Traditional Building Portfolio




Silk Purse

Project: Retail building renovation, Darien, CT

Architect: Sheldon Richard Kostelecky, AIA, Lexington, MA

By Martha McDonald

The popular phrase ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ has just been disproved by SBD Kitchens of Darien, CT. Working with architect Sheldon Richard Kostelecky of Lexington, MA, the firm has taken a small (approximately 3,000 sq.ft.), single-story concrete-block building and transformed it into a scaled-down replica of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. This Classical façade now greets visitors as they enter SBD Kitchens’ new studio and architectural millwork showroom.

SBD owner and founder Sarah Blank is an avid student of Classicism and a member and frequent student of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America (ICA&CA). "I have always loved Thomas Jefferson," she says. "I got involved with the ICA and began to understand the importance of the Classical tradition and of carrying it forward into the 21st century."

She describes the 3,197-sq.ft. single-story building in Darien, CT, that she bought in December of 2007 as a "pink stucco nightmare." "The façade was dreadful," says Blank. "I thought I could make something of it." Budget was a consideration so the plan was to keep the building the same size and to renovate it, rather than adding to it or changing the original structure. The end result included a scaled-down (80 percent) version of the northeast entry of Monticello on the exterior and a completely gutted and renovated interior to provide space for SBD Kitchens (1,887 sq.ft.), a tenant (966 sq.ft.) and garage/ storage space (344 sq.ft.).

Blank consulted with Robert L. Self, conservator of architecture and furniture at Monticello, extensively during the project in her effort to make her building as authentic as possible. For example, she discovered that Thomas Jefferson had sprayed the Doric wood columns at the entrance with a sand paint to imitate limestone, so she followed the same construction method, using contemporary technology – a hair dryer – to dry the sprayed sand paint on her building and columns.

Blank brought in Sheldon Richard Kostelecky, AIA, of Lexington, MA, because of his knowledge of Classicism. "Even though I had the vision and some drawings, Sheldon took it a step further," she says.

"She wanted to make the front of her building Classical so she asked me to make the drawings more accurate," says Kostelecky, who had met Blank at the Tuscan Classical Academy in Italy and had recently finished the post-graduate program in Classical architecture at Notre Dame. "I took the general idea and made some subtle – and some not-so-subtle – changes. I looked carefully at the HABS measured drawing of Monticello (made in 1990) and re-proportioned it and adapted the details to this particular building."

One of the changes that Kostelecky made was in response to the different roof pitch. "I narrowed the design of the pedimented entrance from five to three bays and adjusted the roof slightly to match the same 5½:12 pitch that Monticello’s pediment has. That seemed to do the trick in terms of making the proportions work." Another change involved the windows. The original triple-casement windows were made smaller and lowered so they could become triple-hung windows with the correct Classical proportions. "The triple-hung windows are exact replicas at a smaller scale," says Kostelecky, "as are the operable shutters. They are exactly detailed and painted to match those at Monticello."

In addition, the Chippendale balustrade at the top of the building, a typical Federal motif, was used instead of Classical turned Renaissance balusters. "We used the lighter Chippendale style that Jefferson used at the top of Monticello," says Kostelecky, "instead of the heavier balusters that he used at the top of the first floor."

One of the challenges was finding the appropriate brick for the exterior. Blank found Inglenook Tile Design, LLC, of Quarryville, PA, who could make the custom thin-face (5/8 in.) brick to match Monticello brick in color and texture. (She found the firm at one of the Traditional Building Exhibition and Conference events.) This face brick was fastened directly to the concrete block, using mortar and wire lath, as there was no brick shelf on the existing building to carry full-size face brick.

"The exterior is completely Monticello," Blank notes. All of the construction, both interior and exterior, was done in the firm’s shop by Charles Karas, a builder and SBD Kitchens partner, and also Sarah Blank’s husband. All of the moldings, including the entablature profile with its Doric tryglyphs and corona soffit decorative mutule elements are made of Azek cellular PVC. The columns (sprayed to look like limestone) are Dixie-Pacific’s DuraCast.

Blank also drew on other historic buildings for inspiration for the interior. The butler’s pantry, for example, is a reproduction of one from Stanford White’s Ogden Mills mansion in Staatsburgh, NY. "I worked closely with the curator to make sure all of the details were correctly reproduced," says Blank. In addition, Sam Blount, Inc., of New York City worked with Blank to decorate the Classical interior. All in all, the project took about a year. SBD Kitchens moved into its new quarters in December 2008. "Here I was, building a building in 2008, and I am looking at specifications from Thomas Jefferson," Blank remarks. "It was so much fun to do this project."

"I think Thomas Jefferson would be pleased with this building," says Kostelecky. "All of the details are very accurate and to proportion. Classical architecture is not about copying. It’s about designing in a particular manner, following the time-tested canons of Classical architecture." TB

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