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March 3, 2011

While reporting the March Profile story about Thomas Phifer (see it online here), I had the opportunity to visit one of his masterworks, the Fishers Island House, located off the coast of Connecticut. Andrew Mazor of Thomas Phifer and Partners, the Project Architect, accompanied me on the day trip. The 4,600-square-foot Fishers Island House is a second home for Tom Armstrong, the director emeritus of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and his wife, Bunty. It's a pavilion-like building surrounded by three acres of lush gardens, and one of the most exquisite houses I've seen.

Here's the ferry that took us from New London, Connecticut, to Fishers Island, a 45-minute ride.
Here's the ferry that took us from New London, Connecticut, to Fishers Island, a 45-minute ride.
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My travel companions were Andrew Mazor, project architect at Thomas Phifer and Partners, and my good friend Mary Halvorson.
My travel companions were Andrew Mazor, project architect at Thomas Phifer and Partners, and my good friend Mary Halvorson.
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After disembarking at Fishers Island, we ran into Tom Armstrong in the ferry boarding line, whose house we were about to visit. Mazor described Armstrong as "a great client, and rare client—so engaged. He challenged us and asked us questions. Tom [Phifer]
After disembarking at Fishers Island, we ran into Tom Armstrong in the ferry boarding line, whose house we were about to visit. Mazor described Armstrong as "a great client, and rare client—so engaged. He challenged us and asked us questions. Tom [Phifer] likes content client contact, and he got it with Tom [Armstrong]."
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After bidding adieu to Armstrong, we hitched a ride to the property with Armstrong's gardener.
After bidding adieu to Armstrong, we hitched a ride to the property with Armstrong's gardener.
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Here's my first glimpse of the house. You can barely see it, right? That's the point.
Here's my first glimpse of the house. You can barely see it, right? That's the point.
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The structure replaced a colonial house that burned down in 2002. The landscape (including the dense row of apple trees out front) was entirely untouched by the fire.The goal, says Mazor, "was to ensure the house fit in perfectly into the existing landsca
The structure replaced a colonial house that burned down in 2002. The landscape (including the dense row of apple trees out front) was entirely untouched by the fire.The goal, says Mazor, "was to ensure the house fit in perfectly into the existing landscape."
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The trellis—made of a solid steel base and aluminum rods—modulates the daylight streaming into the house. The height matches that of the apple trees out front. "The trellis and plinth bridge the gap between house and garden," says Mazor.
The trellis—made of a solid steel base and aluminum rods—modulates the daylight streaming into the house. The height matches that of the apple trees out front. "The trellis and plinth bridge the gap between house and garden," says Mazor.
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On one side of the house, a reflecting pool with an infinity edge seems to run right into the ocean.
On one side of the house, a reflecting pool with an infinity edge seems to run right into the ocean.
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Here's a view of the reflecting pool from inside the house.
Here's a view of the reflecting pool from inside the house.
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A side view of the same reflecting pool, bridged by a concrete walkway that continues the unbroken promenade that wraps around the entire house.
A side view of the same reflecting pool, bridged by a concrete walkway that continues the unbroken promenade that wraps around the entire house.
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The loft-like living space is filled with the Armstrong's collection of 20th-century abstract American paintings, small bronze sculptures, and Carder Steuben glass. While the house was still on paper, Phifer’s office made Armstrong miniature, to-scale mod
The loft-like living space is filled with the Armstrong's collection of 20th-century abstract American paintings, small bronze sculptures, and Carder Steuben glass. While the house was still on paper, Phifer’s office made Armstrong miniature, to-scale models of both the interior walls and the couple’s artworks, so he could figure out the best way to display his art. “He gave me this incredible toy,” recalls Armstrong.
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There's a pleasing sense of symmetry to this seating area, with a Saarinen table bracketed by a pair of Noguchi Akari light sculptures.
There's a pleasing sense of symmetry to this seating area, with a Saarinen table bracketed by a pair of Noguchi Akari light sculptures.
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Mazor points out the outlets inset and hidden in the ebonized floor. Also hidden in the floor: geothermal heating, powered by 18 wells under the east garden.
Mazor points out the outlets inset and hidden in the ebonized floor. Also hidden in the floor: geothermal heating, powered by 18 wells under the east garden.
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"Tom’s only instruction was that he wanted to sit in his house, looking at his art and at the garden at the same time," says Phifer about his client. Here's Armstrong's favored spot. The house has no window shades; "he wanted to look at his garden at ever
"Tom’s only instruction was that he wanted to sit in his house, looking at his art and at the garden at the same time," says Phifer about his client. Here's Armstrong's favored spot. The house has no window shades; "he wanted to look at his garden at every moment," says Mazor.
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The eleven-foot-high ceilings are punctuated and pierced with skylights that are computer-generated forms.
The eleven-foot-high ceilings are punctuated and pierced with skylights that are computer-generated forms.
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Mazor points out the vaulted ceiling, with a subtle six-inch rise that adds a sense of volume to the space.
Mazor points out the vaulted ceiling, with a subtle six-inch rise that adds a sense of volume to the space.
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Armstrong designed this mossy, zen courtyard garden to mark the division between the public area of the house (the loft-like living room) and his "private inner sanctum": the master bedroom and his-and-her bathrooms. The plantings pick up on the golden hu
Armstrong designed this mossy, zen courtyard garden to mark the division between the public area of the house (the loft-like living room) and his "private inner sanctum": the master bedroom and his-and-her bathrooms. The plantings pick up on the golden hues of the carefully sited 19th century Japanese screen.
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Here's the master bedroom. "The bed is monolithic, almost part of the architecture," Mazor observes.
Here's the master bedroom. "The bed is monolithic, almost part of the architecture," Mazor observes.
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Another view of the bedroom, with a skylight overhead and a row of sculptures creating a subtle privacy screen from the outdoors.
Another view of the bedroom, with a skylight overhead and a row of sculptures creating a subtle privacy screen from the outdoors.
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This rock, located just outside the bedroom, was already there, and Phifer kept it in place. "The landscape cued Tom in on what he wanted to do," says Mazor.
This rock, located just outside the bedroom, was already there, and Phifer kept it in place. "The landscape cued Tom in on what he wanted to do," says Mazor.
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Phifer's firm is known for their minimalist kitchens. Mazor pointed out the mitered corners on the doors, "so everything looks monolithic. If we could hide everything we would."
Phifer's firm is known for their minimalist kitchens. Mazor pointed out the mitered corners on the doors, "so everything looks monolithic. If we could hide everything we would."
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Another view of the kitchen.
Another view of the kitchen.
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The surrounding landscape is laced with many beautiful gardens, fountains, and walking paths.
The surrounding landscape is laced with many beautiful gardens, fountains, and walking paths.
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Armstrong (and his team of gardeners) has a pretty sweet gardening shed.
Armstrong (and his team of gardeners) has a pretty sweet gardening shed.
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This fountain was literally overflowing with tiny, recently hatched frogs.
This fountain was literally overflowing with tiny, recently hatched frogs.
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Along the northeast side of the house is this allée of linden trees and a fountain with a bird sculpture that appears to be taking flight.
Along the northeast side of the house is this allée of linden trees and a fountain with a bird sculpture that appears to be taking flight.
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Another view of the gardens.
Another view of the gardens.
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Says Mazor about Phifer's designs: "His buildings are very confident, if buildings can be confident. But sensitive, too. They bridge the landscape in and out." After a visit to the Fishers Island House, that makes perfect sense to me.
Says Mazor about Phifer's designs: "His buildings are very confident, if buildings can be confident. But sensitive, too. They bridge the landscape in and out." After a visit to the Fishers Island House, that makes perfect sense to me.
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The plan of the Fishers Island House by Thomas Phifer and Partners.<br /><br /><p><em><strong>Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our </strong></em><a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dwell/id411793747?mt=8"><em><strong> FREE app from iTunes</strong>
The plan of the Fishers Island House by Thomas Phifer and Partners.

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Here's the ferry that took us from New London, Connecticut, to Fishers Island, a 45-minute ride.
Here's the ferry that took us from New London, Connecticut, to Fishers Island, a 45-minute ride.

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