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Book examines Frazier Peters' distinctive legacy in Westport

Updated 12:18 pm, Thursday, June 26, 2014

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  • This house on Charcoal Hill Road, designed by Frazier Forman Peters, at one time was the architect's family home. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News
    This house on Charcoal Hill Road, designed by Frazier Forman Peters, at one time was the architect's family home. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Laura Blau's introduction to the work of Frazier Forman Peters came early in her life. Peters (1895-1963), the visionary architect noted for his stone houses from Virginia to Maine -- including dozens in Westport -- is her grandfather, and she got her first lesson on his design concepts at a young age.

"I remember being about five years old and in my Sunday dress and he would send my brother and I out into the courtyard with a bunch of wood and some nails and hammers and saws and he'd say, `Build me something, and it better be beautiful and it has to be interesting and it's got to be strong,' " said Blau, an architect who lives in South Philadelphia.

Robert A. Weingarten came to know Peters' legacy in stone shortly after he and his wife, Karen, moved to Westport in 2000 and purchased a vintage carriage house. Curious about their new residence, Weingarten researched its history, which led to his position as house historian for the Westport Historical Society. As such, Weingarten, who also is a real estate agent, has inventoried and certified the 41 Peters houses built in Westport between 1924 and 1936, 38 of which still dot the town's landscape.

The two collaborated on a comprehensive book, "Frazier Forman Peters: Westport's Legacy in Stone," about Peters' life, construction principles and eco-consciousness that put him decades ahead of his time. The book was published by the Westport Historical Society, where Blau and Weingarten will sign copies Saturday, June 28, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Blau, an expert in sustainable design, will also give a presentation called "Greening My Grandfather's House."

The book consists of 163 pages of text, photographs and sketches, and takes readers inside the mind of the architectural genius and inside one of his houses.

One of Weingarten's contributions to the book is a list of significant characteristics that identify a Peters house. "A homeowner can read through the list and try to determine whether their house was designed and built by Peters," he said.

Blau said her grandfather's structures are "lovely houses, thoughtfully designed." They were made to be flexible and are well known for their sensitive placement in relation to the natural environment. Peters often built his houses near ponds and streams. He preserved trees on the lot rather than clear-cutting and built in a way that encouraged residents to engage with the natural surroundings.

"He was an environmentalist, although at that time nobody understood that. ... He was also a person who considered what we call today sustainable design because these houses are here to stay," Weingarten said.

Peters' houses have withstood the test of time, according to Frank Donaldson, the owner of a Tudor-style stone house designed by Peters in the Old Hill section of Westport. Donaldson was unfamiliar with Peters' work until he purchased his home. He has since garnered a deep sense of appreciation for the architectural integrity, sustainability and uniqueness of Peters' structures.

"It's like owning a beautiful piece of art that you can actually live in and enjoy," Donaldson said.

Prior to becoming an architect Blau was an award-winning artist and said she would love to add her artistic touches to a Frazier Peters house in Westport. "I could take one of those houses and add a wonderful contemporary addition. That would be a dream come true to be working on one of my grandfather's houses and bring it up-to-date, modernize it, open it up and make it energy efficient. That would be a wonderful labor of love," Blau said.