Feature > Grand Living in a Small Space

For those who appreciate good design, one of the most satisfying aesthetic experiences occurs when a practical need is met using inspired, elegant architecture.North Hampton homeowners Jim and Susan Baldini’s recently completed carriage house is a case in point. When the Baldinis realized they needed more garage space, they contacted architect Ralf Amsden, interior designer Paul Stone and builder Ron Houghton, the talented team that built their residence several years earlier. Their Shingle-style, Victorian home is one of the finest examples of its kind on the Seacoast, so this addition needed to have the same integrity. The result is a two-thousand-square-foot building that both acknowledges the Shingle-style design of the main house and departs from it in a wonderful, whimsical way.Designing the Carriage house“The design concept was inspired by estate gatehouses of the past—those late-nineteenth-century stone buildings that were stopping and checking points at the entrance to the property,” Amsden says. Another influence was the original Greenland Central School, a building with large overhangs, arches and brackets that Amsden and Jim Baldini admire. In executing the gatehouse concept, Amsden updated the space for modern living. The Baldinis wanted room for three vehicles on the first floor. Also, while a caretaker might have occupied a turn-of-the century gatehouse, the Baldinis wanted to use the second floor of the structure as housing for guests.Siting the building was a challenge and took Amsden five attempts. “There’s a beautiful mature pine forest in front of the home, and the Baldinis didn’t want any trees taken down,” he says. “I also had to work around a curvy driveway, existing rock outcroppings that we wanted to keep and property line setbacks. It wasn’t easy, but the result is that the building fits into the natural landscape as opposed to having a planned landscape around it, and I think it adds to the building’s charm.”Shingle-Style and Indonesian influencesWhile the original idea was to build with stone, Amsden felt it would be too overpowering for a residential structure and kept with the shingle siding of the main house. The Shingle style was developed in America in the late-1800s in reaction to Victorian architecture’s formality, elaborate ornamentation and fussiness. Architects from the New York City firm of McKim, Mead and White, who created the style, used roughhewn shingles and natural colors in designing the summer “cottages” that were built by wealthy industrialists who spent their summers in upstate New York and on the New England coast.In the past fifteen years, there has been a re-emergence of Shingle-style design, which, Amsden says, encourages creativity. “One great thing about Shingle style is its flexibility—you can make it eclectic by mixing it with other styles, like Victorian, Craftsman, Georgian, Asian, even contemporary, as well as motifs that are unique to specific communities. Proportion doesn’t matter as much with Shingle style, which gives you a lot of freedom—good design is not symmetrical.”Indonesian design is one of Amsden’s hobbies, and you can see his love for Balinese roof structures in the horizontal quality of the carriage house’s roof. “I think the roof is everything in design—you can’t have an attractive building without a wonderful roof,” he says. Amsden’s design required advanced framing techniques. Houghton devised a steel rod system that goes around the circumference of the building, through the roof rafters. “The building has a hip roof to allow for enough head room in the interior, but the ridges that hold the roofline together don’t meet each other,” Houghton explains. “Plus, the cupola puts a lot of down pressure on the roof. The rod system holds it all together.”The shingles are handmade fromwestern red cedar, which is true of the main house as well, and the valleys are made from copper. The decorative brackets were handmade in Houghton’s shop from mahogany.The InteriorStone’s interior design aesthetic can be described as “understated elegance.” “I don’t want people to come into a space I’ve designed and think, ‘Oh my god, who did this?’” he explains. “I want it to feel comfortable and fitting, as if the owners did it themselves.”In the garage space, Stone had the walls and ceiling paneled in Douglas fir, which would have been done in a period carriage house. He also carved out a space for a potting bench. Stone wanted the second floor—which includes one bedroom, a breakfast area and an open-concept living space—to feel cozy but elegant. To work with the sloping roofline, Stone softened the rooms’ angles by painting the walls the same color as the ceiling. He grounded the space by choosing a handsome, warm color palette of earthy tones—such as chocolate brown and gold—for the décor.In a small space with interesting architectural details, it is best to avoid over-decorating, and Stone made the few, well-chosen pieces that he added count. For example, the well-appointed breakfast kitchen has wonderful detailing—the “x” tiles in the backsplash, and the bronze reproduction light fixture over the island and hardware on the cabinets. The fabrics Stone chose are in keeping with the quiet elegance of the whole space; the sofa is cut velvet with gold threading, and the sumptuous bedding, although it reads as silk, is actually very fine cotton with a reverse pattern woven through it.“I think what is important about the carriage house is that it shows what you can do with bonus space. It was too beautiful to leave as ‘just’ garage space,” Stone says. “It’s a small footprint, but it’s self-contained. And when you drive into the property, it really stops your eye.” Amsden agrees. “I think the carriage house is its own element. It feels like a piece of architectural sculpture.”