Well-Observed: Wilton, Connecticut

Eric Piasecki /Otto

Homes in the country sometimes offer stunning vistas. For one adventurous family, a new addition gives them picture-perfect views of the night sky.

There’s an unlikely building on a stretch of farmland in Wilton, Connecticut. It isn’t the main house, though that’s unlikely, too—a piece of modernism that shifts from the traditionalism of a New England façade into a more open contemporary interior space. And it isn’t the pool pavilion, although that’s an open-air structure whose material complexity belies the simplicity of its task. Rather, it’s the media barn, a three-story building—one part home theater, one part sculpture gallery, one part celestial observatory—completed in January 2015 and standing on a tiny footprint, that is this complex’s most surprising design.

The shape gives the observatory away, and the glass walls give the sculpture gallery away (nothing could hint at the underground movie theater). The media barn is reminiscent of Philip Johnson’s Glass House, about 15 minutes south in New Canaan, where the landscape, as the late midcentury-modernist maestro said, becomes the wallpaper.

“The owners brought me in early because they wanted a project where everything went hand in hand,” says interior designer Havilande Whitcomb. She worked closely with architect Andrew Bartolotta, of Beinfield Architecture, on creating a world reminiscent of the old horse farm that once occupied the 4.4-acre site. The couple, who have two children, had first bought an old paddock, and then a neighboring paddock, and then another one, rejoining spaces that had been split apart for their financial potential. The design team reunified the collection using a long-standing local tradition: “You have the concept of big house, little house, back house, barn—that’s how a lot of buildings around here evolved,” Whitcomb says of the property, with its differentiated structures that still hang together in architectural unity.

Part of that unity happens underground, with a tunnel that connects the main house to the media barn. The tunnel opens to a steel staircase that leads into an ultrasaturated room dripping with fuchsia and languid comfort. From there, a staircase leads up to the first-floor gallery, which offers two entirely different vistas. “The views in one direction are toward a very modern sculpted garden,” Bartolotta says. And in the opposite direction? “It’s almost like an English landscape.” The observatory that creates the rounded roof Bartolotta had envisioned for nighttime stargazing wasn’t originally requested by the family, but they embraced the unconventional idea once the design team proposed it.

Bartolotta and Whitcomb used such materials as Cor-Ten steel on the exterior and waxed black steel on the interior, both of which will change and shift with the years and seasons. That rustic-looking exterior masks the unusual combination of rooms found within. It goes to show what a willing client can do to help the creative processes of architecture and interior design. “Our approach was sculptural,” Bartolotta says. Whitcomb echoes that sense of freedom. The family, she says, “didn’t have pre-conceived notions about what something was supposed to be.” And with that freedom came something unlikely—perfectly so.

Image Credits: Eric Piasecki

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