Greenwich is sometimes characterized by outsiders as a land of white picket fences and colonial-style houses. These outsiders are mostly wrong about the picket fences and more than half wrong about the colonial houses. Since 1999 when the Greenwich MLS records start, we have sold 14,251 houses and less than half, or 47%, were described on the listing as a colonial-style house.
Greenwich however is much more modern than that. Since 1999 we have sold 581 contemporary and modern houses in Greenwich. We’ve actually sold many more than that, but agents often take the safe way out and stretch the definition of a colonial a lot. A good example of a house that many agents might list as a colonial is my listing at 26 Parsonage Road. This house was built by Phil Ives for his family in 1948. Phil was a leading proponent of the International style and his firm, designed the famous Pan Am terminal at JFK.
One of the things that identify the house as a non-colonial are the windows. The house at 26 Parsonage is sited on 3 acres in a one-acre zone and overlooks a sweeping lawn and some of the most amazing landscaping you will see in Greenwich. The windows are large and square and in three rows of three in the living room. This lets in lots of light.
With all of this light, siting and design become particularly important in a contemporary house. The house is designed with roof soffits that are wider than usual. What this does is to shade the upstairs windows in summer, but due to the siting and precise design lower winter sun lights up and heats the upstairs in the colder, darker months.
There is a very cool, mini-country club, contemporary at 665 River Road with a pool and tennis court. The house has lots of windows, some in non-traditional locations. The owner said, “Everyone who visits remarks, somewhat longingly ‘it is so … peaceful.’ We attribute that to being flooded with natural light and surrounded by nature. This is made possible by doors that open to the outdoors from every room, high ceilings and endless windows. “
Another example of how contemporaries use windows in unusual ways is my listing at 15 Laub Pond Road. This house has an indoor pool on one side and a breakfast nook off the kitchen on the other side. Both have semi-circular walls with large vertical windows. This gives the indoor pool an outdoor feel and the breakfast nook a panoramic view of the yard and the woods in the morning.
In most of our contemporary houses in Greenwich, this panoramic view only works one way from the inside out. Owners tend to put contemporaries on larger lots and use natural features; trees and landscaping to provide privacy. The classic example of this is Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan. From the close in photographs, some wonder just how private a house, with mostly glass walls, could be. What the photos don’t show well are the surrounding trees and the distance to the neighbors.
In Greenwich you see this need for larger lots, when you look at a map of 22 years of contemporary sales. There are very few sales in our smaller zones such as Byram, Pemberwick and central Greenwich. Where you do see contemporary sales are along our western and northern borders with New York State. Westchester County has a lot more contemporaries than we do and downsizers from there often stay true to the style of house they raised their kids in. You also see a lot of our contemporaries along the shoreline, where the beautiful views are better enjoyed with larger windows and openness of contemporaries.
It’s not only New Yorkers, that like our contemporaries. Most of the showings that we have had for 15 Laub Pond Road have been couples where one or both members are internationals and some even from California. They grew up with these styles and our diversity of housing stock makes for a diversity of residents.
Contemporaries do better in good economic times. In 2000, over 5% of all home sales in Greenwich were contemporaries. This dipped to only 2% in the recession year of 2009 and has risen since then, hitting 5% of all sales in 2019. In the pandemic, contemporaries percentage of sales dropped, but the absolute number of contemporary sales increases as our market surged.
Contemporaries have a lot of sub-categories. In fact, even using contemporary for all these sub-categories can be controversial, but it’s what the GMLS uses. Owners love their sub-category and will go out of their way to seek them out. With the rebound in the economy and the loosening of Covid restrictions you can expect more eyes looking at contemporaries of all types.
BTW: Meghan Lynch who grew up in the pool at 15 Laub Pond Rd is trying out for the U.S. Olympic swimming team next month at the age of 17 after just graduating from GHS this with multiple pool and state records, let’s all wish her luck.