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Just Add Water

Susan and Torben Weis bought this oddly shaped half-acre lot on Greenwich Cove in Riverside in September 2003. Like Susan, Torben, who was born in Denmark and owns a shipping company, appreciated the property’s distinctive waterfront attributes, including sweeping, 200-degree views of the water and dunes, access to the beach, and a channel deep enough to dock his boat.

At the time of purchase, a mid-century modern handyman special occupied the lot, and a new house sat on the adjacent property, obstructing the couple’s view to the southeast. “The challenge became ‘How do we maximize our views of the water but avoid the view of the other house at the same time?’” Susan says.

During their courtship in the nineties, the couple had spent their weekends biking and boating around Rowayton where Torben then lived. The sightseeing had given them a chance to admire the work of architect Roger Bartels, whose houses dot the beachfronts of Bell Island and Pine Point. “It was our dream to have a house designed by him,” Susan says. So the couple hired the firm Bartels-Pagliaro Architects, based in South Norwalk, and demolition of the existing house began in November of 2004.

According to partner and principal Chris Pagliaro, who managed the project for the firm, the solution to the dilemma of the obstructed view was to anchor the kitchen appliance wall to the southeast, thereby blocking the neighboring property and swinging the view to the east through panoramic windows in the breakfast room—and to the south through equally large windows in the family room.

Coastline flood-zone restrictions banned the inclusion of a basement, and the floor area ratio was tightly circumscribed by code, so both storage and mechanical closets had to be squeezed into a floor plan of roughly 4,100 square feet.

The resulting structure consists of a circular core, flanked by sections of various shapes oriented to point inhabitants toward the view. The firm employed its signature trim system, in which interior walls are paneled and painted white in a high-gloss finish, and crown moldings, reminiscent of the Arts & Crafts movement, cap the walls in swoopy curves that appear to float beneath a ceiling of exposed beams—sawn planks of Douglas fir, bleached and stained to replicate the appearance of the sea-weathered cedar shingles on the exterior. “The high-gloss white interiors bounce light off the pale maple floors that recall the sandy beaches outside,” Pagliaro says.

Throughout the house, the firm installed “light cages,” a detail it has been designing for the past ten years to add light and scale. The design consists of perforating the capitals of interior columns with a four or six-square motif (another signature) through which the light from a built-in fixture is transmitted.

The staircase, located inside a spacious, two-and-a-half-story foyer, draws the eye upward to a gallery space in the round, abundantly lit with sunlight and featuring a soaring vaulted ceiling, also finished in fir beams. Brightly colored abstracts from the couple’s contemporary art collection adorn the walls, and milled steel balusters, antiqued and accented with solid steel balls, flank the staircase and surround the stairwell, adding another geometric detail.

Small touches here and there hint at the nautical leanings of the home’s occupants. A grouping of four gauges, resembling those on a ship’s console, is located on a wall in the family room. Together they measure wind, rainfall, temperature, time and tide. The powder room on the first floor is paneled as the interior of a sailing vessel might be: alternating horizontal stripes of teak and holly. On the fireplace wall in the family room, stones from the Danish coast where Torben spent his childhood were incorporated into the masonry, and, in the kitchen, the shiny chrome bar stools with white leather cushions evoke a luxury yacht.

Susan, who grew up in the wine business founded by her father, and who worked for the company for many years, importing and marketing the Australian brand Yellow Tail and the Georges Duboeuf line of wines from France, among others, believed that a wine cellar was a necessary amenity. “There’s always a bottle of wine open in the house,” she says.

But the wine cellar could not be built below ground level because there was no basement, so a tiny yet commodious glass-fronted version was tucked into a corner of the dining room. It features an automatic blackout shade that lowers during daylight hours to protect the bottles inside from harmful UV rays. In the evening, when the room is dimmed, the wine closet is lit to showcase the bottles.

For furnishings, the Weises sought the expertise of Susie Earls of Slater Earls Design in Fairfield, who had decorated a show house they had seen in Greenwich. “My charter was to come up with solutions for the interesting architecture,” Susie says. “It’s all curves rather than squares, so I needed to make it appealing without overwhelming it.”

She stuck to a soft color palette, choosing warm earth tones with dark accents for the furniture, and icy blue grays, taupes and beiges for the upholstery, draperies and rugs. The rug in the family room is a custom geometric pattern by Patterson, Flynn & Martin; the coffee table is by Holly Hunt and the bamboo chairs are from McGuire.

For the breakfast area, Susie found a “disappearing” curvilinear kitchen table, made in Italy out of maple to match the floors, and sold through Signorello in Westport. It fits into the semi-octagonal shape of the space, which is separated from the formal dining room by a wall of glass.

Under the shiny, four-square panels mounted on the dining room ceiling, Susie placed a dark square table made of sycamore wood with voluptuous curved legs and a Zia-Priven chandelier, with circular chrome bands and round cascading crystals.

For the master bedroom upstairs, Susie hired Custom Interiors in Stamford to craft a custom headboard shaped to accommodate the convex curve of the bedroom wall and covered in heavyweight linen. The drapery system throughout the house also riffs on a maritime theme. Off-white linen draperies in a heavy gauge are fitted with steel grommets and hung on steel bars that often extend the length of the room, recalling the rigging and sails of a sloop at sea.

It’s no wonder then, that Susan feels the way she does about her home. “Living here is like always being on vacation,” she says. “It’s the kind of house you never want to leave.”

Bartels-Pagliaro Architects, South Norwalk, 203-838-5517; bartels-pagliaro.com
Custom Interiors, Stamford, 203-975-9927
Giorgio USA, New York City, 212-684-7191
Holly Hunt New York, New York City, 212-755-6555; hollyhunt.com
McGuire, available at Baker, Greenwich, 203-862-0655; kohlerinteriors.com/mcguire
Patterson, Flynn & Martin, New York City, 212-688-7700