrounds.

A massive fireplace beside the pool and the interior fireplaces are each framed with three monolithic slabs of granite. This simple pattern, using a powerful material, gives the hearths a primal quality that is both strong and soothing. They mark the home’s major gathering places and literally set the tone for all of its finishes, a kind of transfer point that channels the subdued colors and textures of stone to the indoor space.

Havilande recounts one meeting with Terri early in the process. “She asked me to add an additional S to the adjectives we used to evolve a harmonious flow inside and out. It was silence.” This design directive, while abstract, enabled Havilande to create a unified scheme for the interior rooms. All the floors are dark-finished ash; walls are pigment-injected plaster; and just one type of molding and trim is used throughout. Each element is colored with a single pigment, umber, in different intensities.

“This approach creates an environment that is calming and quiet,” Havilande says. “Terri wanted the rooms to be a backdrop for the Jessups’ furnishings and art, and more broadly, their lives. The limited palette and the restrained and disciplined selection of materials accomplish the client’s goals in an exciting and unique way.”

While each room’s furnishings may change every few months, the spare simplicity of the design endures. Many visitors wonder at the uncluttered surfaces; there are no piles of papers stuffed under the couch or thrown in haste into kitchen cabinets to preserve the look. This was also a conscious decision. Adjacent to the  kitchen/dining/family room, and upstairs in the private spaces Jerome and Terri — with their team — carefully provided hidden storage for all the flotsam of everyday living that needs to be put away. And it is, tucked into finely crafted built-in cabinets with a subtle presence that softly complements their location.

“I work everywhere in the home: at the kitchen counter, at my desk in the master suite, in front of the television,” Terri says. “Without a careful storage plan, I could never maintain the feeling of order and serenity in this house that we love.”

This thoughtful awareness that the daily round must receive attention in any home design extends throughout the house. From a recreation room for the Jessups’ two teenaged sons, which provides them with first-hand knowledge that one can live with Le Corbusier and still have fun, to the dressing area of the master suite, where Terri insisted on the necessity of two medicine cabinets each for husband and wife, the house is an exquisite oasis of calm that disarmingly displays its treasures and discreetly makes space for the ordinary stuff of life.

Resources:
Beinfield Architecture, P.C., South Norwalk, 838-5789; beinfieldarchitecture.com
Getty Granite, Salem, 860-859-2972; gettygranite.net
Havilande Whitcomb Design, Southport, 984-2607
Jonathan Wagner AIA, Weston, 454-1825; jwaia.com
O & G Industries, Bridgeport, 366-4586; ogind.com
Wesley Stout Associates, New Canaan, 966-3100; wesleystout.com

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