It Takes Two
Asking Betsy Perry to open her home to the editors, photographers and stylists of atHome was like asking Houdini to reveal a few of his tricks. “I wouldn’t have found all these things without other people sharing their houses in magazines,” says Betsy, who takes glossy tear sheets on shopping trips and rattles off a long list of her favorite reads without pausing to take a breath. So, really, it’s only fair that she give back.
The most important person to have shared her house with Betsy, however, did not come from the printed page. It was a friend, decorator Melissa Crowley Price, whom Betsy had met years ago. “She came to my house and got a good feel for it,” says Melissa, who lives in Old Greenwich. “We did know each other before, but through this project, we became exceedingly more aware of our common interests.” Betsy saw a kindred spirit in Melissa—not to mention a reflection of her own traditional-with-a-twist taste—and asked her to weigh in “soup to nuts,” as Betsy explains, on the house she and her husband built for their family (including three boys, ages 11, 9, and 5) in Riverside.
The Perrys bought the land on Jones Park Drive, and the house on it, from the estate of the owner, a member of the original Jones family. The history of the area, and even the design of the 1960s ranch house, were appealing, but the home’s layout didn’t suit the modern family. Plans to add a second floor were scrapped when the Perrys ascertained the foundation was unsuitable. The couple decided to start over and build a shingle house (similar to the style of Betsy’s childhood home in Bronxville, New York) that had an aged look to belie its years. “We wanted to honor the older feel of the neighborhood. This house is nice but not overly formal,” says Betsy.
Filling it was another story. “Save for a couple of headboards and some beds, we really started from scratch,” Betsy says. And while Betsy is a woman who knows what she likes and makes decisions easily, she is also a patient scavenger, happy to wait for just the right find. She and Melissa spent plenty of time scouring local stores but had much more fun taking road trips together. Whereas some homeowners send their decorators out with a list of demands, Betsy rode shotgun. “She was game to go find anything,” Melissa says. “And she loves the stories behind pieces and talking to the antiques dealers.”
During one trip to the Winter Antiques Show at the 7th Regiment Armory in New York City, the duo discovered, among other things, Stamford dealer Eleanor Billet. They eventually visited her warehouse, where they scored a classic, gray-stained chest for the master bedroom. “We were in a freezing warehouse with no heat, opening crates. That’s the kind of thing Betsy will do. She’s very adventurous,” Melissa says. They trolled the Elephant’s Trunk flea market in New Milford and visited the Rhinebeck Antiques Fair, where they found an oversized antique game board piece that sits in the family room. Some shelves—or even entire rooms—remained unfinished for a while, but the thrill of the hunt, and the satisfaction of finding unique items with a story behind them (even if it’s just the story of two friends on a great getaway) made the wait more than worth it.
The duo was just as deliberate about architectural elements in the 5,500-square-foot house that lend a cozy, old-world charm. Betsy read Robert A. M. Stern Houses to learn about the history of American shingle-style homes and replicated some of the building elements: coffered ceilings in the living and dining rooms, lots of built-in benches and shelves and defining columns. Tall doors and simple, dark hardware, rather than shiny brass or chrome, make the house feel more dated.
Considering the three active boys, Betsy and Melissa agreed that an outdoor shower for seriously grimy kids and wood lockers in the mudroom for hiding sports equipment were more than practical ideas. The powder room has “Boys” laid in contrasting stone on the floor (an idea Betsy culled from a magazine) and a urinal on the wall. “It just makes sense. Although the people at the plumbing store thought I was crazy,” she says.
Living with a house full of energetic boys also propelled Betsy to find moments of calm. Her favorite color is blue, and it shows up in varying shades in the living and dining rooms. The Brunschwig & Fils fabric on two bergere chairs in the living room were, again, spotted by Betsy in a magazine spread, and it dictated a soothing palette of cream, taupe and sea blue. She used muted ivory and sky blue wallpaper by Osborne & Little in the dining room, and although it seems understated, it has a cheeky theme that speaks to Betsy’s sense of fun. “I told Melissa I didn’t want monkeys or birds, but the paper has such wonderful color tones. Then I looked, and there’s a monkey pulling a bird’s feather on it,” she says. “And I still love it.”
Blue is repeated in the master bedroom, where Betsy reused a headboard from her last home. It is covered in a chambray-colored print from Cowtan & Tout that proved hard to match when Melissa began looking for coordinating fabrics. In the end, Melissa ordered more of the same fabric and created uniform, standout accents that remind Betsy of “an old, comfortable pair of jeans.”
The master suite was one of the last rooms Betsy and Melissa completed, finishing it off with a fluffy white throw rug from Calypso Home in New York that warms up the sitting area in front of the fireplace. And as with any good book or unforgettable vacation, the end of their collaboration brought a tinge of sadness. “It was so much fun to learn about things together. This was definitely my best experience with a client, hands down,” says Melissa. Fortunately, they don’t live too far away from each other. They have also toyed with the idea of taking a more extensive antiquing road trip—by plane, to Paris.
The happy result of the finished project? These pages, which you can tear out and save as inspiration for a beautiful, livable, well-sourced home. Go ahead. The owner would heartily approve.
Brunschwig & Fils, North White Plains, New York, 914-684-5800; brunschwig.com
Calypso Home, New York City, 212-925-6200; calypso-celle.com
Cowtan & Tout, New York City, 212-753-4488; cowtan.com
Eleanor Billet and David Billet Antiques, The Antique and Artisan Center, Stamford, 203-327-6022
Elephant’s Trunk Country Flea Market, New Milford, 508-896-1975; etflea.com
Melissa Crowley Price, Old Greenwich, 203-698-0580
Rhinebeck Antiques Fair, Rhinebeck, New York, 845-876-1989; rhinebeckantiquesfair.com
Winter Antiques Show, New York City, 718.292.7392; winterantiquesshow.com