Built in the 1930s on a granite island off the coast of Connecticut, a house and its seawalls had fallen into disrepair. Its new owner asked us to stabilize the deteriorating shoreline and add a storage shed and pool to the property. This project gave us the chance to work directly with the land, shape the terrain, and think like engineers, stone masons, and gardeners.
Our greatest challenge was to define the island and harbor through the addition of seawalls. Coincidentally, Philip Johnson’s recently completed AT&T Building had reopened large sections of Stony Creek, a quarry near New Haven. A visit there felt like a trip to one of the quarries in Italy or to the Palatine Hills in Rome. Like remnants of an ancient, unfinished project, huge blocks of stone were strewn about the ground. They were, in fact, rejected materials from the construction of the AT&T Building—imperfect for Johnson’s project, but perfect for ours. The granite was a very close match to that of the island 30 miles away and, it was virtually free—provided that one had the equipment to pick up granite chunks as large as two cubic yards.
We arranged for the blocks to be loaded onto barges and floated to the island, where a second barge-mounted crane lifted them into position. Masons, with a few sure strokes of a mallet and wedge, worked to form dry-chinked seawalls, a deep-water pier, the foundations of a storage shed, and the stepped edge of a salt water pool.