After designing two previous residences for longtime clients in Connecticut’s Westport community, each one inching closer to the water than its predecessor, designer Terri Ricci knew this house was a culmination of their dreams: in the historic district and right on the waterfront, with vast views of the sound. That’s not to say it was their dream on the inside. “The layout was very boxy, very quirky and very choppy,” Ricci recalls. But for a forever property, the couple was game for a major renovation.
Ricci first met her clients some 20 years ago when she was running the interiors department at Ike Kligerman Barkley. The relationship continued when she went out on her own, as did the clients’ relationship with the architecture firm, and the results of the latest collaboration speak to an enduring symbiosis. For home number three, architect Joel Barkley and associate Yi Huang oversaw the massive overhaul. “We kept the perimeter and roofline, but I don’t think we left any of the interior studs intact,” Huang says.
The house was entirely reconfigured with a new layout—one distinguished by a creative use of scale, where airy passageways lead to intimate chambers. “The goal was to maximize the views, but we also wanted to keep the rooms cozy. It wasn’t meant to feel like a big estate,” says Huang. Taking precedence, the clients sought a home that would cocoon the two of them but also be gracious enough for entertaining. One clever solution was the addition of a four-season porch separated from the living room by glass doors and replete with an outdoor fireplace, bluestone flooring with radiant heat and hurricane-proof roller shades.
When it came to architectural detailing, the team opted for details true to the home’s classic, coastal roots, such as floating crown moldings that double as bookshelves, vertical wood cladding and intentionally snug eaves. “We all liked the home’s eccentricities,” notes general contractor George Desmond, explaining of the latter that “some doors were clipped where the roofline is dropped, like you see in a lot of original beach houses, which gives character.”
“We were trying to marry the charm and authenticity of an old New England cottage with the demands of a modern lifestyle,” adds Ricci. Earthy, timeworn details like the kitchen’s reclaimed oak island top and rustic wood accent furnishings artfully placed throughout nod to age and patina, while material notes like white-oak floors, creamy plaster walls and a continuous backsplash and countertop in Imperial Danby marble keep the ethos clean and contemporary.
Predicating flow, the designer carefully employed seating arrangements to carve out purposeful vignettes. In the living room, a curved sofa faces an aubergine armchair and a three-way fireplace, delineating the quiet conversation area from the dining room behind it. Two steps west is a cozy den with inky blue walls and a tweed-upholstered sectional perfect for curling up with a good book. And across the way, in an equally intimate sitting room boasting three walls of windows, four oversize lounge chairs create snug proportions, and the feel is almost as though on a ship. “Not every room in this house is about sitting in front of a television,” Ricci notes.
Of course, significant coastal renovations are subject to FEMA regulations, and this one rose—literally—to meet those challenges while practically concealing all evidence. Lattice panels elegantly link the stone piers that elevate the home in the event of high waters and the garage walls are designed to break away in a storm, preventing damage to the structure. Meanwhile, tempering the home’s verticality are considered plantings by landscape designer Britton Rogers, another Ike Kligerman Barkley alum. “To soften the impact of a house raised so high,” he says, “layers of native, salt-tolerant plant choices in several scales complement the structure.” Trees including beech, oak and hornbeam make the house look less tall, and sweet autumn clematis and climbing hydrangeas “help connect to the landscape,” he explains.
Given the spectacular surrounds, the clients tend toward an indoor-outdoor lifestyle. Entertaining centers on the porch, which hosts dinner parties throughout the seasons and the family Christmas tree over the holidays. And indoors, no matter where you look, the views are inescapable by design. “The water and natural light are always a direct point of contact,” says Ricci. In such a setting, she adds, “that’s what you want.”