Tag Archives: Scott Springer

Farmhouse Architecture: A Peek Behind The Windows

Popular looks change.

Over the centuries men have worn powdered wigs, crew cuts, “Beatle” haircuts and fades.

The Rubenesque female figure gave way to Twiggy.

So too with architectural styles. Within the past few decades Colonials, Cape Cods and split levels gave way — literally — to McMansions.

House on steroids.

Now we see a new trend. Gone are the steeply sloped roofs, jutting dormers and other architecture-on-steroid features that were must-haves for new construction.

In their place: the “modern farmhouse.” Its most distinctive feature: black window frames.

Westport’s new trend: farmhouse-style architecture, with black windows.

Where did this new style come from?

Scott Springer, his wife and son have lived in Westport since 2008. He is an award-winning architect, designer and preservationist with extensive international residential and commercial experience.  His project list includes Manhattan apartment renovations, country and coastal retreats and 5-star hotels.

Scott is vice chair of the Historic District Commission, and a member of both the Architectural Review Board/Historic District Commission Joint Committee and the Westport Public Art Collections Committee.

The other day, I asked him about this latest trend. Scott says that although black windows have been seen here for the past decade or so, the idea is not new.

“For residential construction in New England and many other parts of the country, all-wood windows have been commonly used for hundreds of years,” he says.

“In the 1960s, the idea of cladding the exterior side of a wood window with what was believed to be a more weather-resistant, low maintenance material resulted in the development of the wood clad window.

Scott Springer

“A factory-finished layer of thin material — often painted aluminum — is wrapped around all exterior-facing components of a wood window.  While the interior side of the window can be primed and painted any color on site, the exterior aluminum finish and color, once chosen, are intended to be the permanent finish.

“In theory, one can repaint the aluminum cladding in the future; in practice, the results of repainting these finishes are often not great. For a long time, white was the dominant exterior finish for wood clad windows as trim boards and other architectural elements were commonly white, and so white seemed to offer the most flexibility.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, all aluminum windows were popular, often in a dark bronze metallic painted finish. These windows gradually fell out of favor, however, primarily because they were not energy efficient and were subject to condensation and corrosion issues.”

In the early 2000s, Scott continues, a type of “retro-industrial” style started to become a popular trend in creative office and retail interior design.

“Often, these interior spaces were in former warehouse or factory buildings which featured exposed brick and steel windows that were painted in their original black. This might also be seen as a repeat of the 1970s residential loft and gallery aesthetic.”

While industrial steel windows are great, Scott notes, they became very expensive to manufacture. Eventually, the residential window industry realized that if they took a wood window, pre-painted the interior black, and then clad the exterior in black, they would have something that simulated (at least to some extent) the aesthetic of the steel window.”

As an architect, Scott says, black window frames — when properly used — can work quite well.

One example: a house painted a dark grey or black, or a more modern white stucco house with a flat roof and very large windows, could easily work with black frames.

An advantage of black interior frames is that they tend to blend in with the view of the outdoor landscape, thus better integrating the interior and exterior spaces.

However, Scott “would not generally specify black frames for a more traditional or transitional white house with a pitched roof and clapboard or shingle siding.

“Glass typically reads dark in a building elevation, so when a black frame is used, the window itself ends up reading as a large black rectangle. With a white frame, 6-over-6 window, the dark area is broken down into smaller areas.

“The now-popular 2-over-2 window (Window Diagram 2) also allows this reduction into smaller areas. A traditional 6-over-6 or 12-over-12 double-hung window painted white, which has either 12 or 24 divisions, integrates effectively with white trim and siding. This effect also works when a monochromatic approach is used with colors other than white.”

A now-popular 2-over-2 window.

In contrast, he says, “a black double-hung unit will read as a single large void in an elevation when the siding is white. This effect is made even worse when windows are ganged together.

Black double-hung unit.

“In traditional architecture, windows and doors are predominantly vertical elements in a façade that correlate to the verticality of an upright human form.  Ganging windows — especially ones with black frames — can create a seemingly arbitrary pattern of horizontal dark rectangles that takes a traditional building form in a much more modern direction. Sometimes it can work, but most of the time it really doesn’t.

Ganging windows.

Scott notes that “a very high percentage of new spec homes in Westport are white with black window frames. It seems these houses are being snapped up even before they can be completed.

“One can assume there is a large pool of individuals who think these window frames look good. Of course, general popularity is not always the main criterion for quality, and aesthetic preferences are highly subjective.”

Part of the popularity is that platforms like Houzz, Instagram and Pinterest, plus design blogs, digital and print magazines, and television home design programs, are hot now.

“Good and bad ideas spread around very quickly, and the original concepts behind them can easily be lost or taken out of context,” Scott says.

As for history: “By the late 19th century, operable steel windows were commercially available in England, primarily for warehouse and factory applications. The use of such windows quickly expanded to other parts of the world.

“In Germany, Peter Behrens, and later Walter Gropius and other architects associated with the Bauhaus, utilized mass-produced steel windows and other building components to achieve innovative architectural concepts.

“From the 1920s through the ’40s, steel casement windows for multifamily residential and hotel projects from New York to London to Shanghai was common.

“For brick buildings, the steel windows were often painted black or dark red. In New York, the Starrett-Lehigh Building, completed in 1931, is a prime example of a building with black window frames.  The windows in this building form horizontal bands that wrap the building, and they alternate with horizontal brick bands.

“Today, old steel windows are great candidates for restoration. It is possible to significantly improve their performance by using vacuum insulated glass in place of the original single layer of glass.”

Park Avenue restored steel casement windows. (Photo courtesy of Scott Springer Architect)

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Tear Down That House! Inside Westport’s Historic District Commission

The Historic District Commission’s recent 2023 Preservation Awards — honoring owners and architects of 6 homes, 2 restaurants, an office and church, who kept the streetscape bones of their buildings while modernizing the interiors — drew approving comments from hard-to-please “06880” readers.

Many also wondered: Why doesn’t the HDC preserve more buildings?

The answer is: They can’t.

But you and I can.

Today, chair Grayson Braun and vice chair Scott Springer offer a brief “Historic District Commission 101” intro course.

They note that the HDC is a volunteer organization. Members are appointed by the 1st selectperson.

The commission has an office in Town Hall, and is supported by an administrator — currently Donna Douglass — who is a town employee.

The HDC offers support and guidance to help property owners, in the service of historic preservation.

Braun and Springer’s routes to the commission are typical.

Grayson Braun

Braun and her husband moved to Westport in 1997, for “the historic feel and character” of the town. When a developer planned a project for their Gorham Avenue neighborhood, she worked with the HDC to gain “Local Historic District” status for the area, making demolition more difficult. In 2009, she joined the board.

Springer has been a Westporter since 2008. In 2014 he established his own architecture firm here. He was appointed to the board in 2019, to add an architectural perspective to the HDC’s work.

The 2 members stress: Their work is, by town and state ordinance, strictly advisory. They work with other town agencies, like the Architectural Review Board, to establish Local Historic Districts and designate Local Historic Properties.

But they cannot unilaterally stop teardowns.

The only time the HDC can prevent demolition is if a property is designated as a local historic property or a local historic district.

When a homeowner, commercial property owner or developer of any other building 50 years or older (and 500 square feet or larger) requests a demolition permit, there is an automatic 180-day waiting period.

They can apply to the HDC for a waiver. The HDC can uphold or deny that request.

That 6-month period is the maximum allowed by state regulation. Many municipalities adopted a shorter waiting time.

If the HDC denies the request, the goal is for something to happen in those 6 months. A stakeholder can come forward with an alternative to demolition. An architect may come up with a plan for zoning relief, in return for preservation.

Those things happen.

Owners Blanca and Suni Hirani of 19 Soundview Drive, for example, originally applied for a demolition permit. They were approved for a new house, with a completely new design.

But during the 180-day period, they reimagined what they wanted. They updated the structure, while keeping the outside look. The result is impressive. And it earned the owners an HDC Preservation Award.

19 Soundview Drive – before (left) and after preservation.

Another Preservation Award went to 8 Mayflower Parkway. It too was a property whose 180-day waiting period was upheld. During that time, builder David Vynerib decided the structure was worth saving — and came up with a plan.

8 Mayflower Parkway, after renovation.

The Historic District Commission pays particular attention to the street-facing part of a property. When Michael and Kim Ronemus wanted to renovate 113 Cross Highway — once a gas station, house and outbuildings just west of North Avenue — the HDC helped them retain the exterior, while adding a modern extension in back.

Braun and Springer know the public is often confused when they see a “historic plaque” on a house, and assume that’s an official designation.

It’s not. Those markers are provided by the Westport Museum for History & Culture (for a fee). The program is separate from the Historic District Commission.

The HDC’s work extends to commercial properties. One recent example: work being done on the former Remarkable Book Shop/Talbots/Local to Market building, on Main Street at Parker Harding Plaza.

The HDC also oversees Westport’s 7 Local Historic Districts. They range from 4 properties on Morningside Drive South (formerly owned by artists Walter and Naiad Einsel) to about 40 homes on and around Kings Highway North.

The other Local Historic Districts are Evergreen Avenue, Gorham Avenue, Jesup Road, Lincoln Street/Riverside Avenue, and Violet Lane.

(Photo/Morley Boyd)

The HDC website says:

Local historic designation assists in the retention and enhancement of property values by providing a stable market in which to invest. It creates community pride, fosters neighborhood stabilization and enhances the appearance and authentic character of a designated area.

Building materials and natural resources expended in original construction retain their usefulness and rehabilitation itself uses less energy and raw materials than new construction. Restoration conserves energy and materials while reinforcing already environmentally sustainable neighborhoods.

Two-thirds of the owners in an area must approve a vote to become a Local Historic District. That designation offers a degree of protection for exterior (street-facing) alterations.

However, it’s not something all owners want. A recent proposal to add Sniffen Road, off Clinton Avenue, to the list went nowhere. A number of homeowners felt the designation would prohibit them from selling their houses to developers, as teardowns.

Braun notes, “There are rules for everything in town. No matter how old or new your property is, you can’t just start adding on without a permit.

“The HDC has an extensive review process, but we’re no more restrictive than other rules. We realize people want to do work on their property. We are always happy to help. We even schedule pre-application and special meetings, outside of our monthly ones.”

(To learn more about the Historic District Commission, click here.)

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