Wedged into a tight lot along Lake Candlewood in New Fairfield, Connecticut, this new home’s form and structure was derived from observations of trees and an adaptation of local building techniques. The project began with studies of leaf canopies, accumulated ring structures, and the dappled light that filters through groups of trees. Multiple study models in several media (concrete, acrylic, wood, plaster), investigated how light flows through perforations in these various materials.
Della Valle + Bernheimer used these models to observe, secondarily, how certain materials would be suited to creating a stable, discrete, but minimal structure. During the formative process they were interested in designing a house that seemed in large part to float and protect, much like the tree canopies on the site shelter the ground beneath them.
All photographs by Richard Barnes
The final design, a house of 5400 square feet, involved an intense collaboration with Guy Nordenson and Associates, Structural Engineers. Together Architects and Engineers developed a unique structural system of long-span ¾” x 16” x 27’ plywood joists which work in tandem with a series of steel Verendiel trusses that rest on solid billets of steel. The joists, made from scarf-jointed Douglas fir, assembled into 4’ wide panels using steel stiffening pipes to join and stabilize the plywood before being lifted into place.
The slim columns on which the steel truss structure and this joist system rest support the cantilevered volumes which are clad in red cedar. This cedar is deployed on the exterior in two different techniques: First, it is installed with a vertical board and batten technique to exaggerate the appearance that the house was assembled as a series of stacked pieces, like the rings of a tree. On obverse faces the wood is installed in a jointless tongue and groove fashion.
Organized around the central double-height volume spanned by the special long-span wood joists, the ground floor is primarily wrapped in monumental sliding glass panels, opening up the house and connecting the inside, quite literally, to the outside. The mobility of these panels exaggerates the weight of the two cantilevered volumes above.
Upstairs, two cantilevers contain the bedrooms. These spaces jut out over the lake like the prow of a boat and protrude into the surrounding trees themselves. Carefully located skylights illuminate the great room and each of the upstairs spaces, as if light were coming through gaps in tree branches.