Charles Hilton, Principal of Charles Hilton Architects, has built an impeccable reputation in Fairfield County, Westchester, and beyond for traditional homes and waterfront projects, all designed with a modern sensibility, including smart home technology and a commitment to sustainability. Now, he’s sharing some of his standout projects from the past thirty years in a beautiful new book, Classic Greenwich Houses. We spoke to Charles, who lives in Darien, about this new project, how COVID has influenced the way clients are using his services, his personal “silver linings” of quarantine, and more. Plus, his favorite local businesses.
Congrats on the new book! Can you tell us a bit about it and how it came to fruition?
I’ve been in town 32 years, and have done many home renovations and new homes—hundreds in Greenwich alone. My specialty is waterfront homes and great estates, so you’ll see both of those in the book. Some of our projects are very large and some are just a few rooms; there are beautiful kitchens, outdoors spaces, pool houses…You can pick through and find gems that apply to any home.
We’ve done a lot of work in Fairfield and Westchester Counties, but I’ve also done a cabin in Maine, one in Vermont, a waterfront home on the Pacific Ocean. When you work in different locations the type of architecture you do and the type of building is different. I enjoy that diversity, so this book will not only enforce our local work, but show the world how the high quality craftmanship we do in Greenwich will translate well to other beautiful and interesting locations. People from Greenwich will enjoy seeing other exceptional Greenwich houses. Some of these projects have been worked on for decades—one home included 8 buildings done over 25 years.
How would you describe your signature style?
We actually don’t have a firm signature style. We have done lots of Colonials, Georgian, English, French, Mediterranean, style homes. Some more contemporary and some extremely traditional. What unifies them is they all have traditional inspiration. One thing I learned in Greenwich is people invest a lot in their house, and they don’t want something that is going to be a fad and look dated five or ten years after it’s done. Our projects are timeless and we have projects that were done 30 years ago that have held up well. We are very modern in our approach. A planning of a house today versus a house built in the 50s or 20s is very different. For instance, we’re now working with open floor plans and indoor/outdoor living is huge. These homes, while traditional, are equipped with smart house systems and energy saving systems—all the modern technology. The materials are green and sustainable when possible. This makes the houses energy efficient and easy to maintain.
How has COVID impacted what kind of projects you’re working on?
It’s a little early to see the full shakeout but I just did an interview with the Wall Street Journal about COVID and long-term trends. Big picture, everyone is looking for more space. Before this, a lot of people were downsizing and now people want more space, both indoors and outdoors. People are working and kids are e-learning from home, so people want two spaces functioning as home offices. We’ve done kids study rooms off the kitchen on the second floor, and in bedrooms. People are cooking at home more, both indoors and outdoors. There is more interest in home gyms, spas, massage areas, yoga rooms, quiet rooms. Outdoor living and entertainment spaces were already in demand but now it’s essential whether it’s for their family or planning on having people over.
How did quarantine affect your own family life?
My kids are 19, 22 and 24. In the Spring, we ended up with all three back in the house. My oldest is finishing up grad school at Columbia this semester. She went for teaching and is finishing her masters in psychology, but is also a yoga instructor and started a company called The Simply Well. It focuses on yoga, wellness, and mindfulness for both children and adults. My middle daughter just graduated in the Spring and is looking for a job full-time but is helping a two doctor home with e-learning for their four kids. My youngest is a sophomore at Boston College and he is hanging in there and trying to stay safe…some of that learning is online and in person.
[Quarantine] in some respects was really nice. The last few years, during the summer time they had camp jobs, or other jobs, and we haven’t had the entire family living under the same roof for a few years. We had actually been empty nesters for a few months. During quarantine we had lots of family dinners, and after dinner we had family movie nights. We broke out the old movies from when we were dating and then when the kids were babies – they loved it and were fascinated by it. We did that for two months every night after dinner. We had some great family time as a result of the lockdown. Our office was working from home exclusively from mid-March to June 1 and now most people are back but a few employees with young kids are taking time to be COVID safe and we have some other arrangements due to transportation concerns.
What’s one common misconception people have about working with an architect?
A lot of people who are younger or starting out might think it’s a luxury and not a necessity. I see it obviously from the other side. People spend a lot of money on their homes and paying professionals like an architect or a landscape architect is really a small part of that. The designs are more thought out, more functional, and the long-term cost can be the same or even less. If you’re building a house that’s not planned well, the space may not be used as well, and the wrong materials can result in poor function or higher maintenance costs. And it’s a lot of work – I don’t think people realize all there is to it. People need to plan time in their schedules, particularly if they’re not working with a design professional, for all the decisions. When you’re working with a design professional you’ll save time because they’ll give you curated options.
We love supporting local businesses. Can you please name your favorite places in Fairfield County to:
Grab coffee – Rowayton Market – the coffee is amazing.
Go out to dinner as family – We eat at Milbrook a lot and Pasta Vera as a family. In New Canaan we go to Spiga.
Go shopping – Darien Sports Shop
Have fun as a family – Some of our family is really into tennis. My son and I played golf a lot at Milbrook. We also do a lot of dinners (with immediate or extended family and friends) spread out down on the beach and bring sushi and a bottle of wine. For our favorite getaway, we have a family cabin up in Maine, where we were for five extended weekends this summer. We do things like fishing, water skiing, boating and hiking.
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