The home that Bruce Beinfield built on a thin spit of land overlooking a picturesque tidal estuary in Connecticut features a whimsical barn-themed facade and controversial history.
But despite initial outcry over the mere idea of the house, its inclusion in the Rowayton Civic Association’s annual house tour last fall has resulted in increased ticket sales.
“It was a record label tour,” said Peter Stuart, a local real estate agent who organizes the association’s fundraiser. “Certainly the weather was wonderful, but a lot of people were curious about this house. “
Interest was sparked by much more than the house’s unusually narrow shape and rustic design. When Mr. Beinfield, architect and longtime resident of this village-like section of Norwalk, first proposed to build the house at the end of a thin strip of land in the middle of Farm Creek in 2013, the plan resulted in community reaction so relentless that he almost sold the property to kill the controversy.
But eventually he found a compromise: he would build the house closer to the road, out of the stream, and with minimal interference with other people’s views. The design that had languished in the designs for several years finally began to take shape and was completed last summer.
The house has since won a residential design award from the Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which praised the site plan and “the balance of industrial and vernacular forms.” And, perhaps just as pleasant, Mr Beinfield, 65, said he had heard ‘no growling’ from anyone in the community where he lives with his wife, Carol, 56, an artist. and interior designer for his company. (The couple got married last year.)
The house is designed to withstand storms – it sits on 12 concrete pillars to allow floodwaters to drain below – while paying homage to the site’s unusual history.
The 0.64-acre property, a 500-foot-long man-made peninsula, is a remnant of a streetcar line used to transport visitors across water to an amusement park in the early 1900s. The recovered rose-colored barn on the street-facing facade of the house is a nod to the rustic timber structures Mr Beinfield saw in photos of the long-gone park. And the crisscrossing side braces on either side of the house refer to wooden roller coaster trestles.
“I wanted to create the impression that this structure preceded the development around it,” he said.
The frontage facing the street is only 12.5 feet wide, allowing passers-by to see the water behind it, and the rest of the house is only 16 feet wide. But an open floor plan, 10-foot ceilings, and a wall of windows on one side and back make the house much larger.
Exposed ducts, steel beams and wooden beams, as well as poured concrete floors, lend an industrial feel to the interior. The open kitchen, which has two sinks and two islands, also has black cabinets and walls, an intentional break with the preference for white in apparently all new Rowayton homes, Mr Beinfield said. The counters and light fixtures are made of copper and brass.
The shelves that run along one wall in the open living and dining room are made from reclaimed wood beams from the former Remington Arms factory in Bridgeport, Mr Beinfield said. The perimeter of the living room fireplace is made of simple gray concrete blocks.
Sliding glass doors at the rear of the house open onto a patio garden and path leading to the end of the peninsula, occupied by an old single storey cottage supplied with the property. Here, too, Mr. Beinfield played on the property’s past by laying new streetcar tracks which he commissioned from a railroad construction company in West Virginia to connect the house to the cottage.
Three bedrooms are on the second floor, and the third floor is an attic studio for Mrs. Beinfield. Mr. Beinfield designed the space to look like an old attic, with worn wood floors and unfinished wood walls. “Attics evoke a particular set of emotions,” he said. “They make you want to explore, and you can see pieces of past lives.”
Flea market enthusiast Mrs Beinfield made sure of that, filling the space with an eclectic range of collectibles, from antique dolls and animal skulls to pincushions. Mr. Beinfield has a small office at one end of the attic, from where he enjoys viewing and observing the many seabirds that frequent the estuary.
If the House of Compromise has worked well for Mr Beinfield, the rest of the community at least seem to have accepted it.
“It’s like what happens frequently: people get used to what they thought it would be very hard to get used to,” said Mike Barbis, Rowayton Tax District Commissioner-elect and outspoken critic of the original shot of Mr. Beinfield. “It’s more or less blended into the landscape.