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Inside Story

How a renovation dream team retained the classic exterior of a Redding Colonial while recasting the interior to rustic, contemporary chic

Like many other house projects, the transformation of one traditional property on a quiet country road in Redding began with a daydream.

With a home of her own located just down the street, Kathi Colby used to pass the 1930s-era, stone and wood-frame house on her daily walks. She loved its site and profile and just couldn’t help picturing herself as lady of that domain, thinking about how she might arrange its interiors for her own family. 

“It really was just that, a dream,” she recalls. “The people who lived there loved their house and had no intention of selling it.”
Then, improbably, but happily for the Colbys, the former owners needed to relocate and put the object of Kathi’s desire on the market. Just like that, the house became hers.

Surveying her purchase, Kathi knew two things. She had no intention of expanding or changing the home’s exterior; it was the part of the house that attracted her in the first place. She loved its traditional proportions, the stone façade, the serene look of a building that fits perfectly in its landscape. 

But the interiors told a different story.

Typical of its era, the living space on the main floor was a warren of small rooms, many with meager natural light. Kathi had a different plan and set out to find the professionals who would help create her vision of bright spaces that flowed seamlessly, one to the next, indoors to outside. 

More than half of Redding architect Sam Callaway’s practice has been dedicated to renovation, and he has years of experience in transforming awkward floor plans and replacing outdated systems and house parts. When the Colbys took their project to him, he was immediately taken by Kathi’s own ideas for bringing the interiors to life.

“This project excited me because the Colbys wanted to open up the house inside. Kathi knew she wanted to change the vocabulary of that space, making something clean and contemporary,” notes Callaway. At the same time, he was impressed that the new owner could see the value of preserving the original, traditional building envelope; his client had no interest in adding on.

“One of the rules was not to expand the footprint,” remembers Kathi. “We just needed it different, not bigger.”

Once architect and client clicked, the next step was finding a builder who could execute a renewed layout in its existing shell. With 25 years in business, and a recognized portfolio—18 HOBI awards, most for successful renovations—Jim Blansfield and his crew seemed like a good fit. The dream team was on its way.

As major surgery of the interior began, out came the original partitions, revealing the large volume of open space that Kathi had imagined. To create the new plan, the team used a sophisticated mix of materials. Drawing from the structure’s New England vernacular farmhouse form, stone masonry and reclaimed antique barn wood find their place beside such contemporary choices as poured concrete, stainless steel, sculptural fixtures and state-of-the-art systems.

At the heart of the main floor, a sleek and contemporary Neff kitchen creates a hub, opening to a grand-scaled family room with one wall dedicated to a stone hearth.  Between the two spaces is a sliding, stainless steel partition, made in the same manner as a wooden barn door but fabricated from metal. It is a perfect symbol of the home’s inspired flow between old and new.

To invite the outdoors inside, an area once occupied by a screened porch was fitted with a 25-foot window wall that opens fully to the outside, creating the seamless passage to the landscape that Kathi had visualized.

“We had to hunt widely for many of the elements we used,” says Callaway. “The window wall came from Las Vegas, where this type of opening is used much more frequently than here in the Northeast.”

An optimal pattern for a successful renovation usually includes a group of pros that start the project together, from the beginning. In this case, Kathi had such clear ideas for her spaces that she didn’t invite an interior design studio to join the project up front. But because a whole-house remodel requires literally thousands of choices, it’s a rare homeowner who has the time to research and locate every detail herself, particularly on a tightly scheduled project such as this one. 

“We came on board when it was time to choose paint colors,” recalls Vicki Taylor-Bloch, a partner in the design practice she shares with Donna Sexton under the moniker At Home Design. Both women have years of experience at the executive levels of high-end lifestyle brand retailing and use their well-honed and encyclopedic knowledge of the design market to track down just the right materials and furnishings for their clients. Having worked in the past with Jim Blansfield, they got the call when an important design deadline was approaching.

“In this case, Kathi had literally hours to select a paint palette for the project,” says Taylor-Bloch. After walking through the space with her, the group of colors the designers chose turned out to be exactly what she was looking for.

“She told us, ‘I can’t believe you’re on the same page.’ And that was the beginning of our relationship with the project, and with the Colbys.”

With their ability to understand Kathi’s aesthetic, Vicki and Donna enjoyed the hunt for special elements to enhance their client’s clean, comfortable, and uncluttered style.

One of their finds is the huge, spherical pendant in the family room; designed by Bertjan Pot for the Dutch design house Moooi, it becomes an eyecatching centerpiece for the room’s dramatic, vaulted dimension.

“Kathi loved the unusual things that we would bring her,” says Taylor-Bloch, “so working with her was a total joy.”

On a shopping trip to ABC Carpet & Home, the designers spotted some contemporary patchwork rugs, created by sewing together old kilims that had been dip-dyed in dramatic hues.

“We knew right away that they were for Kathi,” recalls Sexton, “and immediately started searching for purple ones because that is her favorite color.”

The homeowners also appreciate fine art and craftsmanship, so for certain key pieces, the designers brought in a pair of skilled artisans with whom they had worked on many occasions. Throughout the house, commissioned pieces by metal sculptor David Boyajian and custom woodworker David Osborne earn pride of place. In the wine room, the artists collaborated on a table that features Boyajian’s base and Osborne’s top; in the entry, Osborne crafted a console, and Boyajian made the mirror that hangs above it.

The house that began as a daydream was completed to much acclaim. Last year, the project garnered two HOBI awards for best remodel and best interior design; it also earned the distinction of “Best Whole House Remodel at athome’s first A-List Awards ceremony.

Architect, designers, and builder are quick to credit their client for her role in the recognitions and for the satisfaction of being part of a winning team.

Says Blansfield, “Kathi had the vision for this project, she led the charge, and we responded. There was a wonderful spirit of excitement that we all felt. I’ve remodeled and built a lot of houses, but I was wowed by the creativity in this one.”

Sam Callaway, 203-938-9624; callawayarchitects.com
Jim Blansfield, 203-797-9174; blansfieldbuilders.com
Vicki Taylor-Bloch and Donna Sexton, 203-788-2177; athomedesignllc.com