Point One Architects creates a sculptural riverfront modern

Architect Rick Staub designed the 9,000-square-foot structure as a series of pods sited on the footprint of the original house, stepped up and angled slightly to capture views of the Connecticut River, the hills of Lyme and, at night, the twinkling lights

It wasn’t meant to be a permanent harbor.
The couple, sailors of more than 40 years, cruised Long Island Sound frequently from their home base of Greenwich. One day, they anchored in Essex, a Colonial port on the Connecticut River that was voted the best small town in America. The husband and wife couldn’t help but agree. “We revisited several more times,” she says. “We loved the town and decided to look for a little weekend place to be off the boat.”

What they found was a pristine piece of riverfront property with a mid-century house well suited to their contemporary taste. “It needed a tremendous amount of work,” says the wife, undaunted by the type of project she had undertaken before when renovating their penthouse in Florida and their Manhattan apartment. A good thing: When an inspection by her contractors from Caulfield & Ridgway uncovered serious structural problems and a termite infection, the major renovation became a total teardown.

On their Realtor’s recommendation, they contacted Rick Staub of Point One Architects. The wife’s appreciation of the modernism of the Pacific Northwest, where they often sail, was the inspiration: “monumental fireplaces and natural wood, modern glass homes were the starting point, and we wanted to enhance the view of the river,” says Staub.

With those goals in mind, he designed the 9,000-square-foot structure as a series of pods sited on the footprint of the original house, stepped up and angled slightly to capture stunning views of the river, the hills of Lyme beyond and, at night, the twinkling lights of Essex. Northeastern light pours through the soaring walls of glass that form three joined boxes containing an open kitchen, a 22-foot- tall living room and the private quarters. (The only room without a view has its other attractions: The husband’s wine cellar, designed by Fred Tregaskis of New England Wine Cellars, occupies the basement.) Natural red cedar siding on the house’s exterior alludes to the Colonial-era shingles so familiar to the area and allows the structure to blend seamlessly with the land. “We didn’t want the home to pop out from the landscape,” says the wife. “From the water to the ground to the house, it is all a very smooth and natural transition.”

That organic visual relationship colors the interior of the house as well, where a creamy French limestone lines the living room floors and the central fireplace. The homeowners’ collections of African art and French clocks are displayed on rich rosewood shelves; a sculptural Macassar ebony bench by Paul Tamanian punctuates the airy space. “The warm wood tones,” says Staub, “make you feel more comfortable in the space,” and are counterpoints to the otherwise muted shades. Rice paper and soft suede wall coverings add depth to a neutral palette.

“I like to work with texture more than color,” notes the homeowner, who designs all of her homes’ interiors. “We have become more and more contemporary as we have gotten older. We seem to be gravitating toward more peaceful and quiet surroundings, a little less color in the fabric and more color in the artwork,” like the oversized canvases by American artists such as Dan Christensen and Balcomb Greene. The most precious works, though, might be the ones framed by the windows. “Those big walls looking outside are, for me, art,” says Staub. “You have this ever-changing canvas of views to the river.” How about looking in? “The house shines like a beacon as you’re coming upriver in the evenings,” he says.

“It’s one of the most serene and peaceful settings we have lived in,” says the homeowner, “and it’s never the same. From hour to hour, the sky changes, and the colors of the hills across the river change.” The couple’s plans changed too, and what was meant to be a quick place to drop anchor has turned into a permanent mooring: They just sold their Florida home. “We love it so much here, we don’t really want to be away in the wintertime,” she says. “The scenery is just so spectacular that we didn’t want to be anywhere but right here at home.”

click for a gallery view of images of this modern home in essex