Darien architect publishing book on Greenwich homes
By next spring, as many people in town may be aware, construction may begin on a brand-new Boy Scout cabin built on the site of the current Andrew Shaw Memorial Trust cabin, on West Avenue in Darien.
The cabin design was developed by local award-winning architect, Scout parent and Eagle Scout, Charles Hilton, and is intended to reflect the history and importance of Scouting as a 100-year-old institution in Darien.
Hilton, whose business is in Greenwich, is the author of the newly published coffee table book “Classic Greenwich Houses,” which is publishing on Sept. 15.
Hilton will be signing his book at Elm Street Bookstore, 35 Elm St., in New Canaan, from noon to 2 p.m., on Saturday, Oct. 3. Weather permitting, the event will take place outside, but if it’s held inside, it will be COVID compliant.
While this is his first book, Charles Hilton Designs — which includes a team of about 15 people — has been featured in several other books.
The 240-page book, which features nine homes, “includes some of our best past work as well as new, recently completed projects never before seen,” Hilton said. “They are all fine examples of their respective architectural stylistic design, have exquisite detailing at every scale, and use top quality materials and craftsmanship.”
Charles Hilton Architects has designed more than 400 projects all over the United States. While Hilton said he thoroughly enjoys working in the local area, “I find fulfillment in the diversity that comes from working in new architectural styles and in other geographic settings. We currently have projects spanning from the woods of New England, to the skyline of New York City, to the beaches of Southern California, and many places in between.”
Architectural styles Hilton has worked in include Georgian, Neo-Classical and Shingle.
“Our firm does not have a signature ‘style’ but enjoys practicing in a wide variety of stylistic vocabularies, whichever is best suited to the particular home, client taste, design program, and neighborhood context.”
According to Hilton, clients in the Fairfield County area are “pretty traditional when compared to a lot of other places in the country. They want a house that fits in the neighborhood,” he said. “They’re not looking for a fad.”
When designing the inside, he added that people don’t want a “fussy” look. “They like it clean and simple. They like color and finishes that are lighter and brighter.”
He said that in general, people’s tastes continue to change with the times.
“When I came to Greenwich in the late ’80s, I was trained as a modernist,” he said. “Everybody wanted the addition to perfectly match their house — inside and out. We got very good at replicating historic examples of architecture.”
In the last 10 years or so, he said the pendulum in design has came back and is once again trending more modern.
Hilton said he enjoys getting the chance to work in a variety of settings.
Aside from more local projects, he’s currently designing a penthouse in New York City, a new waterfront home on the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, and a log cabin in Vermont.
“These very different settings bring diverse building programs, varied natural settings and opportunities to explore new stylistic expressions,” he said.
Relationships, special requests
Hilton said he learns his clients’ unique tastes and needs by getting to know them.
“What we try to do with all of our projects is to get to know the people really well and to integrate into the project something that is really special for them,” he said.
Special requests have included wine cellars, home theaters, home health centers, and outside and indoor pools.
He has also designed basketball and racquetball courts, yoga and meditation rooms, and a prayer room.
“They all have passions,” Hilton said.
Additionally, he said many families are requesting a design that accommodates for outdoor entertaining.
“The kitchen becomes the stage for gourmet activities,” he said, adding he has designed gazebos, pool houses, and pergolas.
Hilton said his clients typically want an environmentally sustainable home.
“Our clients as a group are fairly environmentally sensitive,” he said.
Beneath the traditional exteriors, many of the homes he designs have features such as LED lighting, geothermal heating and cooling, super insulated building envelopes, high performance glazing, and co-generation.
Additionally, a feature such as a planted green roof is desirable, he said, since when it’s pouring rain in the summer, the green roof absorbs the water and slowly releases it back to the environment.
When designing each home, “we are looking component by component and trying to be as green and efficient as practical,” Hilton said.
Hilton advises choosing a home with “good bones” in a “great neighborhood.”
“Most of everything else, if not perfectly suited, can be changed,” he said.
By good bones, he said the home should be well built, “have a decent layout or floor plan,” and “high enough ceilings.”
If the ceilings need to be raised, “you often have to start over. There is no renovating it,” he said.
According to Hilton, the volume of a house could be the same as it was before the renovation.
“Renovations can sometimes be the same house, simply redressed,” he said. “If you are restructuring the bones of the house, than everything else has to be changed too.”
Impact of COVID
Due to the pandemic, Hilton said a lot of families are moving to town, from New York City.
“Before COVID, downsizing and moving to more urban areas was the trend. That has completely reversed,” he said “The older population and baby boomers are escaping to more rural vacation-like destinations. The younger folks, such as millennials, who were loving the active life in the cities and deferring the move to the suburbs, now are concerned about the health of their younger children and moving temporarily or permanently to safe, convenient suburbs.”
And they’re in a hurry, he said.
“Normally, if people are going to do a major amount of work on a home, it might take a year or 18 months to get the design work and construction done and hire the architect,” he said.
They’re now “getting out or dodge,” Hilton said.
“They are relocating immediately and then hiring an architect and doing renovations while they are already moved in to the home, or at some point later,” he added
Additionally, he said the pandemic has resulted in lifestyle changes for which his firm has been accommodating.
One change is a lot more homeowners now work or attend school from home.
“Families need not one but two fully functioning work from home spaces. We are already getting calls for this and have projects underway,” he said. “People prefer rooms with a terrific view to work in all day and are paying up for special finishes, designer furnishings — they need to look good on those Zoom calls — comfortable desk and lounge seating.”
Message of book
Hilton said when looking through his book, he hopes readers “will take the time to read the stories and immerse themselves in the many beautiful images. If they do, they will see that great architectural design is not simply about replicating a favorite style or assembling a collection of their favorite design elements. Efficient planning, scale, proportion, the control of light and views, the craftsmanship of materials, and turning your client’s visions into a reality are all essential ingredients to great design.”