A Connecticut couple and their grown son had talked for years about buying a farm together. They dabbled in house hunting out West but ultimately chose Vermont, where they found a former dairy farm complete with a renovated farmhouse for the son and his family. The parents then contacted Smith & Vansant Architects of White River Junction about designing a weekend and eventual retirement home for themselves.
There was one catch: The homes had to be attached. Vermont Land Trust rules govern development of the property, meaning the family was not permitted to build a new freestanding structure or even transform an existing outbuilding. The only way for the parents to have their own house was to attach it to their son’s. “They came to us with a very clear list of needs,” recalls principal architect Pi Smith.
The family tasked the firm with ensuring independence and privacy for both generations. They wanted the new structure to capture expansive views while not impinging on the vistas from the farmhouse. Other challenges included the sloping site and the need for the addition to be both harmonious with and subordinate to the farmhouse.
Smith, along with project architect and lead designer Ira Clark, designed a 1,700-square-foot dwelling attached to the back of the farmhouse by a hallway. While the exterior is contemporary in style, it takes cues from New England barn vernacular. The two shed roofs and black-and-red color scheme echo the existing outbuildings. Clark says, “The new construction recedes into the background as one of the array of farm buildings.”
The entry is dynamic and welcoming. Steppingstones lead to a space defined by a fieldstone wall. A large window allows a peek inside, while the bright red door is set back in a fir-lined cavity. “With the house being black, it was important to create an immediate sense of warmth,” Smith says. “The wood glows.”
Smith and Clark employed a minimal materials palette. Fir accents inside include window frames, a window seat, and the kitchen cabinetry. Other fir details are the handrail on the short staircase leading to the master bedroom, the sills and ledges, and the built-in desk in the wife’s office. The polished-concrete slab floor, tinted charcoal, is durable and grounds the space, which is painted entirely white. Sloping ceilings, slight level changes, and a monochromatic color scheme lend a sculptural, ethereal feel. Smith says, “The siting and design let you focus on the quality of the light and the views.”
The vestibule leads to the heart of the house, where tall walls of windows face east across the valley toward the White Mountains. In the living room, the freestanding woodstove, an earthy woven rug the couple purchased in Santa Fe, an Eames lounge, and a Japanese fish print from the homeowner’s art collection create a distinct Frank Lloyd Wright-meets-Scandinavia feel.
The kitchen is light and airy; the couple was adamant that there not be an island, which they deemed an obstruction. Green concrete countertops fabricated by Stone Soup Concrete in Easthampton, Massachusetts, and a stainless-steel tile backsplash complement the pared-down arrangement.
French doors open onto an oft-used bluestone patio at the back of the house, a significant extension of the living space in nice weather. The black clapboard backdrop of the addition renders the pergola, with its tubular steel frame painted vibrant red, even more striking. Clark carefully considered the direction of the pergola’s wood slats, spaced just so to provide shade for the patio but allow light to stream into the house. Slats in front of the window are set farther apart for the same purpose.
The fieldstone retaining wall, necessary to hold back the hill, also bounds the seating area, which extends into the landscape. “The wall shelters the patio so one doesn’t feel exposed,” Clark says. “It’s an important element that allows for comfort on a wide-open site.”
The patio and the light-filled, open cooking, eating, and living space are where the couple spend time. The other two areas — the master suite, which includes a tiny gem of a study for the wife, and the den, complete with exercise equipment and the television — are peripheral. It’s exactly what they wanted. Says Smith: “It was a complicated design problem, but it’s a very simple house.”