A weekend retreat for a large, hospitable, cultured family, Hilltop House was built on a bluff above the Connecticut River, in Lyme, Connecticut. The design process was important to the clients. As a result, lengthy meetings were held to ensure that the ultimate design met both their stylistic desires and functional needs.

The architect’s job was challenging.  Jerome Buttrick, of Buttrick Projects Architecture + Design needed to provide enough space for large gatherings of people who appreciate good design. In addition, he needed to provide a comfortable cottage with just the right amount of style.

While the final version of the house is distinctly modern with clean, airy lines, exposed steel columns, ample paned windows, and an abundance of daylight, the design of the main house and guest cottage references several other architectural traditions such as regional New England saltbox, Nantucket fishing cottages, and turn-of-the-century Shingle Style. 

Perhaps most significantly, according to Buttrick, is the main house’s long, single-gabled form pays homage to the 1897 Low House, in Bristol, Rhode Island, by McKim, Mead & White — a seminal structure by the noted firm of Buttrick’s great-grandfather, Stanford White. 

The house is approached by a gracefully curving stone stair of Connecticut granite, which leads to the front door and angled entry hall beyond.

In terms of siting, the main floor level sits several feet below a granite ridge that runs alongside it, on the same axis. This orientation allowed for maximum views of the river and Long Island Sound to the south, while providing some protection from the other side. 

Weekend Retreat’s Contemporary Layout

The contemporary layout of the main corridor is a central organizing feature for the lower floor. It runs almost the length of the house, following the line of a deer path that existed on the property.

“The shifting geometry of the north hall creates an interplay of light and dimensionality,” notes Buttrick, “giving the house a distinctive contemporary appearance. It also separates the house from its historic references.” 

The 3,120-square-foot main house, which is based on three 24-foot-square modules, elegantly accommodates two upstairs bedrooms and a guest room on the main floor. In addition, there is also an expansive living/dining area with French doors opening to the lawn along the south-facing facade.

Open Kitchen and Living Area

The open kitchen is at one end of the space; a glass-walled study at the other. Daylight fills the open living area from end to end, maximizing the sight lines and underpinning the flow between the unified spaces. 

Wood is used strategically throughout, with the kitchen set off by mahogany countertop. Local red oak is used for the ceiling of the entry hall as well as for the floors.

Weekend Guest Retreat

The 600-square-foot guest cottage, sited just down the hill, has two bedrooms upstairs and an open living/dining room on the ground floor.  A neatly appointed kitchen is tucked under the stair. 

Set in a forest of New England cedars, oaks, and maples on twelve elevated acres, the house has a gracious and generous aspect. 

With its meticulously considered and detailed design, the house and guest house combine geography with historic and contemporary architectural influences to achieve a cohesive and welcoming family home. The design satisfies the domestic, social, and stylistic needs of even the most demanding clients.

Photography by Yanbo Li and Rise Visual Media.