Up on a hill, in an area above Black Rock Turnpike, a neighborhood lined with new construction and modest 1960s Capes has a dramatic new neighbor. The contemporary design of this Romanock Road home is the creation of its owner, Rainer Schrom, an architect with Partners for Architecture in Stamford. To understand this marvelous structure (with its own website: romanock.com)—and its inherent use of green elements where form follows function, it helps to know more about Schrom. He grew up in Ingolstadt in southern Germany and perhaps has a more European mindset when it comes to design and building in an environmentally conscious way. “Spending money on efficient or forward-looking technology now—rather than spending it on higher bills over the next 20 years—is more aligned with how we were brought up,” he explains.
As a student at the University of Technology in Vienna, Schrom studied chemistry and architecture—and his love of how science relates to green and efficient home building is abundantly evident in all his designs. In Vienna he met Pinar Oray, a student originally from Turkey, studying medicine. They were quickly an item, and then planned to go to the US for Pinar to do her residency. “We didn’t plan to stay—and here we are 20 years later!” says Schrom.
Once here, Pinar started her training at Bridgeport Hospital and Rainer began his business PFA with partners. “Fairfield seemed to be the perfect town to live with workplaces in Stamford for Rainer and New Haven for me, and to raise a family,” says Pinar. They were also drawn to the town because of the excellent schools, nice restaurants, and beaches. They had a modest home, but Schrom’s dream of designing his own dwelling was never far from his mind—or his drawing board. He wanted to design a house with all the features he sought, expressed appropriately together in a “modern architectural language.”
“It was a journey—lasting about three years,” explains Schrom. I did hundreds of sketches, ideas, 3D models, and revisions. The site conditions were also very important—sun exposure, views and vistas, terrain and grade, neighbor’s trees, and access. We consciously picked a site with a steep grade, facing south, because it provides more potential for an interesting setting.” The result is indeed a kind of modern sculpture, and that was deliberate. Approaching it a bit like a scientist, Schroms says, “I like to think in volumes, mass, and void and the appearance of a sculpture from different viewing angles. Why not live in a sculpture instead of a two-dimensional floor plan?” The way Schrom situated the home offers a changing character when the outside is seen from different viewpoints.
In addition to the angles and cubic nature of the home, it is perhaps one of the greenest dwellings in Fairfield. Schrom was adamant that the home has Geothermal heating and cooling, radiant floor heating throughout, twice the building code required thermal insulation, integrated solar photovoltaic system, rainwater harvesting, close combustion fire places with forced air heating, permeable site paving, and solar reflective roofing. It is a masterpiece of environmentally efficient building. Influenced by their European upbringing, these things mattered to both of them. “The mindset in Europe is “quality over quantity,” says Pinar. “There is a great emphasis on efficiency and avoiding waste in every aspect of life, so it is a way of living. Everybody recycles and is proud of “not wasting.”
“I also absolutely love the Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV),” says Schrom. “The home is always filled with fresh air, without opening a window, and without bringing in hot or cold air from outside. It operates silently in the background.” Pinar adores her outside balconies, large windows, and light-filled rooms.
Inside, the home’s structural materials are derived from a global initiative. Much of the natural stone is from Turkey and the modern porcelain tile is made in Spain. “The fireplaces—from Italy— are “closed combustion” wood fire places with hot air circulators. That means if I slide the glass door closed it will change from a regular fire place to taking only outside air to burn the wood. Then it circulates room air around the fire box and blows that into the room. You don’t lose warm air from your room to sustain the fire, but only the cold air from outside.”
At around 5,000 square feet, it is a spacious home, but also feels cozy. The penthouse with its private terrace is a gathering space where family and friends can relax on Turkish tapestry pillows and rugs. “I always had in my mind I would have a Turkish-themed room in my home,” says Pinar.
Since they recently moved in, and had more space for decor, we asked local designer Tori McBrien of McBrien Interiors to add some objets d’art and pops of color.
McBrien found decorative items and pillows at Millie Rae’s in Westport. She also collaborated with the Sorelle Gallery in New Canaan to hang some dramatic paintings. “I loved styling for the Schroms, adding touches that complement their home design, without overwhelming it,” says McBrien. Amanda Desmond, a designer at Outdoor Design & Living, created arrangements and greenery for the Schroms, using wood and aluminum planters to blend with the natural elements in the home.
Photo Styling by Tori McBrien, McBrien Interiors, and Amanda Desmond, Outdoor Design & Living