project name : Frehley House
location : Stratford, Connecticut
year of design: 1978
client: Ace Frehley
architect: George Ranalli
associates: Robert Silman Structural Engineer
design team: Paula Beall, Mark Mascheroni
Turan Duda, M.T. Chang
photographer: Model Photos: George Ranalli
After a decade of continuous motion across the world’s stage, a natural born vagabond and entertainment icon longed for home. To make matters worse, the public could not get enough. Tasked with the burdened to hold back the sea, a request for contemporary architecture specified a paradoxical place of idyllic tranquility, neither nostalgic, nor humdrum, with a touch of the psychedelic.
The verdant and vast site for a new residence spreads across a velvet green. By providence, natural and civic resources allow a diversion of water from a nearby river, all the way through a large manmade canal, before returning to its source. The illusory setting brings into play a sloping underground passageway, embedded in the landscape, at cross-axis with the canal, as well as a house, and several smaller buildings, set into the succulent countryside. When viewed from above, the way in appears to dissolve into the landscape, as a passage underground leads to the main entrance through the foundation of the house, anchored to the concrete base of the canal.
The house is a cubic composition of stone, glass, and steel. Fifteen feet below grade, light through a glass bock ceiling clarifies the central entrance, which orchestrates the way into a spacious, temperate, top-lit spa. The 18-foot high courtyard rises up through the center of the house, orienting space for a drawing room, dining room, kitchen, three bedroom suites, and a library. Flights of stairs, one at the front, and another at the back of the house, arrange passage through three levels. Up from the subterranean, the courtyard gives direction to the drawing room on one end, and the dining room on the other. Each room opens up onto a large triangular terrace. A slow drift of sunlight and soft air moves from two large faceted doors, and four operable pyramids of glass on the rooftop, through the atrium, to refresh the surrounding space, while continuously changing light creates various architectural effects. On the upper levels, vertical and lateral openings delineate the main architectural characteristic of the space. Equally, the stone exterior lightens on the way up. The step-gable pattern of a traditional canal house, in reverse, becomes a device for relatively more transparency on the southern side.