Inspired by antique seaside homes, the Connecticut design firm Hendricks Churchill worked with historical proportions and details for a new house on Long Island Sound. Cedar shingles and stone, white-oak floors and paneled rooms are rich in tradition.
Right outside the village of Larchmont, New York, on the water and by the yacht club, there’s a new house that looks as though it’s been making itself at home by the sea for more than a century. Designed by Hendricks Churchill of Sharon, Connecticut, it was inspired by the plain-spoken, New England sea captains’ houses of the 19th century.
“After a decade of living there in an outdated structure, the owner, a passionate sailor, wanted to build a house that evoked the nostalgia of summers past, on Nantucket and Cape Cod,” says Rafe Churchill, a partner and the creative director of the firm. “We studied several sea captains’ homes, but we were most inspired by one in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which I’ve long admired.”
That one remains the most traditional home in its neighborhood, he says, adding that “most of the other houses have been rehabbed and stripped of their historic details.”
Although the lot on the Cedar Island Inlet of Long Island Sound is small, the owner wanted the new home to be about 5,000 square feet, the same as the one it would replace. But “he asked us to reduce the footprint,” Churchill says, “which we accomplished by creating a vertical, four-story home, to replace the two-level house that was there.”
Revised FEMA regulations put into place after Hurricane Sandy, in 2012, complicated but also drove the design.
“The elevation of the basement floor had to be increased,” Churchill says, “which meant that the house was pushed higher off the ground. The new main floor is approximately two feet above the original.”
To address the precipitous drop between the main floor and sea level, Hendricks Churchill created a stone-terraced lawn, above which sits a stone patio in front of the house.
“The design evokes the sea walls that border the inlet, and harkens back to the stone quarry that once occupied this location,” Churchill says. “The stone walls also set up a base for brick fireplaces that bracket the main body of the house.”
Another conceit to break up the massing was the “addition” of a wing to house the primary suite on the first floor.
“We wanted to tell a story,” Churchill says, explaining that the wing is designed to look like a later addition.
Of prime importance was creating a structure that would be durable enough to withstand the harsh coastal climate of the village some 18 miles northeast of Midtown Manhattan.
“We used the highest quality materials,” Churchill says. “The red-cedar shingles on the roof are thicker than usual, the trim is one-and-a-half-inch-thick mahogany, and the custom doors are two inches thick.”
The basement, which has a garage and livable space, is entered through a door in the terrace’s stone work. This everyday entrance opens to a mudroom, and then to a hallway that leads to a staircase, the back entrance to the kitchen.
The first-floor primary suite is connected to the living room via a hallway that can be closed off with a door. Compact closets and a dresser are built into the hallway. With nice water views, second-floor bedrooms are for family members. Guest rooms in the attic have dormers that provide dramatic views.
“Unlike a lot of waterfront homes that focus on one view, this one is designed so that rooms have different views,” Churchill says. The simplicity of the exterior façade is carried over inside, where historical details lend authenticity. Elegant but unfussy paneling defines rooms; soapstone surrounds fireplaces. Center-cut white-oak flooring, knotty and with irregular grain, adds a chic understatement that recalls the past. Details become more restrained at each floor, transitioning from public to private spaces.
Nautical motifs are subtle, part of the architecture. A pair of porthole windows frames the front door. Two sets of brass and mahogany stair rails are set into the stonework terrace that leads to the front door. Exterior doors are painted sky blue.
The kitchen is the hub of the house, appointed with floor-to-ceiling pantry cabinets, a central-island worktable, and a backsplash of handmade tiles.
“Every house we design is specific to the owner, and has quirky little details,” Churchill says. “This one certainly does reflect the owner’s personality.”