Photographs by Amy Vischio
Our homes are where we RETREAT FROM THE WORLD, where we FIND SECURITY AND COMFORT. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, we spoke with DESIGNER AMY AIDINIS HIRSCH about the dream home she and her husband built here. Today, the story of her PERSONAL HAVEN is more relevant than ever
Where does the story of this home begin? It’s been a year since we moved in. We had been living in Stamford in what was a great starter home. My husband and I had our two daughters there, and now that they’re a bit older, we had outgrown it. Our objective was to find an acre of land with some space, and it took a really long time. We finally found this piece of property that had a horrible house from the 1940s on it. It was much bigger than the house we built, and it was long and dilapidated. We really bought it for the property—it was in the same district for our kids, and it’s two minutes from my mom and where I grew up. My husband and I are both lifelong Greenwich residents—we were born and raised here; we both live and work here; multiple generations of our families live here. When we closed, we were on vacation, and when we came back, my husband said, “Why don’t you walk through the house one more time just to see what you want to do?” So, I walked inside, and I said, “Let’s knock it down.” That started the process.
What were you looking to create? I knew I wanted to build something myself. We wanted a galvanized roof and aluminum windows, and we wanted a house with very little maintenance. That meant we didn’t want stone walls; we wanted cement; we wanted our decking to be very simple. We didn’t want anything over-the-top that we had to maintain. We wanted a home where we could live and entertain and not have to worry.
How long did it take, from start to finish? Because it took a year to find the land, it was a three-year endeavor; the build itself was eighteen months. We had wetlands, and it takes time to go through that process. While we were dealing with that, we had the time to finesse the plans with an architect, which was key. It’s funny, but the way I found Paulo Vicente of Vicente-Burin Architects was through editorials. He had been recommended by a close friend, and after loving the vision of some of his houses in these editorials, I knew he was it; I didn’t interview anyone else. He provided five homes on a floor plan for us, and we went with a hybrid of two of them—one he designed and one his wife, Martina, designed. He suggested moving the house twenty-five feet toward the road, and I wasn’t sure that was the right choice, but it was the best decision we ever made. It gave us a larger backyard, and we live in our backyard. We entertain in our kitchen, which is integrated into our backyard, and we’re out there all the time. Paulo nailed that.
Paulo, how does this home represent Amy? To me, it reflects Amy’s own work, which is varied and eclectic in nature but always well-organized, restrained and comfortable. This house has a unique blend of traditional forms with steeply pitched gable roofs, traditional windows and board and batten siding. These are contrasted in proportion with large expanses of glass, cantilevered awnings, a galvanized roof, exposed concrete and black clad forms. The interior continues the same theme with a mix of reclaimed wood beams, traditional wallpaper contrasted with floating stairs, trimless window surrounds and contemporary fireplaces. The house is casual and comfortable yet put together in a restrained and stylish manner. I think it reflects the character of Amy and her family.
What inspired the look of the exterior? I didn’t want what everyone else in New England had. I wanted a home that when you walked inside, you couldn’t believe it actually exists here. We built a modern farmhouse, and while I know people are tired of that terminology, that’s really what we wanted. We wanted high ceilings and a tremendous amount of glass, and we have a “glass cube” that’s within our entry and up to a little sitting room, so the second floor looks like it’s floating. You can see straight through the house from front to back, and natural light played a big role. On the outside, the first vision I had—and this is so crazy—was Guinness, and I don’t even drink Guinness! It was the idea of dark and tan, a contrast. Our garage is encased in yellow cedar, and it’s all stained black. There’s this push and pull between the black and white and the gray galvanized tin roof. On the exterior, the mullions and everything on the windows are black. I was hell-bent on doing that for the interior windows, but I was doing so much of that for clients that I wanted a reprieve from it. I also went for a black kitchen, and I felt like it could be overkill with the windows, so it’s the best of both worlds—black mullions on the outside and white on the inside.
What were you drawn to for the interior? I did some research and looked at Scandinavian interiors and houses in Australia. I was drawn to purity and simplicity, to concrete, white walls, no trim, no moldings except for a base. My husband and I love rustic beams, and these are 200-year-old beams salvaged from a barn and brought in from Tennessee. We love the disbursement and rhythm of them, how they travel from one side to the other and to strategic places upstairs. It was about knowing where to install them and where to have restraint against being too rustic. We discussed cladding the family room ceiling in tons of old, reclaimed wood, but in the end, less was more; that was the motto for our house. The Hudson Company sourced and procured the old rustic beams throughout, supplied the white oak character grade wood flooring and milled the rift oak wood planking that encases the family room fireplace, which was all installed by Keith J. Manca Building Company.
The dining room is stunning. How did this space come together? We knew we didn’t want a living room, but we do love to entertain. The dining room essentially acts as my office—it has this great, big table, and the light is beautiful in there. We put in an office for me in the basement, but I never use it—it’s a catchall for everything! We use the dining room more in the winter if we’re entertaining, but day-to-day, it’s really an office for me. And that’s the balance of what Paulo created—the right side of the house, where this room is as well as a guest room, is much more private. But on a daily basis, our family lives in the left side of the house.
Since you tend to work in here, does the dining room creatively fuel your work? I think so, because there’s so much green. The beauty is the de Gournay hand-painted chinoiserie wall. It was a moment I struggled with a bit, trying to decide what I was going to put in here. It’s a great backdrop to see when you’re in the kitchen, and when I walk down the stairs in the morning, it’s one of the first things I see when I reach the first floor. It’s so impactful, and it’s a nod back to my traditional roots.
Tell me about your decision to go with a black kitchen. I wanted something unusual and totally different. If I ever want to change this down the road, I can paint the walls another color, and that’s the beauty of this house—it has the flexibility to change as we grow and change. And I’m not going to lie, I almost chickened out—I almost went with a white kitchen. But I have no regrets. The other factor in here is the walnut, which I love; it’s one of my favorite materials to use. When you open up the drawers, everything is lined in the walnut. We didn’t want too many open cabinets, so we spent a lot of time dissecting where everything would go. There’s almost too much storage, but that’s a really good thing. The pantry acts as an extension of the kitchen—everything happens in there. There’s a wine fridge, microwave, icemaker; the coffee is in there. So our kitchen, for the most part, stays like this all the time. I used the Statuario Gold on the perimeter countertops and backsplash, and we did Leathered Black Absolute for the island. My mindset was, if I’m in it, I’m fully in it. It was a very pure approach.
Tell me about your master suite—the layout is so unique. You walk down this long hallway to approach it, and everyone always asks, “Are you ever going to put anything on the walls? This would be the perfect place for family photos.” But I always say no—this is my decompression walk, my meditation walk; it calms me. We also reintroduced the beams here. And for our bedroom, I wanted to be able to walk 360 degrees around our entire suite. The bed is anchored to the main wall, and then you can walk down the hall on the left or right to the closet, which we share, and then into the bathroom. The flow is great, and it’s one of the best design elements of the house. Massive steel mirrored pocket doors divide the hallway and bathroom, and that went back to having something raw.
How did you ensure your master bath suited both you and your husband? I didn’t want a bathroom separated into his and hers. Bathrooms are all about materials, repetition and function, and there is a large amount of storage in here. The drawers are all touch-latch, and I wanted to carry the black in, so we did a Nero Marquina herringbone floor. The countertops are quartz, which was one of the last things I sourced, and it has so much movement; I love the organic element it brings. All of our hardware is black; everything in our suite is a gunmetal. Even in our children’s bathrooms and the guest bathrooms, everything intentionally shares the same language. There’s a consistency.
The rope bed is amazing—whose room is that? That’s my younger daughter’s room, and she found that bed and pinned it. She didn’t want a lot of color in her room, but she did want a hanging bed, and the mill shop that did all of our cabinetry throughout the house made the bed for me. It’s a mattress on top of a platform, so it doesn’t actually swing, but it’s designed to look like it’s floating, with this fabulous plush carpet underneath. My daughter is a gymnast, so if that bed was actually floating around, we’d be in a lot of trouble!
How did you curate your art collection? Because there is so much light and so many windows, there were only so many strategic places for art. It’s another layer of what we do, and Tiffany Nelson from Nelson Macker Fine Art was instrumental. She would send me artists whom she felt were right for our house, and I would dig a little deeper. Every piece of art that came into our home had purpose and meaning. Each one represents us.
Has any one room emerged as your favorite? That’s hard, because there are so many great spots, but I will say that we love our fire pit. We love being outside, and it makes you feel like you’re in the woods. I knew I wanted hornbeams and grasses as an extension of the casualness of the way we live. The gravel was key—I went to Terrain and found these little black rocks, and our landscape architect Doyle Herman Design Associates had to search for them; it wasn’t easy. But those tiny black pebbles, and the rest of the materials, just make the space.
How would you describe the experience of designing your own home? It was really hard. I’m decisive with clients, but with my own home, there were just so many choices. But it goes back to your gut. Everything I do, I feel within my body. Whenever I was paralyzed with indecision, I put my attention elsewhere and knew that somehow, it would circle back and work itself out, and my gut wouldn’t ache so much when I fell onto what the right choice was. At one point, my husband said to me, “Could you ever do this again?” And I said, “No way do I ever want to do this again!” But when it was done, I turned to him and said, “So what are we going to do now?” [laughs] I’m just so grateful for this house and grateful that I can bless my family with it. We live very simply, and this house allows us to do that. It’s heaven.
Interior designer: Amy Aidinis Hirsch Interior Design, Greenwich; 203-661-1266; amyhirsch.com
Architect: Vicente-Burin Architects, Fairfield; 203-319-9571; vbarchitect.com
General contractor: Keith J. Manca Building Company, Newtown; 203-270-3603; kjmbuilding.com
Landscape architect: Doyle Herman Design Associates, Greenwich; 203-869-2900; dhda.com
Art advisor: Tiffany Nelson, 203-249-3685; nelsonmackerfineart.com
Florist: Green of Greenwich, Greenwich; greenofgreenwich.com