This Greenwich Landscape Design Merges Old and New
July 28, 2020
Text by Tovah Martin Photography by Jorge Gonzalez-Guillot and Modern Photographic
Martin Waters always wanted to build a home from scratch. Since moving to Old Greenwich sixteen years ago with his wife, Anna, he tackled several renovation projects, but he never found the opportunity to indulge his lifelong fantasy of building a new house. That changed in 2014 when the Waters found a half-acre parcel with ocean views. “It’s the perfect place to live,” he sums up the allure. Although the saddest structure was standing on it, Waters figured the eyesore would be an easy teardown.
The demolition sign was up for only hours before the phone calls came in. Apparently, the Waters had just bought an important historic house. The precise age of the Feake-Ferris House was unknown until historians began carbon dating the wood beams to discover that the couple had purchased the oldest house in Greenwich. The Waters morphed immediately into preservation mode with help from the Greenwich Point Conservancy.
The nonprofit had good reason for interest in the property. Originally bought by Elizabeth Winthrop Feake in 1645, it was a rare example of an early female-owned property. But Feake broke with her times in many ways. When her husband, Robert Feake, slipped into insanity, she sought a divorce and remarried—a situation that was considered adultery in Connecticut. The couple fled to what became New York, and the property was sold to another Greenwich founder, Jeffrey Ferris, in 1653. Ferris’s son inherited and expanded the house.
Not to lose sight of his original dream, Waters built a new home—attached to the restoration by a breezeway—with the intent of bringing old and new together. Toward that goal, they contacted landscape designer Rosalia Sanni, who became immersed in investigating what Feake might have grown on the site. “But we didn’t want to replicate the past, we wanted to merge it ornamentally with the present,” explains Sanni. Her solution was to line the front of the original house with herbs and then morph into a modern presentation.
The new structure is living space while the historic house serves as a home office. The two buildings are joined by plantings that are smart in every era. On Greenwich Founders’ Day, which normally happens in July (this year’s event has been postponed), the Waters welcome tours of the property as a proud example of living history.