In the bosky backcountry of Greenwich, Connecticut, about an hour’s drive from Midtown Manhattan, is a single-family retreat designed by Murdock Solon Architects. The private residence is shielded from the neighborhood’s country roads by multiple stages of landscaping, including newly landscaped berms that are an integral component of the design as a whole. The house is deeply integrated into the landscape, allowing for privacy while maximizing views of the spacious grounds. The 5.9-acre wooded and hilly swath of land is bordered on three sides by protected wetlands that slope away from the residence, effectively creating an ‘island’ of privacy for its residents to enjoy. There is a feeling of being alone in the woods and open sky here.
The owners wanted a home that would be both a private oasis and a welcome destination for their guests, who can be entertained on a large scale. One of the basic goals was to marry the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape with the built architecture. The result was a linear low-slung form that cut through the rolling terrain, revealing and concealing the size and scale of the residence depending on where you are in the house.
One continuous asymmetrical roof, stretching 240 feet, houses three main living blocks—the main residence, the indoor/outdoor haven for the owners’ two giant Great Pyrenees dogs, and the guest living area. The shifting ridge creates a visual play on perspective and depth perception, drawing the eye along the length of the house diagonally and along corners at the ends. A triangular motif also breaks up the length in two places—a breakfast nook in the kitchen and a terrace off the master bedroom. Additional visual variety results from breaks in the roof for programmatic and design purposes and variations in materials, as described below. The diagonal roof announces itself in different ways throughout the residence, from subtle diagonals in the long, living-room ceiling to playful and noticeable not-at-all-right angles in the media room, among others.
Programmatically, the privacy and openness correspond to what is happening inside; the kitchen is wide open to the views outside on two sides with the triangular breakfast nook dynamically extending into the outdoors. The master bedroom also takes full advantage of the landscape’s views while maximizing privacy from the outside.
Upon arrival, the residence appears to be only a single level and, although long, feels approachable and welcoming. The main entrance is carved from the volume of the house by a Turrell-inspired framing of the sky, centered on a century-old Japanese maple tree. Once inside, you are positioned on an enfilade of sorts, which provides a path of procession along the interior of the southern facade connecting you through the entire suite of rooms in the living space. A corten steel-clad fireplace and corten landing leading to an upstairs study/observatory provide raw contrast against the otherwise clean and modern aesthetic of the interior where gallery-style decorative concrete is used on the floors of the main public rooms. The same corten material is used in the large solid gates at the driveway.
A defining feature of the southern facade is the two large terraces that traverse the hillside away from the private suite of the residence toward the guest quarters. The highest point, located off the dining room and kitchen, is meant for al fresco dining and a place to sit around a crackling fire under the fading light. From here, you descend to the lower terrace that opens up to the large pool and surrounding entertainment area. Proceeding to the other direction leads to the private patio off the main study, which is underneath the master bedroom.
The exterior materials were selected based on the owners' desire for a variety of textures and colors to break up and organize the long horizontal facade. Wire-grooved western-red cedar ship-lap siding, natural copper rain screen panels, tinted cast-in-place concrete, lead-coated copper standing seam roof, steel windows, and rough-sawn cedar louvers are some of the few to mention. These selections offer low maintenance and are naturally weathering materials that will acquire the patina of nature over time, adding to the richness of the exterior palette.
Project Team: Shea Murdock, Michael Levy, Courtney Goertz, Victor Badami
Interior Design: Patrick Ryan
Landscape Design: Hollander Design
Structural Engineer: HAGE
MEP: PA Collins PE
Civil Engineer: SE Minor Co
Acoustics: Steve Haas Associates
Audio/Visual: Enhanced AV
General Contractor: Tim Hine Builders
Photography: Durston Saylor, Frank Oudeman