Step Inside a Waterfront Home Designed by Forehand + Partners

January 16, 2023

Casual and formal come together in a Guilford home with all-season appeal.

Text by Paula M. Bodah    Photography by Amy Vischio

On approach, this newly built home has all the markings of a beach house. Clinging steadfastly to a rocky cliff with views of Long Island Sound and the Thimble Islands, the Guilford house is reminiscent of the gracious turn-of-the-twentieth-century shingled dwellings that dot New England’s coastal landscape, complete with such charms as turrets, a cupola, and a wraparound veranda.

The owners enjoy summery days here, but their true intent was a year-round home, a sanctuary from the hubbub of their New York City lives and the place they’ll retire to when they wrap up their high-powered careers. They pictured themselves in sophisticated surroundings, making the most of the knockout location but not giving in to beachfront cliché.

Designed by architect Nathan Topf, the house stands as a feat of engineering, thanks to the efforts of builder Barry Ertelt. “It’s all on ledge on a slope going down to a cliff and to the water, so we had to do a lot of blasting, then rebar everything into the ledge,” he explains. “We’re in a geological movement area, so if we built this on compacted rocks, the whole house could slide.”

With 1,800 yards of concrete and the steel reinforcements, the house is there to stay. “It’ll withstand earthquakes and hurricanes with no damage whatsoever,” Ertelt says.

Designer Raymond Forehand, whose firm was responsible for the interior architecture as well as the decor, chose architectural details rooted in tradition to give the 11,000-square-foot, three-story home a bit more formality than a typical summer house. “My clients’ tastes lean toward the traditional,” he says, in explaining his choice for the grand two-and-a-half-story foyer’s rift-sawn white oak paneling and the Chippendale-inspired railing of the floating staircase. For the floor, he says, “We wanted some formality, but we didn’t want to be over the top with a traditional black-and-white floor.” Instead, he designed hexagonal tiles of limestone and marble in taupe, tan, and cream. “It’s really beautiful, but it doesn’t hit you over the head.”

The foyer leads to a barrel-ceilinged hallway that connects to the main living area. Here, the kitchen, informal dining room, living room, and a sunny conservatory come together in an open space that brings the formality down a notch. Decorative choices, like a rattan-front console in the dining room and an oyster-shell mirror in the foyer, also help to straddle that line between casual and courtly. “We didn’t want it to be beachy, but we also didn’t want it to be stuffy,” Forehand says.

The designer worked with a palette of soft neutrals and shades of blue throughout the home. “There are a lot of creams and taupes and tans—beachy colors,” he says, “but we also committed to color with blues.” Those blues range from the cornflower drapes in a guest room to the royal blue of a living room ottoman to the almost-navy curtains in the lower-level family room.

It took four and a half years to complete the house, thanks to pandemic-related supply issues in addition to the complexity of the project, Ertelt says. No doubt, the clients’ delight—as well as a 2021 Home Building Industry (HOBI) award for Best Custom Home—made it all worthwhile.

Project Team
Interior architecture and design: Forehand + Partners
Architecture: Nathan J Topf Architects
Builder: Hallmark Associates

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