Melville House


Gates and Ford


1958


Description

The Melville House is located at the top of a hilly site ringed with trees. Architects Gates and Ford designed the house to be closely tied to nature through the use of extended end walls of fieldstone that continue from the exterior of the building through the glass walls to the interior rooms, and multiple defined outdoor spaces, including a partially covered masonry terrace at the west façade, a screened-in porch at the south façade, an open balcony at the east façade, and a covered wood deck and masonry terrace connected to the garage at the north façade. The floor plan of the house is rectangular with the longer sides facing north and south, but the exterior living spaces create an irregular footprint overall.

The most distinct feature of the house is its unusual "butterfly" roof, which slopes down in the middle to form an asymmetrical "V." It is supported by steel beams that run through the roof to steel columns in the center of the home. The "Y" construction makes possible the "spread wings" of the house. The interior spaces flow from one area to another, unbroken by the walls or columns that support traditional roofs. According to a 1959 article in the New Canaan Advertiser, the roof originally had a built-up construction consisting of tarpaper, tar, and crushed marble laid over 4-1/2' cedar beams, which are visible from the interior (New Canaan Advertiser, 16 April 1959). The exterior walls of the house are clad with painted vertical wood siding. The foundation is constructed of concrete block.

Texture and color are provided to the house by materials such as cedar, gray cypress, walnut, and weathered Connecticut stone. The living spaces are separated by changes in levels rather than walls. The planned outdoor living spaces, glass walls, and fieldstone walls that run through the house from the exterior create a home whose interior environment is closely linked to the exterior wooded surroundings.


Significance

The Melville House was designed by Taylor Gates of Gates and Ford Architectural and Planning Associates. The house was built for David Melville and completed in 1958. It was included in the 1959 Modern House Tour in New Canaan. In 1962, the property was purchased by Maxwell Bassett, an aeronautical engineer who appreciated the design and soaring character of the building. At the time of this survey, the house was still held in the Bassett family.


National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009.