A Brand New Home Built to Look 100 Years Old

At first glance, most people would probably swear this home was built around 1910, and that’s exactly how architect Douglas VanderHorn and the family who hired him wanted it. The family’s previous home on the property, which they’d lived in for years, had such small rooms, awkward spaces and dated systems that the homeowners made the difficult choice to tear it down and start over. Easing their pain was the architect’s meticulous eye for detail that gave their new home a classic Shingle look. In addition, the historic facade conceals state-of-the-art energy-efficient systems and technology, including a mini electric plant that generates the home’s electricity.

Gus Cantavero Photography, original photo on Houzz

Houzz at a Glance

Who lives here: A family of six
Location: Greenwich, Connecticut
Size: Six bedrooms, seven full bathrooms and three half baths
Designers: Architect Douglas VanderHorn and interior designer Lee Ann Thornton

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In addition to creating a home with historic Shingle style, the family wanted to protect and save the mature trees on their property, including the large beech on the right. Making full use of the third floor via dormers and the hill for the walk-out lower level meant VanderHorn could fit scads of square footage in a footprint that keeps the house at a graceful scale. The roofline and porches also help break up the facade in a pleasant manner.

“To make a house look historic, we do lots and lots of research,” VanderHorn says. “I looked very carefully at the great architecture of this era.” The year they were going for was 1910, at the end of Shingle style’s heyday.

At the entrance, the sidelights and transom are leaded glass, and the Doric columns and railings were modeled after those found on homes from the era. The porch, sidewalk and steps are New York bluestone. The shingles on the siding and the roof are red cedar.

The architect tended to every detail. He installed weight-and-pulley windows, which are true to the period. As in traditional Shingle homes, the windows are spaced 6 inches apart to allow room for the counterweight pocket. Another detail is the scale of the shutters and how they were hung. VanderHorn used hinges to attach the shutters and make them functional, as they would have been in a 1910 home.

Perhaps the most important element that contributed to giving the home a period look was the stone. “Stonework looks very new today because masons use diamond saws, which cut too perfectly and take away the handcrafted look of it. In this case, perfect is not better,” VanderHorn says.

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He found the imperfection he was looking for with fieldstone reclaimed from an old farm wall. Hammers were used to break up the stones instead of diamond saws. Deeper-than-usual gaps between each stone lend an authentic period look and create a more interesting texture than the more modern technique of grouting the concrete up to the edge of the stones.


John Olson Photography, original photo on Houzz


The living room is elegant yet inviting. A plaster relief border on the ceiling is another period detail. A large beaded chandelier adds a casual coastal touch, as does a painting by Provincetown, Massachusetts, artist Anne Packard.

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The bays along the back of the house face the Long Island Sound and are outfitted with French doors that lead to a long terrace.

John Olson Photography, original photo on Houzz


“One of the most important changes the homeowners wanted to make was for their modern family lifestyle — a very open arrangement for a large kitchen, breakfast room and family room,” VanderHorn says. They wanted the kitchen to serve as the main hub of the home for their family of six and have enough room for everyone.

The kitchen includes a large island and a breakfast nook. Beams and beadboard ceilings were common in 1910 shorefront homes in the area.


John Olson Photography, original photo on Houzz


The rec room is sleepover heaven, with a built-in bunk bed nook, TV, large sectional and pingpong table. The bunk beds have a ship’s berth look to them, and sliding barn doors close to conceal the bunks when not in use.

The ceiling looks like whitewashed oak but is actually a wallcovering. Sea grass, wood planks and cool blues round out the coastal look.

The rec room is part of a large walk-out lower level with direct access to the water-facing side of the house. Part of the reason the homeowners wanted to expand was to have enough room for their children’s activities; there is also a dance studio and gym down here.


JMI Photography, original photo on Houzz


The master bedroom enjoys sweeping views out to the water and has its own private balcony. The marble mantel was reclaimed from the old house.

On the back of the house, a pergola adds era-appropriate architectural interest. “The pergola also helps bring the scale of the back of the house down and integrates it into the landscape. The wisteria has really taken hold since this photo was taken,” VanderHorn says. The French doors here are the ones we saw in the living and dining rooms. On the top floor, a shed dormer makes room for two of the bedrooms.


Gus Cantavero Photography, original photo on Houzz


The porch with the bell-shaped roof on the left is just off the drawing room; the balcony overhead belongs to the master bedroom. The large bay on the right is the breakfast nook, and the stone-covered portion on the far right is the family room. The area where you see the umbrella is the pool.

Yes, this is a large home. But it is extremely energy-efficient, which was important to the homeowners: If they were going to tear their home down and start over, they wanted to make it count. It has a geothermal heating and cooling system, a tight envelope (thanks to spray-foam insulation) and LED lighting. It produces its own electricity via a cogeneration system. During peak hours, a small amount of electricity from the grid is needed, but after the family goes to bed, the system puts electricity back into the grid and the meter runs backward. Heat from the process is captured through a manifold system and used to heat the domestic hot water and radiant floors.

Project Manager: Elizabeth Rrogami, VanderHorn Architects
Contractor: Significant Homes
Landscape design: Rutherford Associates
Lighting design: Patdo Light Studio
Audiovisual: InnerSpace Electronics

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