American Institute of Architects CT | 2011
Award for Design Excellence
House of Magic
The project began when I picked up the phone and heard the distinctive gravelly voice of actor Harvey Fierstein asking if we would design a magical house for him and his family.
What I subsequently learned was that the family he spoke of was actually his dog, and a wonderful collection of American folk art, and the magic in his life was the magic of Broadway.
The resulting design mirrors Harvey’s buoyant, dramatic personality, but also speaks of his intense desire for privacy and retreat when he is not on stage.
The house is nestled in the landscape at the end of a dirt road, the exterior expression is evocative of a Connecticut tobacco barn. Small openings on the quietly abstracted front are replaced by expanses of glass along the rear that expose the timber barn frame and capture stunning views of the river valley that the property affords.
The sedate distilled New England façade belies the exuberant fun-house inside, reflecting the larger-than-life personality of the actor. The interior is conceived as a stage set, in which a series of “scenes” can be produced. Drawing upon authentic theatrical stage construction, a rigging system is employed to move large art pieces in and out of the living and dining areas, allowing for an ever-changing “cast”. Spotlights, pulleys, and metal railings are among the accoutrements of stage-craft that are used throughout. A theatrical steel catwalk connects the upper level, while affording dramatic views of the spaces below. The timber framing and other finishes are rustic, light and bright. The kitchen millwork was constructed from oak planking salvaged from the set of Fiddler on The Roof. Inspired in part by Fellini’s Surrealist film Juliet of the Spirits, the scenery is meant to evoke dreams and fantasies.
The architecture is a unique product of a life defined by the magic and artifice of the theatrical stage.