A case study in one-of-a-kind design

This was an incredibly interesting project where I had almost unlimited creative freedom.

The project took place at a ranch style residence built on a slab in the early 1960s and located in a secluded area in Avon, Connecticut.

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The owners wanted to change the look and feel of the house from a boxy ranch appearance to a more contemporary style with one-of-a-kind features and a few museum-like qualities.

I was hired as the design lead and as the project manager for the remodel, which focused largely on designing a new addition to the front of the house that would serve as a private master bathroom. The project also consisted of a redesign of an existing guest bedroom and bathroom, along with several architectural and design tweaks to interior and exterior spaces to tie the new look and feel of the home together.

My clients, the homeowners, were a married couple in their sixties when I took on this project. They were both doctors who regularly saw patients at home. They were hardworking, creative, fun and smart. They enjoyed visiting New York City museums frequently and had a sailboat that was often docked in Martha’s Vineyard. Most importantly, they enjoyed each other’s company and their home immensely.

All of these characteristics were incorporated into almost every aspect of the design process.

There was a great deal of debate among the design team as to how the addition should look when it extended from the main part of the house. One of the consulting architects wanted to see a flat roof on the addition. He believed that a flat roof and square addition would appear the most architecturally correct when viewed from outside. I chose to go in a different direction. 

I wanted the addition to look as if it was part of the original home and not something that appeared to be added later. I designed the slope of the roof addition so that it extended from the home at an angle that complemented the slope of the home’s existing roof. This design met the goal of eliminating the boxy look associated with the front of the house and made it seem as if the house had never been altered. 

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I added another angle that exactly followed the slope of the existing roof to create a new exterior courtyard wall. The angle of that wall was designed to add a degree of privacy to the front of the addition and to dramatically define the new courtyard and garden spaces I located in front of the house as part of the exterior design plan.

The angled courtyard wall added a fresh and contemporary look to the front of the house and served as an important reference point for many of the design tweaks I made inside. I incorporated complementary angles into several interior spaces and featured angles in some of the artwork and furniture I designed for various locations inside the house.

Three angled walls were built inside. One of those walls was located in the foyer area where I removed a series of original dark wood floor-to-ceiling columns that separated the entryway from the living room. The angled wall transformed the foyer area into a more modern space and served as dramatic framing for the breathtaking view of the mountains in back of the house. 

Another matching angled wall was built behind the new foyer wall to provide a cozy and interesting sitting area in front of the home’s living room fireplace. The third angled wall was added behind the music room to divide the main living area from an open sun room. These walls were interesting to look at on their own, but all three of them tied the new look and feel of the home together perfectly.

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The new master bath addition was accessed by turning left after entering the home from the foyer and heading toward the master bedroom suite. The addition replaced a typically small private full bath that was located off the master bedroom.

The bidet and toilet for the new bathroom were located in the former bathroom space. A sliding pocket door separated the bidet and toilet from the new room where cabinetry, his and her sinks, a Jacuzzi tub and an over-sized shower with glass walls and folding glass doors were located. 

This space was extremely fun to design. The owners wanted it to be inviting, private and one-of-a-kind room where they could enjoy the environment and each other.

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From the his and her sinks and double-sided suspended round mirror, to the cabinetry, drawer pulls and towel and robe hooks located throughout the two rooms, almost all of the art-like accessories in these spaces were custom designed.

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The sink stands and cabinetry went through several design iterations before I developed the concept of the double triangles, which were complemented by a square made up of nautical blue floor tile, and a perfect circle, consisting of a double-sided mirror mounted in a stainless steel frame and suspended from the ceiling by custom-made adjustable hooks.

I mocked up this design several times to make changes for structural support, electrical and plumbing, scale and client requirements for storage and usability. The result was a sculptural well-defined piece that was extremely functional and interesting to look at during all day parts.

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Lighting and finishes played a critical role in the design success of these rooms. The two spaces were painted a flat museum white. Heavy brushed and stainless steel accents combined with art-like custom-designed fixtures, a good deal of thick glass, and strategically placed lighting and mirrors helped to create a comfortable and extremely unique atmosphere. 

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While the new addition met every design goal the property owners had envisioned, I became more of a fan of the design work I did in the guest bathroom. This room was located on the opposite side of the house, where I once again had a lot of creative freedom.

The guest bath was another typically small and dated room with a sink and toilet on one wall and a stand-up shower opposite the toilet. The remodel included changing the wall surfaces, flooring and baseboards, custom cabinetry, lighting and the design of a new sink area.

The owners wanted to completely transform this room and were most interested in creating another modern and one-of-a-kind space. Most importantly, the design needed to complement the updates that had been made in other areas of the home.

I chose black marble for the floor and baseboards. This was the first time I had specified a black marble floor and it was a huge success. The tile added an elegant feel and a bit of subtle sparkle to the room.

I selected smokey gray mirror to completely cover the walls in the guest bathroom. Those mirrors ran from the ceiling to the black marble baseboard and added a feeling of depth and a great deal of visual impact to the space. The design included a new gray toilet and matching gray custom-made cabinetry on the upper half of the back wall of the room. 

The sink area provided me with another opportunity to create an interesting, sculptural and functional design. This is where I incorporated some of my favorite design surfaces and textures to create a modern sink area that had a high-tech look and feel. 

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The boat-sized brushed stainless steel sink was set in one inch thick polished glass. The glass was supported by custom-designed stainless steel brackets and held in place by exposed brushed stainless steel nuts and bolts.

Mirror, the width of the sink, was installed on the wall behind the glass and ran from the back of the sink up to the ceiling. The mirror was designed for functionality and to clearly define the sink area by providing a striking contrast between the smokey gray walls in the rest of the room.

I left the underside of the sink unfinished to add a rough and contrasting texture to the area and kept all of the chrome plumbing fixtures and connections visible to add to the technical look of the piece.

The result was a sink area that was sleek, modern and one-of-a-kind.

Sink areas have changed a lot since I first sketched out this design. The industry has seen trends ranging from interesting pedestal and modern bowl-like sinks, to big-store ready-to-go vanities that incorporate trendy cabinetry and fixtures. I’ve worked with, and specified, many of these products. But I have yet to see another sink area or vanity that appeals to me more from an overall artistic point of view when compared to this stylish sink I designed several years ago.

I extended the marble floor in the guest bathroom into an adjoining relatively small hallway that bordered two guest bedrooms and the home’s kitchen on one side, and the home’s music room on the other side. I updated the wall color in that hallway to match the same flat museum white used in other updated areas of the house.

The black marble, combined with the existing red terracotta floor in the kitchen and the existing hardwood floors in the guest bedrooms, provided a dramatic and inviting contrast in color and surfaces. The new white walls added to the visual contrast and the updated look and feel of the space.

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I also had a lot of fun redesigning two guest bedrooms located off of the black marble hallway.

That room was approximately 14 feet by 16 feet in size, with decor pretty much original to the house. The room was generally used for storage. It was a dark and private room with no view and barely any natural light. Small privacy windows were located on the wall across from the entrance to the room, which helped to create a basement-like feeling in the space.

The homeowners wanted to go from dark to bright in this room. They also wanted to incorporate some of the artistic touches that were taking place in other areas of the house to create a comfortable, modern and inviting space for guests. 

I specified a large greenhouse window to open up the room. Greenhouse windows can be a bit tricky to work with from a design perspective given they can often appear as if they are simply attached to a home or building without proper consideration for overall interior and exterior aesthetics.

But in this instance the greenhouse window proved to be the perfect design choice. The location of this room was not visible to neighbors and could not be seen from the street, driveway, front of the house, or from any other area of the home’s very unique and secluded property. 

The design of this room pretty much started after I had the greenhouse window installed. This is when the room went from dark and dated to sunny and bright with incredible views of the lush landscaping immediately outside the window, and stunning views of the mountains to the left.

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The window sat about six inches above the outside ground line and added a uniquely large counter-like area to the space. Once installed, my number one design goal focused on ensuring the views served as the most important piece of art in the room.  

I designed everything else in the space with an eye toward balance and simplicity. While the new day and night views were stunning, they were also busy. I wanted the interior of the room to be simple, so that the space complemented and highlighted the views during all day parts. 

The accessories and furniture were designed with scale and functionality in mind, and as a means to bring some of the angles, colors and surfaces I used in other areas of the home into the space. The walls were painted the same flat museum white used in the hallway leading into the room, and in other updated areas of the house.

The height of the multi-use dresser was designed to perfectly align with the bottom of the new window counter surface to add a strong sense of balance to the room. The scaled and functional piece included drawer space, shelving and room for a desk chair.

I designed two stainless steel triangles that were mounted together to form a square on the wall across from the dresser. The square served as the only formal artwork in the room and was designed to add a sleek and complementary contrast to the space.

I did quite a bit of additional carpentry, custom framing and matting, and detail and finishing work in other areas of this very unique house, including several designs developed to complement some of the original George Nakashima pieces located in the home at the time.

The image below provides a nice glimpse of the black marble floor specified for the new guest bathroom and adjoining hall. That hallway leads into the home’s two guest bedrooms I redesigned, and the music room, which can be seen on the left. One of three angled walls installed in the house was located right behind the music room. 

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I finished this remodel in 1993. While I would likely approach a few things differently if I were to take these projects on now, I wouldn’t change any of the artistic designs that made this remodel so unique. These one-of-a-kind designs remain an incredibly strong proof point for demonstrating excellence in balance and scale in designed environments today.

Some of the images I’ve included on these pages are from my portfolio and are copyrighted. Others are snapshots taken during and after installations took place. Please credit Russ DeVeau if you are interested in sharing a photo.

Visit my contact page for information on how to get in touch with me to further discuss this remodel and for details on some of the hundreds of other projects I’ve worked on since. I am always interested in looking at new projects and enjoy connecting with other design professionals and enthusiasts worldwide. – Russ DeVeau

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