Traditional Building Portfolio



A Living History

A diminutive Connecticut cottage is renovated.

Project: Cottage at Extown Farm, New Canaan, CT

Architect: David D. Harlan Architects, LLC, New Haven, CT; David D. Harlan, AIA, principal

Landscape Architect: Devore Associates, LLC, Fairfield, CT; Diane Devore, principal

Contractor: E.M. Rose Builders, Inc., Branford, CT

Interior Designer: A. Defne Veral Interiors, LLC, New Haven, CT

By Annabel Hsin

Amongst the numerous majestic residences in New Canaan, CT, lies the modest historic Extown Farm – a 17-acre estate with a deed of conservation easement that protects the architectural and rural characteristics of the property and prevents its demolition and subdivision in perpetuity. It sits on land that the town purchased in the late 1850s to serve as a poor farm for indigents and transients; shortly after, the ca. 1776 house on the property was expanded to include two jail cells. The poor farm remained in operation until 1928, when it was sold by the town.

The new owners transformed the property and renamed it Extown Farm. A public road divided the acreage evenly, so outbuildings around the house were relocated from the north parcel to the south, across the road, where they were positioned to create a farmyard. The main house also underwent renovations designed by George S. Chappell of New York; Neo-Colonial and modest Neo-Georgian details were introduced to the exterior as well as a new two-story addition. By the 1930s, a simple 950-sq.ft. caretaker's cottage was built adjacent to the farmyard. Seventy-eight years later, the property is being updated and preserved for the future.

David D. Harlan Architects of New Haven, CT, took on the task of restoring and renovating the main house – a project that is currently ongoing. However, during the design process the clients also required living accommodations; fortunately, the caretaker's cottage on the property fit the bill and the deed's preservation requirements were less strict on outbuildings.

"When the clients and I planned the renovation of the main house, we determined that the construction period was longer than anticipated," says principal David Harlan. "We redesigned the caretaker's cottage on the farmyard side so the clients could live in the cottage while the renovations were underway. In the future, it will become a guest house for the clients' family and friends."

"The cottage had to remain basically in the same location because of the fairly conservative deed," says Harlan, noting that the deed prohibits architectural and material changes on the principal barns and the exterior of the main house, as well as its interior millwork. "We decided to incorporate the existing foundation of the old caretaker's cottage into the new house. This established an early footprint that we expanded to create the main body of the house. Next, I added porches and wrapped them around the main body of the cottage. I elevated the great room to one-and-a-half stories. In the last design phase, I enclosed a portion of the porch so that it could function as a sunroom, which increased the interior space."

In addition to increasing living space and functionality, the porches also contribute to its living history. "There were no porches on the site so we added them to the main house addition and to the cottage," says Harlan. "They added layers on the exterior and scaled down the size of the cottage. The combination of open and enclosed porches suggests a progressive change that takes place over time. We're applying meaning to the idea of porches and expressing the fact that with a living history we can accept appropriate additions to the architectural language of the property."

The porch is supported by six square columns with simple capitals and bases inspired by a pilaster found in a corner of the main house. Taking into account how a farmer would have built the house, Harlan rejected the idea of fluted or round columns. The exterior is clad in pre-primed cedar shingles and is accompanied with western red cedar shingles on the roofs. Clear fir used for flooring was painted a muted gray, and period lantern fixtures and windows capped with copper complete the porch.

The original T-shaped floor plan consisted of a small living area with a kitchen, a bathroom and two bedrooms. Harlan converted and expanded the living space into a great room with kitchen and living areas. Toward the west end of the house, a mudroom acts as a foyer so the main entry doesn't open directly into the kitchen. The bedroom and bath contain all new finishes, and the second bedroom was repurposed as a dressing room with ample closets.

In keeping with the farm tradition of reusing materials, the laundry room, adjacent to the mudroom, was designed specifically for a set of cabinets salvaged from the original pantry in the main house. "We proportioned this room to fit that cabinetry," says Harlan. "They were stripped of lead paint and reinstalled. There wasn't quite enough to fulfill the requirements of the room so we added a couple of pieces. Basically, all of the overhead and base cabinets and the countertops were reused, and the pieces on each side of the washer and dryer are new."

In the kitchen area, new cabinets were custom designed and detailed to harmonize with the new elements in the great room. A built-in entertainment center next to a fireplace in the living area and horizontal wood paneling throughout unite the two spaces. A band of gyp-board and molding interrupts the panels to layer and minimize the visual height of the 16-ft.-tall ceiling. Several clerestory windows supplied by Palmer, MA-based LePage Millwork were installed to allow natural light. The horizontal theme is extended to the ceilings, where wood beams were finished in green against a soft white backdrop with interior paints by Benjamin Moore. The interior color scheme of greens and reds was inspired by a mural above the fireplace, which depicts the finished main house in the fall.

French doors in the great room lead to the sunroom with a fireplace, sitting area and dining space. "The sunroom is a very comfortable and sun-filled space that grew from evolving the idea of adding a porch to this cottage," says Harlan. "With the simplicity of farm building forms, the porches are dramatic design elements. They provide protection and transition from the interior to exterior. It is also a place where the clients spend a great deal of time sitting and relaxing outside."

Like all the doors, the French doors were supplied by North Java, NY-based Select Door. Other key suppliers included Cleveland, OH-based Sherwin Williams (exterior paints) and Reading, PA-based Baldwin Hardware (door and cabinet hardware). Greenwich, CT-based The Federalist and Newburgh, NY-based Hudson Valley Lighting supplied decorative light fixtures.

Despite the less stringent guidelines regarding the cottage, Harlan and his clients were able to maintain its intimate rural atmosphere and refrain from over-scaling. "What people find most attractive about this project is that they can see themselves living comfortably in this cottage and are drawn to its outward simplicity," says Harlan. "Inside, the design has a higher degree of decoration that gives it unique character and personality, with it an approachable scale for living. It's a size that's economical and desirable, yet hard to find. Oftentimes, people believe 'bigger is better' until they visit the farm and see this cottage."  



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