The New York Times, June 2006

Turrets Are Adding Architectural Variety to the Suburban Skyline

By John Freeman Gill
Published: June, 25 2006

“A man’s home is his castle” goes the adage, which finds perhaps its most literal representation in the fanciful cottage of Wemmick, a London clerk in Charles Dickens’s novel “Great Expectations.” Although Wemmick’s home is tiny, he has modified it to resemble a Gothic fortress of sorts, complete with a plank drawbridge, a moat and a “turret bedroom.”

While there is no evidence of a run on Dickens novels in area bookstores, much less a conscious emulation of Wemmick, turrets have been popping up with increasing frequency on upscale suburban homes around New York City.

“If someone is building a six- to eight-thousand-square-foot house or bigger, you expect them, along with the pool and the tennis court, ” said president of the Long Island Builders Institute, a trade group.

The current style of turret – broadly defined as a tower rising front he ground and attached to a corner or wall, or a small tower projecting from the edge of a roof – often has a particularly castle like aspect in places like the north shore of Nassau County.

“There’s probably nothing better than a turret to suggest baronial, manorial stature,” Mr. Weiboldt said. “It’s the manor of house as a statement of corporate or professional success.”

The variety in recent turret of the bunch is on vivid display in the Briarcliff Manor area of Westchester. On Sleepy Hollow Road, five types can be seen on three homes.

The smallest turret of thee bunch is a shingled six-and-a-half-foot square lookout with glass windows, capped with a pointed copper roof, and a weather vane. Its owners, Eric and HIllary Messer, said their associations with the little tower were more Hamptons beach house than medieval English fortress.

“The proliferation turrets we’re seeing is primarily whimsical,” said Mr. Messer, the owner of Sunrise Building and Remodeling, which has done work throughout Westchester and southern Connecticut for 20 years. “What’s changed over time is that they’ve gotten smaller and moved inland.”

Mr. Messer added that he installed his own turret for the same reason many of his clients request them; to break up a long roofline and let more light into a dark area.

The most imposing turreted home on the road is a stuccoed 6,200-square-foot structure being built in the style of a French chateau. It bristles with no fewer than three turrets of varying sizes and shapes.

The home is the dream house of Maria Boccasini and her husband, Alfredo, who owns a hair salon in White Plains. They currently live just a few feet in front of it, in a two-bedroom Cape Cod that will be torn down after the larger house is completed around the end of the summer.

Mr. Boccasini, seated at her dining room table on a recent afternoon with her new home looming surreally in a nearby window, flipped through lushly photographed books like “Houses of the Gentry.”

Peering at a photograph of the soaring turrets of a Loire Valley chateau once owned by Catherine de Medicis, she spoke of the practical challenges of bringing the French Renaissance to Westchester. “The framers of Terror,” Ms. Boccasini said, explaining that building them proved so difficult that the blueprints had to be reconfigured.

Each of the home’s three turrets has a different form and function. The largest is a 45-foot-high octagon at the back wall of the house topped with a tiled, pointed roof above the master bedroom. The inside of the turret will be lined with a painting on canvas, perhaps a pastoral scene.

A second turret, a two-story half-cylinder with a conical roof, is built into theo home’s left flank. It will have wine racks in a basement level, perhaps a buffet in the first-floor dining room, and a half-circle bench in the second-story guest room, which will be decorated with toile and known as the Marie Antoinette Room.

The smallest turret is a 17-foot-high half-octagon that will serve as a Christmas tree nook off what Ms. Boccasini calls the Great Room.

“I named the rooms,” Ms. Boccasini said. “My husband said, ‘This is not your castle,’ and I said: ‘This is my castle, and I’m queen of it. And even if it were small, it would be my castle, because it has all our personal touches in it.'” But she acknowledged having received complaints about the scale of the house.

Also on Sleepy Hollow Road is the turretless home of an architect named Michael Molinelli, who has watched the sprouting of suburban towers with a discriminating eye. Too often, he said, turrets appear to be appended to houses without proper attention to proportion.

“I think turrets are a fun thing,” he said. “But we in America have this concept that if one is fun, then three is three times as much fun.”

Three years ago, Mr. Molinelli designed a tapered stone turret for the early 20th-century Tudor-style home in Greenwich, Conn., belonging to his brother, Bruce, and his family. Afterward, “everyone on the block had turret envy,: the architect recalled. Some even built their own turrets.

Joanne Carrol, publisher of the trade magazine Connecticut Builder, said the popularity of turrets is partly a reaction to the boxiness of so-called McMansions. “Builders have gone to great lengths to find talented architects to create homes where rooflines are broken by the interjection of other elements,” she said.

One home in no danger of lacking prominent vertical elements is the Boccasini’s in Briarcliff Manor. As Mr. Boccasini surveyed his tri-turreted chateau the other day, he confessed to his wife that he longed for more. “When we get done, maybe we’ll put in an extension and maybe another couple of towers,” he said. And a cabana the couple hope to build, along with a pool, could be a tower, too, he added.

Ms. Boccasini’s eyes went wide. “That would be so cute if out cabana was a turret!” she said. “That would be the cutest cabana ever.”

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