Greenwich architect made his home into his castle
GREENWICH — When Richard Granoff moved into a home in a gracious old neighborhood in central Greenwich 25 years ago, he had big plans. He woud renovate and expand the modest old structure to raise a family. But it would also be a design workshop where he could experiment and develop his professional skills to work, as a showcase of his abilities as an architect.
Granoff was a young architect who had worked on the design of trendy Manhattan restaurants such as Vong and Nobu, and he was later drawn to the Rock Ridge neighborhood of town, noted for its dramatic stoney outcroppings and traditional architecture. A house on Witherell Drive seemed just right.
“I loved the neighborhood — and it was the cheapest house in Rock Ridge,” he recalled. The architect was especially smitten with a Stonehenge-like array of big rocks in the backyard, formed by nature through the ages. “This is the ‘ridge of rocks’ that Rock Ridge is named after. I was told that by some of the old-timers when I moved in,” he said.
The house was a modest 1926 carriage house, only 1,800 square feet. Granoff loved the setting, as well as the potential it offered: “Over 25 years, I’ve done a series of at least a half-dozen major projects, and a dozen ‘normal’ projects. So in essence, this house has been my laboratory for 25 years as an architect.”
Granoff decided to go with a traditional style on the exterior of his expanded home, with a more modern sensibility on the inside. He went with the shingle-style of architecture— a style that was often used to clad summer mansions in places like Newport and Southampton in the late 1800s.
“Rock Ridge is a classic Greenwich neighborhood, and I did feel shingle style can fit into a traditional context,” the architect said. “It’s a shingle-style house, but I call it a ‘neo-shingle’ style in that it’s a little edgier, a little more modern.”
The shingle-style can also handle big windows, Granoff said, and he put in overscale windows to take in the spellbinding topography of the site, as well as dozens of specimen trees planted around the property. “The very large windows captures the views of the spectacular wooded site, and the rocky outcroppings,” he says.
It was an enormous undertaking, given the challenges of the site. “It was a huge amount of grading, building retraining walls and drainage,” Granoff said. “The landscaping was easy, the ‘hardscaping’ wasn’t.”
On the inside, the comfortable and spacious home reflects Granoff’s years of attention to design details and experimentation, as well as his own personal tastes. Take the fireplace in the living room — a massive column of masonry. “The fireplace was inspired by classic, Old World fireplaces. The stone is Pocono Boulder, they’re river stones. There’s a smooth finish, and they have a lot of purple in them — purple is my favorite color.”
Granoff and his wife, Jill, have an extensive art collection, and the homeowners took special care to create the right kind of lighting and ambience to showcase their Modernist pieces. The paint scheme was deliberately muted. “It’s intentionally a neutral scheme. It’s China white, and it highlights the very colorful art collection. The art is the shining star,” the architect said, and each piece is complemented by specific lighting.
“I learned lighting design from restaurants, which is very important. I’m a lighting-design freak now,” he says. He takes time to show off one of his favorite gadgets, a small task light embedded into a nozzle in the kitchen sink. “That’s the coolest thing — I had to buy one,” Granoff said with a laugh.
There’s a large wine cellar — very similar to the kind used in the restaurant trade — and an exercise room and ample space for a kids. “I like to think it’s a really family-friendly house, and great for entertaining,” the architect says.
Granoff is known locally for the Chase bank branch next door to the Greenwich Library; the renovation of an old post office into the Restoration Hardware off Greenwich Avenue; and numerous residential projects around the region. As someone who keeps a busy schedule, he also serves in a number of charitable, civic and educational organizations.
He preserved the old carriage house and installed its front door in the main residence he built alongside it — “I love old buildings,” he says emphatically. His professional office is located in the old Connecticut Light & Power building on Railroad Avenue, a 1928 Art Deco structure that he restored with a mix of modern and traditional elements.
He also embraces new challenges, and that means putting his house at 9 Witherell Drive on the market. The architect plans to build a new waterfront home in Old Greenwich, an exciting prospect for him.
“I do enjoy new challenges. My wife says I always need a personal project going on, and a waterfront house is a big one. We’re doing something new - a new beginning,” Granoff says, and he wanted to explore a new design aesthetic. “It’s going to be very modern - it’s where my career is now.”
But he’ll always have a good feeling about the old family home in Rock Ridge, a laboratory that came with a lifetime of memories.
The listing is being handled through Edward Mortimer at Sotheby’s International Realty.