Take even a brief drive around Westport, and you’ll see the signs: Able Construction. Milton. SIR.
They and other builders are redefining our town, with new construction that — in its use of stone — often tries to imitate old.
But they need to go a long way to reach the standards of Frazier Forman Peter.
Best known as an architect — but also a builder, teacher and writer — Peters was born in 1895 to a New York Episcopalian clergy family. He graduated from Columbia University as a chemical engineer, yet quickly grew disgruntled with the industry,
He came to Westport in 1919, hoping to work the land as a farmer. The rocky soil intrigued him, and he soon found his calling as a designer and builder of stone houses.
Peters’ homes can be found from Virginia to Maine — but most are in Connecticut. Between 1924 and 1936 he designed and built at least 41 stone houses in Westport. His designs are revered for their unique fieldstone wall construction method, as well as their spatial organization and sensitive placement in relation to the natural environment.
Susan Farewell wrote:
Were Frazier Peters to build houses today, he’d be receiving all sorts of accolades for being an architect on the leading edge of environmentally-conscious, energy-efficient, sustainable design and construction.
The thick fieldstone walls (as much as 16 inches) typical of a Peters stone house make them energy-efficient; the stones effectively hold the heat in winter and keep the interiors cools in summer….
He segregated rooms by giving each one a separate identity, and through the use of step-downs, varied building materials, and interesting transitions. He was also taken by how beautifully European stone structures aged and compared them to American-built frame houses that “droop and pout if they are not continually groomed and manicured.”
Another important component of Peters’ designs was the marriage of the house and its surroundings. He wrote a great deal about this and was especially enamored with the brooks, hillsides, and woods of Connecticut.
Adam Stolpen — who lives in a Frazier Peters house — adds: “He was our first ‘green architect.’ And he was completely self-taught.
“These are definitely not cookie-cutter McMansions. They are homes meant to be lived in. And each one has a bit of whimsy.”
Peters’ work is revered in Westport. (Though not always: a gorgeous one belonging to the late pianist Natalie Maynard on Charcoal Hill, near several of his others, has been torn down.)
Now the architect lives on in more than his buildings. He’s the subject of a book — Frazier Forman Peters: Westport’s Legacy in Stone — by Laura Blau and Robert A. Weingarten.
She’s Peters’ granddaughter, and a noted Philadelphia architect. He’s the Westport Historical Society‘s house historian.
The interior shots are great, showing double-height rooms with central hearths, balconies and built-in casework.
But the exterior photos are even more compelling. Except for one on Greenbrier Road (demolished in 1997), the authors have found shots of every Westport house Peters was known to build.
From the Old Hill section to Coleytown; from Wilton Road to Compo South; from Longshore to Hillspoint, Frazier Forman Peters’ legacy surrounds us.
You just have to know where to look.
(Frazier Forman Peters: Westport’s Legacy in Stone is available at the Westport Historical Society, 25 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880, or by mail at that address [$25 plus $5 shipping per copy]. Click on the WHS website for more information.)