Murphy House


Allan Gelbin


1964


Description

The Murphy House is set on a relatively flat, wooded site at the end of a long gravel drive. The most dramatic landscape feature on the property is a large pond at the rear of the house which has a concrete spillway leading to a stream. Recent landscape additions include an extensive set of pathways that meander through the woods, and an ornamental stone ring constructed of gravel and river rocks at the entry to the house.

The Murphy House has a very irregular plan and evokes organic shapes as it sits low and long on its site. Natural materials like wood shingles, wood trim, fieldstone chimneys finished with thickly laid mortar, and wood doors and sash are used throughout the house. At the Murphy House, architect Allan Gelbin used angles as a motif, in contrast to his Leuthold House in New Canaan, which features curves. The angle motif is carried throughout the house in its plan and down to details like door handles and light fixtures. Walls meet at sharp angles, creating prowlike elements. The house has a deeply overhanging roof with openings cut into the eaves to allow light to penetrate to planters adjacent to the building. An angled cantilevered wood deck with built-in benches at the rear of the house juts out precipitously over the pond, reminiscent of the deck at Frank Lloyd Wright's Tirranna (1956) in New Canaan, where Gelbin acted as master-of-the-works. A studio addition designed by Gelbin in the 1970s terminates in a full-height angled window wall with mitered glass corners.


Significance

The Murphy House was designed by architect Allan Gelbin for Peggy and Charles Murphy. Peggy Murphy established the highly successful New Canaan High School girls' swimming team in 1973 along with Carol McVeigh. Architect Allan Gelbin was an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin East and oversaw the construction of the Wright-designed house in New Canaan before designing at least three houses of his own in New Canaan.

Peggy R. Murphy acquired the property in 1963. According to the assessor records, the house was 75% complete in July 1964, suggesting that it was finished in late 1964 or 1965. An 8'x20' wood shed with a flat roof was constructed in 1964. In 1974, the Murphys again hired architect Allan Gelbin to alter the house. The incorporated carport at one end of the house was converted into a sunroom with a fireplace and the house was extended by about 57 feet off the carport to create a studio. A partial second-story addition containing a bedroom was constructed above the former master bedroom. It also appears that the wood decks around the houses were extended either prior to 1974 or at this time.

In 2001, Ronald Meckler and Jacqueline Shapiro purchased the house. Meckler and Shapiro made some interior alterations between 2001 and 2004, including converting the sunroom into a master suite (necessitating the partial burial of the floating stair to the second floor and inserting a wall to create a hallway to the studio), converting the master bedroom and music room into a living room, and converting the wetbar in the studio into a bath. The decks around the house were rebuilt in kind and the deteriorated gypsum soffit was replaced with cement board. The landscape was redesigned in 2002-04 by landscape architect Wesley Stout and included the replacement of a deteriorated outdoor space constructed of railroad ties at the side of the house with cement and fieldstone terraces bordered by stone walls consistent with the style and technique of the original stonework.


National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009.