Redefining the Barn

A new carriage house in Connecticut serves a variety of uses.

Project: Carriage House, Weston, CT
Architect: David Scott Parker Architects, LLC, Southport, CT; David Scott Parker, principal; Luis Almeida, senior associate
Contractor: Gaines Construction Company, Inc., Easton, CT
Landscape Architect: Memrie Lewis Landscape Design, Greenwich, CT
Interior Designer: DHdesign, New Canaan, CT

By Annabel Hsin
Reprint from period-homes.com

Surrounded by the Aspetuck River to the north and over 1,700 acres of the Devil’s Den Preserve to the west, the picturesque town of Weston is nestled in the bucolic hills of Connecticut’s Fairfield County. Despite its close proximity to New York City, Weston’s development into an industrial hub was hampered by the absence of a railroad. As a result, between the Civil War and Great Depression the town’s population dropped significantly. While bad for business, the location was ideal for residential neighborhoods, appealing to affluent New Yorkers who wanted to escape the bustle of the city. By the 1930s, the quaint town was home to artists, actors and writers including Eva Le Gallienne, Bette Davis and James Thurber.

Unlike neighboring towns, such as Fairfield and New Canaan, with their diverse array of traditional architectural styles, Weston’s homes are predominantly Colonial Revival. In 1938, Cameron Clark, a notable local architect best know for his restoration of Fairfield’s town hall, designed a Colonial Revival-style home with delicate Federal details on a large hilly estate. In the winter of 2006, its owners hired Southport, CT-based David Scott Parker Architects to design a carriage house to supplement their two-bay garage as well as provide additional space for an office retreat, gym, spa and changing rooms for the nearby pool and tennis court.

“The clients wanted to get rid of the automobiles that ended up being parked at the back of the house,” says David Scott Parker, principal. “They didn’t want this new garage building to overwhelm the main house. Also, there was the question of how to site it because they didn’t want it to look like they were driving up to a six-car garage. The decision was made to make it look like an outbuilding. We didn’t want to copy the existing house, which meant changing the typology of the building. I’ve worked on a number of barns and we had the idea of using an existing embankment to nestle a barn into the site.”

Utilizing a hill behind the garage wing of the main house, Parker sited a bank-barn prototype building to be on axis with not only the existing garage to the west, but also a pool to the south and an adjacent tennis court. “The form came to the U.S. in the early 1700s,” says Parker. “It evolved and became quite prevalent in the first and second quarter of the 19th century. The lower level is always built with masonry and would have housed the stables; the upper floor has a ramp leading up to it. Historically, a wagon would go up the ramp to the upper level where the hay and wheat were offloaded and stored.”

The combination of a gambrel roof form and masonry fieldstone base diminishes the looming size of the 2,600-sq.ft. carriage house. The mortar color was selected to resemble stonework found on buildings from the 1920s and ’30s. Roof and siding shingles similar to those on the main house were used to visually connect the two structures. Parker also modified the barn form by designing each façade to serve a specific function relating to the site. The lower level, which would have been the stables, was redesigned with four garage bays and two additional parking spaces at the rear.

“The idea was that you’d have a slightly different impression of the building depending on the direction from which you were approaching it,” says Parker. “The garage elevation has the appearance of a carriage house. There is a flaring roof on the approach side, which was a detail that came from an outbuilding designed by Cameron Clark. The garage doors break the line of the façade and pull it forward to meet a courtyard. This side also has more formal doghouse-type dormers, whereas the rear wing has shed dormers.”

Garage doors, manufactured by the Maine Door Company of York, ME, are a variation of those on the main house. Designed to look like traditional carriage doors, the arch-top double doors open overhead and roll up in quarter segments, opening up on a courtyard that separates the carriage house and the main house. Drawing inspiration from existing dry-laid stonewalls on the property, a large antique millstone was laid at the center of the courtyard’s “X” design. River rocks were used to create troughs that form the pattern and perimeter of the courtyard.

The south elevation carries a slightly more formal aspect of the design. Mahogany was used to create a pergola that doubles as a cabana for the pool. “It was intentional that the wood was not so heavy-handed because it’s supposed to feel delicate and defined for the pool,” says Parker. Picking up details from the main house, Tuscan columns support the pergola and a circular window was installed on the gable. Large expanses of windows and glass doors, by Warroad, MN-based Marvin Windows and Doors, were implemented on the south façade. There were also concerns of preserving an existing maple tree on the east side of the pergola. “Great pains were taken to root-prune and feed the tree, in order to minimize damage to its root structure,” says Parker. “Preserving the tree meant that we couldn’t change the grade in that location, which established the floor elevation of the pergola.”

On the east façade, an earthen ramp creates a direct path from the tennis court to the second floor, where the changing room and spa are located. A vestibule leads to the office retreat and the adjacent gym – relocated from the dark basement of the main house.

Reclaimed timbers, supplied by Pine Plains, NY-basedAntique & Vintage Woods of America, along with trim byGood Earth Millworks of Ridgefield, CT, were used throughout the second floor to achieve a rustic appearance. “The clients did not want this to look new and there was this anxiety that it would look like it was built yesterday,” says Parker. “The woods used were all reclaimed timbers. Working with us, the client inspected every floor board and selected where those were going to be positioned as well as the timbers throughout the upper level.

“The clients were eager not to waste attic or eave space. In the gym and the study, the knee braces that hold up purlins are actually doors on pivot hinges. The pegs that look like they are holding the mortise and tenon together are knobs that are used to pull them open. All of these eave spaces are storage.” The custom designed iron pegs, door hinges and latches were hand forged by metal experts at Kayne & Sonof Candler, NC.

Completed in October of 2008, the project redefines a barn form for modern usage while maintaining a traditional appearance. “I was very pleased and satisfied with the way the project came out,” says Parker. “The building didn’t have the curse of newness. It has the casual character that we’d hoped would be possible given the program and setting.”

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