Meet Our A-List Winners
athome magazine presents the First Annual A-List Awards 2010
a-list kitchen: new take on tradition
Architect: Austin Patterson Disston
Designer: Joan Nemirow Designs
Designer Joan Nemirow had a vision for her dream kitchen, culled from years of travel and a collection of clippings. In her imagination, she synthesized the palette of an Edwardian English townhouse, its central, warming heart embodied in a massive black cookstove. She pictured gleaming bespoke cabinetry, with everything enveloped in a soft wash of daylight from above. Her years of experience in designing spaces for others helped hone her own sense of right fit and seamless structure.
To bring the room to life, architectural firm Austin Patterson Disston solved some of the tricky technical challenges posed by the designer’s vision. “I did not want to cook in a greenhouse,” says Nemirow. So the team crafted an ingenious system to light the frosted glass of the central ceiling, with its ironwork canopy, as if by daylight—even though the entire room is positioned beneath a full, shingled roof.
“Two dormers in that section of roof, plus a complex arrangement of track lighting above the ceiling, create the solution,” says McKee Patterson, a principal of the award-winning firm. It’s a bit of high-tech magic.
The center island—a custom piece sheathed in an exquisite pattern of walnut and burl walnut veneers, trimmed with gleaming brass cabinet hardware—functions as a workspace, gathering space, and beautiful focal point for this exceptional room.
“It’s not a huge kitchen by current standards,” admits Patterson, “but it is a kitchen for a real cook, amply appointed and very well proportioned. The client’s clear vision and the consistency and quality of the details make it very successful as a beautiful and highly functional environment.”
a-list traditional architecture: a classic approach
Architect: Vicente-Burin Architects
The topography of every building lot presents certain challenges and, at the same time, provides opportunities for imaginative solutions. In the case of a sloping piece of land with road frontage on two sides, architect Paolo Vicente wanted to hew to the traditional vernacular of an established Westport neighborhood, crafting a spacious home that would not overwhelm its site with a too-tall, too-bulky profile.
Vicente created a building envelope with materials that emphasize the structure’s horizontal layers. At the basement level, native fieldstone is a traditional facing treatment for the rear elevation, which sits on the slope. The first level including a wraparound porch and a sunroom is clad in white clapboard. The second level is finished with gray boards, set off with a distinctive sawtooth edge where it meets the white clapboards. Finally, a roof with deep overhangs, bordered by copper gutter, completes the pattern. The structure appears at ease and grounded in its surroundings.
For the interior, from both the front and side entrances, the openings line up in a coaxial architectural relationship called an enfilade, so that visual hints of each room appear simultaneously, revealing the full depth of the structure. This very pleasing and classic arrangement delights the eye and welcomes owners and guests from the moment of arrival.
Says Vicente, “One of the elements that sets this project apart from others is the latitude given to us by the client, with whom we’ve worked a number of times. He has a lot of faith in us, so it’s almost like designing for ourselves. As to the project’s success, we found a couple of ideas that run through the house—motifs and patterns—that tie everything together.”
a-list living spaces: bright, open, chic
Designer: Lynn Morgan
Veteran designer Lynn Morgan’s legendary practice gives her a comfort level with all kinds of spaces, from Nantucket cottage to in-town pied a terre. Her winning project—the light-filled, open-plan rooms of a new condominium unit, part of an elegant development on the Stamford-Old Greenwich border—leans toward the modern end of the spectrum.
Says Morgan, “We were after a simpler approach, to show the functionality of the space for a young, modern couple. Architectural details for the first floor were kept in scale with the goals of the layout. We used half-height bookcases, for example, to preserve the open feeling.”
To keep the place clean and modern, the palette is a simple one: black and white with pops of coral and bright blue. Morgan’s design studio commissioned the services of an artist to render the Josef Albers style geometric paintings, which flank the main seating area and add just the right touch of color to a large expanse of white wall.
To solve the design problem of a long, narrow entry, Morgan had pale gray horizontal stripes painted along the stair wall, giving the space energy and moving the eye forward.
While many of the pieces for the project are custom Lynn Morgan designs, she blended these furnishings with catalog company items and antiques. As the designer notes, “It shows that a space can be modern and chic—and still possible with affordable elements.”
a-list bedroom: room to grow
Designer: Carey Karlan, Last Detail
How do you make a great space from a somewhat awkward set of dimensions and also please a client who collects good art and wants it displayed in every room, including this one, which is home to a young girl?
“Actually, it was my client’s desire not to compromise on quality, or style, or art, simply because this is a child’s room. This wish to create a bedroom that was sophisticated and able to grow with her daughter is what sets it apart from other projects,” says Carey Karlan, the award-winning designer, and owner of Last Detail Interior Design studio.
Carey, who loves beautiful fabric, used a Cowtan and Tout floral pattern for shades and pillows. This selection was the key that also guided the room’s “lively but livable” palette.
To solve the dimensional challenges and give the space a cohesive look, walls and ceiling were both painted in a custom shade of violet, with an equally soft-hued violet carpet for the floor. “Installing carpet wall to wall tends to lessen the angularity of the room,” says Karlan.
Centering the seating area is a custom-designed, studded white patent leather ottoman. This single focal point, in addition to a pair of mid-century modern side tables, which the designer found in a consignment shop and lacquered in shiny white, provide some spark and what Karlan calls “a little ‘60s vibe.”
Even the art was presented successfully, hanging at waist height along in the under-the-rafters space.
Says Karlan, “From the children’s lovely paintings to the work of noted mid-century artist Irene Zevon, we used it all!”
a-list dining room: iconic beauty
Architect: Richard Bergmann Architects
The setting for architect Richard Bergmann’s classic dining room is a national landmark. Once home to Maxwell Perkins, the illustrious Scribner’s editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, the 1836 Greek Revival-style townhouse has undergone a refined transformation, thanks to the guiding hands of the owner-architect and his designer wife, Sandra Bergmann.
In its long history, the 166-square-foot space was first a hallway; and early in the 20th century, a bathroom. The Bergmanns decided it would be the perfect spot for an intimate dining room.
To enliven and lighten the space, the wall facing the living room was opened up into three sections. The opposite wall, which leads to an outdoor terrace that overlooks a garden, had its windows replaced with three and a half sets of French doors. The result is a year-round alfresco dining room, with February-blooming lemon trees. “Their fragrance is amazing in winter,” says Mr. Bergmann.
Minimal furnishings—storage is built in—include a glass and chrome table from Bloomingdale’s and a set of six cane chairs (the iconic MR chair, no longer in production) designed by Mies van der Rohe. Completing the space is a partially mirrored wall with a wood grille installed in front of the mirror, its contents changed seasonally.
“Because the room faces south, it’s a terrific lunch spot,” says Bergmann. “And it’s great at night, especially in summer.” What set the project apart was the client. “It’s ours, and we didn’t have to compromise,” he says with a laugh. “We weren’t in a hurry, and had no deadline.”
a-list kids’ room playspace: playful point of view
Designer: Karen Bow
When teenage girls are able to provide input about the way their spaces should look, their enthusiasm flows into the design.
“This project set a new bar for my creativity,” says Darien designer Karen Bow, for whom this prizewinning teen girl’s room is just one of half a dozen recent and upcoming projects she has completed or is in the process of designing.
The room’s palette was inspired by a vintage camping poster found at a Manhattan flea market, which now hangs on one of the walls. Bow had rugs and pillows fabricated in the custom colors that she and her client had in mind. Hand-printed wallpaper by Florida designer Given Campbell, done up to order in bubble-gum pink, emphasizes the verticality of the renovated room; a new dormer enabled the owners to create a loft/conversation area for their daughter and her friends.
Karen Bow likes the idea of “one great thing” for any space, and this room was not lacking a signature piece: an Arne Jacobsen “Egg” chair, in a palette-perfect shade of green.
“Most of the room was tied together with custom-colored pieces that were budget-friendly—many workrooms will accommodate you, but you just have to wait a bit longer for a one-off hue,” says Bow. “The Egg chair will be a lifelong keepsake. Why give your girl another necklace, when you can give her a chair that she’ll have for years and will go with her to her college dorm or first apartment?”
The designer, whose charming tagline “Love the home you’re with” is printed on her business cards, acknowledges that allowing vibrant color to seep into an interior via a child’s room often frees the parents’ own sense of possibilities.
“Once they see a successful child’s room, many clients begin to understand how using bright colors can translate elsewhere,” says Bow. “My own motto has always been to listen to your instinct and have the courage to use it.”
a-list bathrooms: room with a view
Architect: Cardello Architects
A one-of-a-kind house should always have extraordinary features. As architect Robert Cardello worked on the plans for one such singular home, the opportunities to create memorable spaces became apparent. In this case, jaw-dropping views from the spectacular shoreline site in Darien were the catalyst to orient the master suite toward the rising sun.
“Both the bath and bedroom link to a balcony with direct access to the outside, enabling a private and yet completely open encounter with the waterfront,” says the architect. “So, in designing the bathroom, everything in the program takes full advantage of that view.”
Working with designer Polly Denham and project manager David LaPierre, Cardello was able to assemble what he aptly terms a “collage of materials” to bring the project to its successful end point.
Essentially, the room is divided into two parts: a washing area and a vanity area. The washing section features a sunken tub and doorless shower, preserving the room’s open-air quality. On the glass partition above the vanities, custom-made double-sided mirrors reflect the sea, letting the owner take in the view even when he or she is in the washing area, with back turned toward the shoreline.
To provide storage, a floor-to-ceiling mirrored cabinet is installed in one side wall of the vanity space; in each cheek wall adjacent to the vanities, the architect specified additional small mirrored cabinets.
“Nothing impedes the prospect,” says Cardello. “The room just glows with beautiful light.” The award-winning room presents a case study in good design that discreetly stays out of the way of a home’s most valuable asset.
a-list landscapes: the outdoor room
Landscape Design: Robin Kramer Garden Design
The landscape that surrounds a classic, Greenwich Georgian home holds a special place in designer Robin Kramer’s heart: It was her first professional commission.
“I’ve worked with the owner over a number of years,” says Kramer of her prizewinning outdoor tapestry, a beautifully linked collection of chic garden rooms that displays a contemporary flair. “She is a great client, and this project has changed my life.”
Kramer, who had formal art training at the Rhode Island School of Design and then spent almost 20 years in Europe, has brought her knowledge of history to augment a keen ability to listen to her clients’ views and discern their aesthetic sense.
For this project, she planted a stunning, heart-shaped boxwood parterre with Russian sage and allium, creating color and texture as the seasons progress. At poolside, she deftly accents the floral background with striking elements, such as her own custom-designed platforms for stainless steel gazing globes. Her creativity has a modern sensibility that resonates with young homeowners.
“I’m always looking to create a space where you have an experience,” says Kramer.
“But today’s landscapes need to be simpler. Clients with young families want to live in their gardens, not spend hours maintaining them. I like to make designs that are streamlined and structural, but at the same time I want to draw the owners outdoors.”
More than seven years into the transformation of her client’s property, the designer reflects on how her philosophy coincided with a more modern attitude toward gardens, particularly in tradition-bound New England, where the classic English garden is a revered ancestor.
“I was poised to address this change in sensibility,” says Kramer, “and it was a fortunate coincidence for this trend to emerge at the moment when I was launching my own business.”
a-list renovation: traditional dress, modern heart
Architect: Callaway Architects
Builder: Blansfield Builders
“More than half of our practice consists of renovating and remodeling existing homes,” says architect Sam Callaway. “But what sets this project apart is the fact that the client wanted to change nothing on the home’s exterior and completely transform the interior.”
The 1930s Colonial in Redding had the appearance of an antique Pennsylvania farmhouse, which the owner loved. What she didn’t love was the warren of small, dark rooms that was the original plan.
“The owner expressed her wish quite clearly,” recalls Callaway. “She wanted to feel like she was outside, from within the house.”
To accomplish this, the architect, working with Blansfield Builders of Danbury, completely gutted the interior. Retaining the spirit of the 18th-century-style structure, Callaway fitted interior ceilings with reclaimed hemlock timbers from an antique barn. For the family room, another Pennsylvania barn was used to construct the walls and ceiling, with an entire wall of stone to surround the fireplace.
With this shell in place, contemporary materials and design solutions took over. Joining the architect and builder was the design duo of Vicki Taylor-Bloch and Donna Sexon of At Home Design, who helped get the details just right.
The contemporary open kitchen is fitted with sleek cabinetry from Neff, cast concrete countertops, and fixtures and hardware that say 2020 rather than 1776.
“We spent a lot of time looking for things,” says Callaway. Finds included recessed flangeless track lighting, which provides a very sleek appearance, and a see-through fireplace, positioned between the master bedroom and bath. To open the door of this reborn, stone-clad house is to step through centuries—a big surprise for first-time visitors, but a memorable one.
“When people think about spaces, the ones they remember are the ones that surprise them,” says Callaway. “It’s exciting to participate in making that kind of space.”
a-list pool design: editing genius
Landscape and Pool Design: Janice Parker Landscape Design
“Every project is different because we’re dealing with a specific piece of land,” says Janice Parker, founder and principal of her eponymous landscape design firm. “In this case, we were working on a ten-acre site that abuts a farm and orchards. This surrounding vernacular sets it apart, along with fragmentary evidence of similar past land use on the property itself.”
To fit into the terrain, with its long history of agrarian connections, the owner had created a barn house of very simple design, attached to the original farmhouse on the property. When the house was completed, Parker’s firm was enlisted to create a pool and surrounding landscaping that would complement this environment.
“Our normal process is to put in everything we imagine a project might need, then edit it down to just the right balance of form and material,” says Parker. In this case, she settled on an infinity-edge pool, which has a simplicity that parallels the almost pure linear geometry of the barn house.
In keeping with the building program’s respect for local architecture and land use, Janice hired a talented mason, Anthony Manca, to create the walls and steps from stone that was quarried, literally, just down the road.
“We’ve used the Roxbury Quarry for granite on jobs that are much farther away, but using this resource in a plan that is so sensitive to the local topography and traditional practice was a perfect choice,” notes the designer.
The resulting combination of features creates an environment that seems preternaturally connected to its site, full of grace and stillness. As the client is involved in the arts, with a particular interest in dance, Parker notes another connection.
“The client has a dancer’s eye for form, and I think we’ve expressed it in this landscape.”
a-list pool house: a mid-century oasis
Architect: Elizabeth Jahn Architecture
Architect: Anne Nixon, Brooklyn Office LLC
Builder: Jablonski Associates
It’s not often that a client who commissions a large and traditional dwelling will also opt for an outside-the-box solution for leisure space. This New Canaan pool house is an exception to the rules.
“These were sophisticated people, with an inclination to try something different,” says builder Jeremi Jablonski of his clients. Instead of a “mini-me” version of their home, the clients instead wanted to make a more modern statement, perhaps with a nod to New Canaan’s large inventory of homes designed by the modernist Harvard Five.
Architects Elizabeth Jahn and Anne Nixon were brought on board to translate this vision into buildable plans. Jahn, who often designs in a traditional style, found a comfort level working with Nixon, who has created many modern projects for her more urban client list. Together, they crafted a design inspired by its wooded surroundings and produced with a palette of beautiful and highly functional materials.
“The original concept was a simple, screened pavilion,” notes Jahn, “but we gradually added other elements, such as a shower and changing room. Because the style is modern, the seams in the building must be done perfectly. There’s no room for error. This required a very high level of drawing detail so that the execution would be flawless.”
The client, builder, and architects collaborated on a final product as uniquely and exquisitely modern as the main house is traditional in its smallest details.
But it’s not just the rare shedua wood used in the structure, or the way the posts mimic the tall trees in the background, or a metal roof that seems to float atop the structure that makes this project so appealing.
“Successful architecture is a lot about feeling,” says Jahn. “It’s hard to explain, but you feel good when you see it, and good when you are in it. It has a lot to do with the scale and the site, and I so appreciate the great clients who gave us the opportunity to make it happen.”
a-list architecture: modern modernism for today
Architects: Joeb Moore + Partners
Builder: Prutting and Company
Less than 200 feet from the train station, library, and local Starbucks, architect Joeb Moore and builder Dave Prutting have teamed up to add a new option for in-town living to the New Canaan landscape.
The freestanding residence at 173 Park Street offers a peek at what modernism looks like in 2010. Unlike the earlier New Canaan work of the Harvard Five, whose iconic designs are mostly tucked away on the town’s quieter streets, this new home displays its contemporary profile just a stone’s throw from the shopping district.
Its three and a half floors of finished space offer every amenity that a New Canaanite might desire for a more suburban lot: a pool; below-grade space for a media room, wine cellar and studio; a Zen-like garden, water feature and outdoor sculpture; and even an elevator.
“It’s comfortable and classy,” says builder Dave Prutting. “It has been a fulfilling collaboration of good design and exceptional craftsmanship.”
“This is the first attempt to bring modern to downtown New Canaan,” notes Moore. “It’s also the expression of a bigger idea about how people might like to live now—carried out with very high-end finishes and detail.” Green features give it one of the highest ratings for sustainability of any residential project in the state.
Moore notes that in a softer real estate market one of the best-selling options is a well-appointed smaller home in a semi-urban location. He mentions townhouse projects in downtown Greenwich that have sold quickly to homeowners seeking to downsize in walkable, sophisticated neighborhoods.
If Moore and Prutting’s prizewinning design hunch is correct, then it’s not just new building forms that will be appearing on the streets of our towns and small cities. It’s also how they’ll function and how we will live in them.