AT FIRST GLANCE, THIS house, nestled in a cove on the Connecticut River shoreline, looks like a classic shingle-style East Coast cottage. However, a closer look at its robust symmetry, its upside-down floor plan, and its broad double decks supported by big wood posts also reveals a metaphorical connection to the place. When architect Chad Floyd of Centerbrook Architects designed the house for himself and his family, he drew inspiration from the flat-bottomed packet boats that plied these waters in the early 19th century.
During those years, river-boats were built here and launched into the river. Home-grown and carpenter-built, “they were fairly crude, but really neat wedding-cake Victorian things,” he says. “There was a heritage to the site that we thought was strong and should be recognized.”
The house and its arrival sequence are a study in various marine antecedents. From a distance, the squarish structure looks like it's sitting on a flat raft. To get to the front door, you pass between two sheds, like boats moored on a pier. The entryway opens directly onto stairs that run to the upper deck, where public spaces are arranged to get the better views and breezes. Bedrooms are on the first floor, where late sleepers are thoughtfully shaded by the wrap-around porches. And on the rooftop, a monitor and chimney recall the third-deck crew quarters and wheelhouses of the old packet boats.
Interior finishes were chosen, as Floyd explains it, “to make it feel not just like a place we live, but like a place we'd want to vacation.” He and his wife, graphic artist Brenda Huffman, settled on casual paint colors, plantation mahogany, and brass fittings, finishes that evoke a long-lost American tradition.
A NAUTICAL AIR Architect Chad Floyd took some of his cues from the packet boat Betsy Ann (circa 1920), but the glass saddlebags on the north and south sides of his house are a modern variation of the open decks. Not only do they provide enclosed outdoor living spaces, they also act as a thermal barrier. In winter, the sun heats the south porch to 70 degrees, and, when the door to the kitchen is opened, warms the whole upstairs. At night, when the door is closed, the still layer of air is a buffer from the chill wind.
Category: Custom one-of-a-kind, 3,500 square feet or more; Entrant/Architect: Centerbrook Architects and Planners, Centerbrook, Conn.; General contractor/Interior designer: Brenda Huffman Graphic Design, Essex, Conn.; Landscape architect: Lester Collins, Mill Brook, N.Y., with Chad Floyd, Centerbrook Architects and Planners