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Cottage Retreat

Making the Most of a Fairfield Beach Home



Rana Faure (gallery below)

For husband-and-wife architects Paulo Vicente and Martina Burin, founders of Vicente-Burin Architects in downtown Fairfield, designing their own dream home had some unforeseen challenges. Over the ten years they’ve owned and run their firm, the group has designed a country estate in Westport, a Washington mansion with an agrarian feel, and many classic New England area homes. But the couple tends to keep their own projects separate.

“I totally empathize with my clients,” says Martina, standing in a backyard that’s big at 3/4 acres for the quaint beach-house community where they live near Fairfield Beach. “You want to maximize your home and be sure you’re getting the best value. Your ideas are constantly changing.” The couple did know the location they wanted—walking distance to the beach and downtown. When a small 1930s home came on the market five years ago in just that location, they jumped. And then the work began.

The front of the home is unassuming—whitewashed brick, a flag hanging low next to the front door, a birch tree swaying in front. But everything skewed small inside—two tiny bedrooms, and a bathroom so small that the door wouldn’t open all the way. Meanwhile the kitchen was tucked into what has since become a pantry—with hardly any natural light and dark cherry cabinets. But the two saw possibilities. “The house had good bones,” Paulo says. “A solid feel, a slate roof, good proportions.”

Now, the home welcomes light. The kitchen has been moved to face the backyard—with an extra-long island that doubles as a desk and an occasional changing table for the younger of the couple's two little girls, Isabella (3) and Sophia (2). The couple created a year-round beach cottage feel in the home’s decor, too. The solid wooden kitchen table is flanked by wicker dining chairs; tiles in the kitchen are white with blue-ribboned stripes. A small family room (visible through a cut-out window in the kitchen) features a Frants Landt painting of sailboats over the stone fireplace, shell-filled jars lining the built-in bookshelves, and a large piece of driftwood leaning in one corner. “We don’t like dark spaces,” says Martina, and they’ve managed to avoid them with a subdued paint palette that falls between white, cream, and pale blue; windows and sliding glass doors to let the light through; and lights tucked into the ceiling beams. Upstairs, there is new space for the girls—in anticipation of the day they’ll want their own rooms. But the kids’ bedrooms are still just big enough to hold two cribs in one, or two twin beds in the other. They are charming, though, with beadboard walls and built-in window seats. The master bedroom, too, is done simply—a metal-framed bed, draped curtains, and lots of sunlight.

A new slate terrace leads from the family room to the spacious backyard. Trees—strategically planted—block an oversized home beyond the family's fence, while other landscaping adds a little simple greenery or a splash of color—the green, leafy hostas against the fence, the hot pink roses trailing up the side of the white garage. “This is the quiet side of Fairfield Beach,” Martina says, compared to the rentals off Reef Road, where beach house rentals and the Sea Grape Café ensure a lot more after-hours partying. In the yard, there’s little but the sound of lawns being mowed and birds chirping to break the stillness. Sophia, still groggy from a recent nap, clamors for her mother’s attention. Isabella, meanwhile, climbs aboard her father’s blue-and-white Vespa in the driveway. It’s an idyllic scene; a 1,900-square-foot beachside retreat they don’t have to pack up and leave when summer ends.

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