Our Custom Home of the Year gave architect James Estes an opportunity to engage in placemaking on an unusually extensive scale. Sitting astride a prominent ridge, the house deploys long, low wings, granite landscape walls, and stone-edged terraces to domesticate broad swaths of outdoor space. The result reflects the program for this year-round home, Estes says. From the start of the owners' search for property, “The landscape was a crucial part of the scheme of things,” he explains. “They wanted land that had some character, some topography.” After vetting the winning site—more than 20 private acres within commuting distance of Boston—Estes designed a house as notable for its economy of form and material as it is for its transformative influence on the land.
Working with landscape architect Stephen Stimson, Estes composed a compound that centers on the four-bedroom main house and its connected garage and guest suite. Finely fitted granite masonry grounds the two buildings, joining the main house to its junior partner and breaking free in the form of landscape walls that loosely enclose a large entry courtyard to the north and an informal garden to the south. Downslope from the entry courtyard, a long granite retaining wall shelters an outdoor pool area, where a two-story outbuilding provides tractor storage at courtyard level and a potting shed, changing area, and kitchen at pool grade.
“They wanted a house that would fit into the site very well, that would not stand out,” Estes explains, “and that led to a long, low form.” Broad roof shapes, unbroken by dormers or skylights, emphasize the horizontal dimension. Wide, lapped cedar siding boards, mitered at the building's corners, cast strong, crisp shadow lines. “They're not even tapered,” Estes points out. “They're just rough-sawn 1x10s.” Like the building's large windows, with their narrow muntin bars, the stone and cedar forms reflect a regional heritage—“They're all New England pieces,” Estes observes—but in abstracted form. Inside, a linear floor plan orients major spaces toward south-facing walls, with circulation and support functions lined up along the north side. Custom mahogany windows and cabinetry contrast with a quiet palette of limestone, maple, and neutral paint colors.
Far from neutral were our judges, who awarded the compound the competition's highest honor by unanimous consent, applauding its contemporary interpretation of vernacular forms. “It fits into the landscape so well,” noted one judge. “The stonework, the roofing, the wooded landscape, the windows … There's such a high level of integration.” The local-flavor masonry drew specific praise, as did the consistently high level of craftsmanship and the general principle of doing a lot with a little. “What appeals to me is the control,” said a judge. “It's so restrained.”
Entrant/Architect:Estes/Twombly Architects, Newport, R.I.
Builder: Old Grove Partners, Needham, Mass.
Landscape architect: Stephen Stimson Associates, Landscape Architects, Falmouth, Mass.
Interior designer: Kirby Goff Interior Architecture and Design, Providence, R.I.
Living space: 3,900 square feet
Site: 20 acres
Construction cost: Withheld
Photographer: Warren Jagger Photography