The Best Small House In America

In one corner, we have a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex proposed for a 1.16-acre parcel of land on the corner of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North.

Right next to it, we have an 1,800-square foot home, on 1.8 acres. In 1988, it won a House Beautiful contest for the “Best Small House in America.”

That home — being cited by opponents of the planned apartments as much more in keeping with the streetscape, scale and marshland environment of the heavily trafficked area — was featured in a March 13, 1988 New York Times story.

Front view of "The Best Small House in America," on Wilton Road near the corner of Kings Highway North.

Front view of “The Best Small House in America,” on Wilton Road near the corner of Kings Highway North…

The house is 42 feet at its highest point. There’s a 30-foot high cathedral, plus 3 bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, office, 3 full baths, 2 half-baths, sauna, exercise room and family room, Not too shabby — or small, really.

Architect Bruce Beinfield’s “whimsical” design, blended modern and traditional architecture. The view from the rear looks across the Taylortown salt marsh and Saugatuck River, to downtown Westport.

...and the rear view, looking across the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

…and the rear view, from the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

The Times said the land — purchased in April 1987 for $213,000 — passed through a number of owners over the years. During construction, workers found evidence of a house from a half century ago.

Asked why no one had developed the site since then, builder James A. Olson Sr. said, “Apparently people didn’t realize the potential of the property.”

The owners of the proposed 48 apartment complex next door sure do.

Bonus fun fact: The home was listed originally for $990,000. A William Pitt broker said, “I guess some people felt that because it’s small, it would sell for about $200,000.”

11 responses to “The Best Small House In America

  1. FYI, Jon Wagner (former Weston resident) partnered on the design of that home. Though no longer working with Mr. Beinfield, he is still designing homes in our area.

  2. Cute house. Did a client photo shoot there when it was new, and it’s aged well. Quite a contrast with that ominous-looking brown house built just a couple of years ago — down the hill and adjacent to Save the Children. It looks like it’s the villain’s lair from some Marvel Comics movie.

  3. Julie Fatherley

    Glad someone remembered about this house and its honor. I think about
    it many times as I drive on Rte 33 to turn at the the light onto Kings Highway North. A not too invasive edifice but appropriate in design and
    size for that area. Julie Fatherley

  4. Jill Turner Odice

    My brother Stefen Turner took the aerial pictures of this house for House Beautiful 🙂 I think his photo was on the cover of the magazine…

  5. Cute house, but I’m not sure all the numbers make sense. According to the Town’s site it’s assessed at 2,478 sq ft (5,638 sq ft including basement, patio etc). In 1988 the average house in the US being built was 1,900 sq ft so even though smaller than many others in town it was 30% bigger than the average. So I’m not sure how it became a “small house”.

    At 42′ high it’s above code for Westport, but variances are given and it certainly doesn’t look big. At 47′ the proposed buildings at the old Save the Children site don’t seem so high.

    • David A. Waldman

      Thanks Glenn. Good architects can make objectionable aspects of any project, like height, feel appropriate. At Bedford Square our maximum allowable height is 42’8″. Centerbrook Architects deliberately stepped back the 3rd and 4th floor from the street making the pedestrian experience more intimate with the added benefit of providing outdoor spaces and green roofs for the residential apartments. Once the construction fencing comes down and the project is completed in early 2017, the new proportions of Church Lane will evoke a sense correctness. The scale for the pedestrian will feel vastly different from the old Y because the width of the street and depth of the sidewalks will be far greater then before.

      As for the topic of this thread, In no way am I saying I support the proposed 48′ 8-30g, on the corner of Rt. 57 and Kings Highway. I feel that the location is wrong and the design ugly, dangerous and insulting to our town. This is of course just my opinion. I am sure there are people who think my projects are ugly as well. However, unless our elected officials protect our town against this type of legislation, the threat is always there and outside of our control.

      Our planning bodies need to figure out a way to build the mandated affordable units, or, as evidenced by this proposed 8-30g and maybe others, they may not have a seat at the table and just have to live with the consequences.

  6. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    A very pretty “small house”. Here on the west coast, there are now “laneway houses” being built as a way to promote the retention of character houses, and a solution for a dense, expensive city. About 80% are used for extended family. They’re about 500-600 sq.ft. and cost about $300,000 to build.

  7. As the consultant in charge of obtaining the requisite permits and approvals for the winning design in House Beautiful’s 1988 Best Small House in America competition, I can state with certainty that the dwelling met all applicable Westport Zoning Regulations at the time.
    Regarding the size of the house — House Beautiful in collaboration with the American Wood Council established the design criteria: no more than 1,800 square feet not including basement area and the intrinsic use of wood. Affordability was not a consideration.

  8. Sharon Paulsen

    I remember when this home went up.

    I thought it was cute and appropriate in design, but I didn’t really get the whole “smallest house” meme.

    I believe my mom went on one of the tours of the place, before it was sold (not sure of how that was set up), and I recall her telling me that the rooms inside were tiny and compartmentalized, giving it a restricted flow. But, quite charming and with that Nantucket-y vibe.

    But square footage wise, certainly not tiny.

    My gut feelings about it were:

    – this is a difficult spot to navigate getting in and out of the driveway. Busy road, not much turnaround space in driveway, etc.

    – it felt “forced” into that plot of land, perched over the marsh, and blocking views of the natural and coveted landscape of the Saugatuck river.

    I wanted to like it … I really did. I passed by it daily for many many years. But … “wrong location” always stuck in my mind.

    (Note: it DOES have remarkable longevity, especially considering the location on the river, and with the New England weather. Great building materials and architecture and construction, obviously).

    • Nancy Hunter Wilson

      The “tiny house” idea is really interesting. And you’re right, Sharon, that it’s a matter of location, location, location. This house is not a tiny house, nor a laneway house. It may be better suited on a remote lake front, or maybe beach front. Great idea, though. I think I’d prefer a houseboat, or a fancy “Hemloft” type treehouse in the mountains. Maybe both.

  9. I heard from Jon Wagner, correcting me about his whereabouts. He is living in Weston with ongoing projects in Sasco Hill Rd, Mayflower Parkway, Wilson Point in Norwalk, Redding, Darien, Stowe Vermont, and Florida. He also has an amazing project appearing in CT Cottages and Gardens in April. Disclaimer: I went to high school with Jon. 🙂