Beauty Comes to Light

The authentic renovation of a Tudor cottage in Clayton reflects the design skills of its multi-talented owners.

Text: Barb Wilson
Photos: Anne Matheis
October 2012

Flagstone paths wind up the lushly planted knoll, where a dignified vintage home stands sentinel over its quiet Clayton neighborhood. The superb integration of the residence and its grounds is hardly surprising, since the owners are Brian Smith of Gunn and Smith Architects and Matt Moynihan of Moynihan and Associates, a landscape architectural firm.

As an architect, Brian readily admits that he prefers contemporary design, so it seemed reasonable to ask why he and Matt had chosen an 1,850-square-foot Tudor cottage-style home originally built in 1928. “We liked the basic plan, the nice rooms, the private corner lot and the neighborhood,” he explains. What followed was a collaborative series of renovations over two decades, adding approximately 1,200 square feet to the home while carefully preserving its classic “pinwheel” layout.

Reminiscent of many Frank Lloyd Wright designs, pinwheel plans feature a central hub with projecting wings that allow for windows on three sides. For Brian and Matt, the challenge was to significantly expand the home – which had only one bedroom, 1-1/2 baths and a one-car garage, yet retain its distinctive character and natural lighting on all three sides of each space.  “We must’ve done at least 15 drawings before starting the renovation,” Brian laughs.

The first step was relatively simple, modifying the garage to accommodate two cars. Several years later, the kitchen was doubled in size, the ceiling raised and a gable added to allow for a guest bedroom and second full bath on the upper level.

Undertaken in 2007, the major renovation required the owners to move out for a year while an open breakfast/hearth room was added off the kitchen, the upstairs master suite enlarged and an entire wing built to create a music/dining room. During this phase, the home’s antiquated electrical wiring was updated and the hodgepodge of heating systems replaced with eco-friendly geothermal. “We had to drill 350 feet down to install the geothermal,” Brian notes.

Exterior brick removed during construction was meticulously re-laid in the home’s classic “drunken brick” pattern; displaced leaded windows were reused in the new spaces; and much of the original crown molding was eliminated, in the owners’ words, “to simplify the traditional house.”

The addition of the new wing allowed for creation of a large private patio where guests can fully appreciate Matt’s landscape design talents (featured in The New American Landscape, edited by Thomas Christopher and published this spring, and in SLHL’s June/July 2012 issue). A brilliant example of sustainable gardening, the yard has the picturesque appeal of an English meadow, which Matt describes as “an environment filled with grasses, flowers and plants that can grow and prosper with less use of water, gasoline and fertilizers.”

Most of the owners’ daily activity revolves around the spacious kitchen/breakfast/hearth room area. “Matt’s a great cook, and we entertain a lot,” Brian remarks. “Guests tend to congregate in this area, so we wanted to make the kitchen more a living space, rather than utilitarian.”  To achieve the desired look, minimal wall cabinetry was installed – all custom-built in crisp white, with Hafele hardware, fully integrated Sub-Zero appliances and subtle gray-green honed granite countertops. The full-size refrigerator and wine cooler were moved to the lower level, where an elevator provides easy access from the laundry to the top floor.

Offering expansive views of the garden, the breakfast/hearth room is dominated by a Georgian-trimmed fireplace that backs to an outdoor fireplace. A mohair Biedermeier sofa provides comfortable seating, and the walls showcase a variety of artwork, including pieces by Sean Landers and Arthur Osver and Tuscan prints.

Oriental and cowhide rugs lend color and texture to the rich hardwood flooring throughout the home, and adjacent to the breakfast room, the gallery further illustrates the owners’ enthusiasm for fine art.  The gallery’s focal point is a monoprint by Barbara Holtz, influenced by her travels in the Himalayas and a first-prize winner in the Florence Biennale. Also displayed are another Arthur Osver and several watercolors and oils by Matt, who’s as talented with a brush as he is with landscape design.

Beyond the gallery is the music/dining room, with its lacquered baby grand piano and an intriguing assortment of visual arts, including a large floral stencil by Dominican-born Aurelio Grisanty, a Tom Huck woodcut entitled “The Ultimate Cock Fight,” a carved Balinese temple door – and a 54-inch flat-screen that displays photographic collages when the sound system is activated.

“I especially like the ‘transparency’ of this room,” says Brian. “You can actually see through the gallery to the fireplace in the breakfast room.” Surrounded by slipper chairs, the dining table was fabricated by noted St. Louis architect Isadore Shank, who created a travertine top for the massive 19th-century base.

Lined with Brian’s architectural library, the fireside living room remained its original size. One wall is devoted to a quintessential Erik Spehn canvas, complemented elsewhere by another Holtz abstract and a Grisanty stencil. Adding unique character to the room are an antelope Chiwara (a ritual object) and a 3,000-year-old culinary vessel from North Africa. “I’m fascinated by the way African art seems to combine modernity with antiquity,” Brian comments.

On exhibit in the foyer and stairway are a Motherwell, “Seascape” by Daniel Barton and a small Erik Spehn. Upstairs, the original maid’s room has been converted to a hall (humorously referred to as the “Moynihan watercolor gallery”) and the former master bath to a sitting/dressing area. 

Bright and airy, the master bedroom is surrounded by windows on three sides and extends into an inviting sitting bay.  The walk-through master bath connects to a private TV room (originally the home’s sole bedroom), which is furnished with a B&B Italia sofa, Eames lounge and Ellen Gray side table. Noteworthy artwork in this room includes Brian’s first acquisition, a piece by illustrator Wanda Loomis, a large acrylic by a young Australian painter and Leslie Laskey prints. Also on this level are the guest suite and a sizable office that can serve as an extra bedroom, when needed.

The sum effect of this light-filled home is one of grace, serenity, comfort and thorough respect for architectural tradition – a residential gem with all the charm of the English countryside.


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