AD100 architect Deborah Berke remembers the first time she set foot on the land. “It was inspirational,” she recounts of the site: a verdant eight-acre swath of New Canaan, Connecticut, with thick woods, a gentle grade, and a picturesque pond. “I am a New Englander by heritage, and that quintessential landscape of big trees and water really speaks to me.” At the time, the current dean of the Yale School of Architecture had been approached by the property’s owners to build an auxiliary pavilion to their main house—someplace for guests to sleep or for themselves to use as a retreat. “The impulse was a light touch so that nature felt most present.”
Through careful siting, ingenuity of fenestration, and other tricks of transition, Berke crafted a nuanced sequence that delays gratification, introducing the scenic surrounds in one spectacular sweep. When guests arrive they are greeted by a seemingly monolithic expanse of gray brick, its staggered façade concealing the entrance. The gravel motor court, however, gives way to a dashed line of rectilinear pavers that unfold beneath a simple black metal trellis, beckoning visitors. (“That trellis says come here,” Berke jokes.) Step through the door, turn the corner, and you are greeted by a panorama of window walls that frame the sylvan vista. “Before you enter, you don’t quite know what’s going to be revealed,” she notes. “Only inside do you feel where you are.”
The overall identity speaks to what Berke calls “the trajectory of classic modernism in New England.” It was in this corner of Connecticut, after all, that midcentury trailblazers such as Eliot Noyes, Marcel Breuer, and Philip Johnson reinvented the image of American domesticity, one glass-wall abode at a time. With its taught volume, limited materials palette, and engagement with the landscape, Berke’s pavilion builds on that tradition. Its spare rectilinear envelope wraps a flexible open plan: essentially just one bedroom suite and a combined living/dining/kitchen area, both of which open onto the natural surrounds thanks to broad window walls.
At less than 2,000 square feet, the project hardly ranks among Berke’s biggest. However, as an architect, she explains, “there is joy in the little things. With tiny projects, the fun is getting deep into the details.” Here, those nuanced “geek-out” moments include the bedroom’s swinging door, which pockets neatly into a niche when open, becoming an imperceptible part of the walnut wall paneling. Carefully calibrated outdoor lighting, meanwhile, casts “a gracious glow, without overwhelming the beautiful darkness.” And the marble hearth incorporates a sculptural firewood niche in the same exquisite stone, which also reappears on the kitchen backsplash and countertops. Elsewhere, materials meet in refined juxtaposition. Wood flooring, for instance, gives way to pale stone pavers, establishing a distinction between indoors and outdoors; and the shower’s striated travertine plays off the gray exterior brickyard framed by the window.
The project wrapped in 2021, and though the plans were born in a prepandemic mindset, the results proved perfect for the times. The pavilion can double as a work-from-home retreat, a place to isolate, or an alfresco entertaining space, with a terrace that exceeds the square footage of the structure itself. “We didn’t realize how brilliant this was,” Berke reflects of that flexibility, adding that the house transitions nimbly season to season. The black trellis evokes the exposed tree trunks and deep shadows of New England winter, while the gray brick complements the greens of spring and summer and this leaf-peeping countryside, of course: “Anything works with the colors of fall.”