House of the Month: Kent House by Gray Organschi Architecture

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A second home in Connecticut features an earthy materials palette that is detailed to look clean and contemporary.

Architect Alan Organschi’s experience as a cabinet maker and carpenter colors his firm’s thoughtfully detailed designs, which celebrate materiality. He believes this hands-on approach has set the ethos for his practice, Gray Organschi Architecture, which he founded with partner Lisa Gray in New Haven, Connecticut. The duo has designed a range of institutional, commercial, and residential projects, such as the Kent House. The design of this home exemplifies the unique balance the firm has achieved between functional and bespoke.

House of the Month: Kent House by Gray Organschi Architecture Image © Robert Benson

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Kent House by Gray Organschi Architecture

The clients—a couple, both law professors, and their two teenage children—sought an open and airy respite from their New York City apartment. They purchased a property in Kent, Connecticut, which was situated upon a ridge overlooking the Housatonic River Valley. Although the lot offers 10 generous acres, several factors limited the potential footprint of the house: right-of-way passage to a lake, a rocky outcropping, and the adjacency of inland wetlands that were subject to laws defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The lot is also located within a subdivision in which the designs of new homes are subject to approval from a review committee. Most existing houses in the area feature a barn-like aesthetic, so a very modern design could have been contentious, but “we hit a balance between a contemporary-looking building and one that had a material quality that was acceptable,” explains Organschi.

Based on the site constraints and the family’s request for an open plan, the architects decided an L-shaped form would best capture views and natural light. On the ground floor, a double-height living area, kitchen, TV room and dining area flow into one another. Upstairs, the three bedrooms are accessible via a catwalk that overlooks this space. A one-story guest wing and garage adjoins, its roof covered with river rock so it appears as an extension of the landscape that is sliding into the home.

Architectural diagram of the Kent House by Gray Organschi Architecture

The double-volume living space is truly the heart of the house. Lined with built-in window seating and bookshelves, the space features a warm material palette that establishes a consistent wrapper: Douglas fir planks line the walls and poplar plank floors are stained to match, all of which coordinate with the cedar cladding on the exterior. A grouping of three George Nelson Bubble lamps hangs from the ceiling, a soft and sculptural contrast to the textured wood.

The large, north-facing corner of the living space is glazed to reveal expansive views of the forest. The architects engineered a custom curtain wall from standard residential windows reinforced with a steel spline. They worked out the details in their own fabrication studio, which operates as a separate company called JIG Design Build. “When we can figure out these details and show them to builders, it allows us to develop a good relationship,” explains Organschi, who is grateful for such an experience with the Kent House’s contractor, Corporate Construction.

Stairway inside the Kent House by Gray Organschi Architecture Living room fireplace of the Kent House by Gray Organschi Architecture Interior loft of the Kent House by Gray Organschi Architecture Kent House interior by Gray Organschi Architecture

The structure supporting the sloping roof above the double-height living space is concealed behind custom millwork boxes and "furniture pieces," such as a closet and the TV console. The designers engineered the chimney as a horizontal stiffener for the whole house to prevent it from wracking. The concrete block enclosure features a simple concrete slab for a mantel that further reinforces the system. “We wanted it to feel kind of effortless in a way, so that you don’t notice it,” says Organschi.

Kent House exterior by Gray Organschi Architecture

Photography featured in this article is provided by Robert Benson and is © 2012 Robert Benson:

Murrye Bernard

Murrye is a freelance writer based in New York City. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Architecture from the University of Arkansas and is a LEED-accredited professional. Her work has been published in Architectural Record, Eco-Structure, and Architectural Lighting, among others. She also serves as a contributing editor for the American Institute of Architects' New York Chapter publication, eOculus.

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