A Shore Thing

On a Wednesday afternoon in February, Cos Cob Harbor is a frozen expanse of cloudy glass in a winter of frigid temperatures. But from Nancy Ozizmir’s home, where she lives with her husband, Dan, and their three children, it is easy to imagine this view after the thaw: 400 yards of waterfront, with a center-console fishing boat tied up at the dock, a slew of paddleboards and kayaks, nearby Riverside Yacht Club in full seasonal swing, and a splashy cannonball contest underway in the pool. (Her kids were all proficient swimmers by the age of three.)

In 1996, with a baby on the way, the couple arrived here after renting a house in mid-country and scouring the area. Refugees from New York City, they had visions of their children fishing from a dock and riding their bikes to Old Greenwich.

The home they moved into was a quaint, 5,000-square-foot Victorian that stood on a site once known as Little Point and was built in about 1870 when, according to local lore, the area was inhabited by sea captains and muckrakers. It was one of the first houses built on the lane, and it pre-dated the yacht club.

The Ozizmirs were drawn to the old beauty and her enviable location, but they knew she had seen better days. The house was not sited to take advantage of the views, aluminum siding was deteriorating and the old wood shingles underneath were rotting; the asphalt roof shingles were blowing off in the wind; coal dust from the plant in Cos Cob had settled on every surface, and the slider windows that had been installed over the years were not the most attractive–or functional–in the catalog. The four-car garage once inhabited by the butler for the chairman of General Electric was reachable only by a meandering driveway that snaked through the yard.

“It took ten men to open the picture window in the living room,” recalls Nancy. “But we saw the potential.” They stuck it out for about six years–her son rode his tricycle around the first floor like a kamikaze pilot, and they played pool in the dining room–until they decided to take it down and build a replacement.

From the Ground Up
An avid runner and marathoner, Nancy used her daily workouts to identify homes in the neighborhood that she admired. Each time she spotted one, she left a note in the mailbox inquiring about the architecture firm that had designed it.

The strategy paid off. Together she and her husband vetted several firms before hiring, in 2003, Architectural Digest Top 100 mainstay Shope Reno Wharton of South Norwalk. (Before moving north in 2008, the firm was located in Greenwich, where it was established in 1981.)

“When we positioned the new house, we used aerial pictures of our property (and the area) and dropped the architectural renderings on the map,” says Nancy. “We staked out the property. Once the old home was demolished, we could stand by each room’s stake and know what the view would be. We tweaked the positioning to keep a 200-year-old beech tree. To save the tree, which you see as you drive up the driveway, we welled it and fenced it, protecting the roots. We also detached the garage. All to save the tree. They called me the tree hugger.”

Partner Arthur Hanlon oversaw a team of four dedicated to the project. “This was one of the first new homes on Club Road at the time,” says Hanlon. “The neighborhood was watching to see how it would turn out.” In addition to the neighborhood watch, the architect faced more practical challenges as well, among them a need to work responsibly within a coastal zone and to incorporate the existing outbuildings into the new scheme.

“The old house was built when the land on Club Road had a different shape,” he explains. “The orientation did not capture the dramatic views down the Sound toward New York City.”

After ten months of planning and sixteen months of construction by New Canaan-based Bacco, Inc., the Ozizmirs moved into a 10,000-square-foot mini-manse clad in red cedar shingles that hugged the shoreline. Appointed with stout, tapered columns and barrel-vaulted ceilings boned like the rib cage of a whale, the house showcases the vista from every room but two. (Nancy says her older daughter, whose room overlooks trees and the street, doesn’t mind because she has a secret room.)

Dan, an investor with a passion for cooking, helped design the kitchen. There is an industrial copper hood over the range, custom cabinetry, and drawers placed for frequent access. Though he was talked out of the pizza oven, one is now being designed for the porch.

Hanlon and his team designed ceilings on the first floor that are just over ten feet high, and then on the second floor they specified knee walls at varying heights. “[The knee walls] add character to the rooms and keep the horizontal feeling of a one-and-a-half-story structure,” he says. “Proportion is a key building block in creating a good piece of architecture.”

Situated on two acres once planted with corn, the compound features stadium seating for boxwoods out front and a landscaped slope down to the water out back. That space, between the house and the water, includes a bluestone terrace, a screened porch fit for three generations of an extended family on summer holiday, and a pool with a wide deck set at a jaunty angle to the house.

A Plan for Play
At the water’s edge, there is a dock, a boat house and a cabana, which was the result of a modification of the butler’s cottage original to the Victorian. Both buildings are topped by weather vanes and embellished with shingles to match the main house. The entire scene possesses a homegrown, vernacular appeal, which the architect, an avid sailor who has seen the house on a boat from the water, says was his goal.

“I think this house is both recognizable and enduring,” he says. “It has become appreciated much the way the old Victorian was.”

An aerial photograph of the compound shows how closely the footprint of the house follows the contour of the coast, enabling maximum enjoyment of the amenities.

Waving her hand toward the playground outside, Nancy says, “We live out there in the summer. The house is arranged so that we enjoy both the sunrise and the sunset.”

These enviable characteristics worked their magic on more than just the Ozizmirs and their family and friends. Hollywood came calling. A location scout in search of a set for the 2013 Tyler Perry film Peeples, knocked on the front door. After determining that it wasn’t a hoax, Nancy and her family handed over the house for three months and decamped to a rental on Lucas Point in Old Greenwich overlooking Tod’s Point. There Nancy says they enjoyed the beachier feel and a new perspective on the water.

A slapstick comedy about a marriage proposal starring Craig Robinson, Kerry Washington, David Alan Grier and S. Epatha Merkerson, among others, Peeples is set in the Hamptons, not a far stretch for a nationwide audience likely unfamiliar with the differences between the beaches of the Atlantic and the craggy Connecticut coast. (Rowayton was used to resemble Sag Harbor.)

“We came to visit the set every day,” Nancy says of the adventure. Furniture, hanging lights and art were put in storage, and every detail of the remaining finishes were documented and later inspected with an impressive level of scrutiny. “It was lots of fun to see how a movie is made. There were dogs and cranes, camera people, artists, actors, make-up people, hair people, cooks, grips and three people on staff just to protect our house.

Part of the Landscape
Now, in 2015, long after the film has wrapped, Nancy is leading a tour of residential interiors she largely designed herself. The most salient aspect of the house to a visitor may be its ability to project an intimacy in contrast to the reality of its size and stature, which from the grand exterior includes a roofline of five gables, four soaring stone chimneys, and copious sweeps with the grace of a ball gown from a fairytale.

“When the interior and exterior work together, you have a home that feels great, fits in, and takes advantage of its site,” said Hanlon.

The architect, the movie scouts, and the Ozizmirs themselves are not the only ones pleased with the house. In 2007 it received the Alice Washburn Award for traditional residential architecture by the Connecticut statewide chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Nancy shares anecdotes about how she acquired particular pieces or chose a spot for a painting. Antique urns from Turkey, her husband’s homeland, are tucked into niches in the living room. An old grandfather clock she found in New England stands in the sunken front foyer, where you begin to be seduced by the view straight ahead. Seven vertical canvases painted in bold colors by local artist friend Lisa Warren decorate her upstairs landing, which serves as a sunlit office space. She purchased them during a benefit she hosted at the house.

Throughout, the color palette mirrors the outdoors: sandy beaches, gray rocks, blue water and an occasional golden brown for the marsh in winter. “Every room needs a little touch of black for grounding,” she says. “It gives the eye a place to rest.” She achieved this in a shiny baby grand that sits in the living room and in the tiny shades on the chandelier, one of two, that hangs above it, and with a black absolute granite fireplace surround that is the backdrop for the English pine mantel.

There are maritime paintings of ships with billowing sails, an English-pine mantel with feminine lines and a delicate ornamentation of carved shells, dainty settees, a masculine clubroom complete with a bar, a porthole window, and paintings both abstract and realistic, muted and bright.

“Art is my next thing,” says the self-made decorator who has been hired for an interiors project in Riverside. “The next piece I am interested in is a Wolf Kahn piece I will probably put in the dining room. I like Robert Kelly and I like authentic antique marine art pieces.”

One of Nancy’s favorite finds is the Arne Jacobsen Egg chair she found at The Local Vault; it was once owned by an 85-year-old Norwegian man in Stamford. She also adores her Swedish alabaster light fixtures. The one shaped like an egg glows from the inside, casting the foyer powder room in a golden warmth. The other, in the form of an old-fashioned champagne coupe weighing 100 pounds, is suspended above the bed in the master bedroom. She says it took the installers nearly a day to hang.

Nearby is a place where you could easily spend a whole day. A large Carrara-marble master bathroom, linked to his-and-hers dressing rooms, includes a stall shower, twin sinks, a vanity table, and a deep bathtub, framed by windows–the perfect perch to recharge and simply enjoy the view.


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