In 2003, with two small children and another on the way, Katy and Geoff Massam were ready to house-hunt in Greenwich. Their search ended when they found a family-sized place in an established neighborhood, with a private and expansive backyard. The home, built in 1936, was a comforting mix of well-crafted structure and the traditional look of its era.
“We looked at lots and lots of houses, and this one seemed right. The good bones were all there; it just needed a little love,” Katy recalls. The previous owners, an older couple, hadn’t made any changes to the house or landscape for years. “Since we had small children and we’re always entertaining, we wanted to adjust the layout, expand the kitchen and make the outdoor spaces more connected to the house.”
She adds, “We also have different sensibilities about design, and even though the house is traditional, we wanted it to reflect who we are. My husband, Geoff, is into contemporary styling, and I’m always looking for things that are timeless. So we chose to keep all the good architectural details, and then fill the house with the modern and classic furnishings that we like to live with.”
Calling on architect Jeffrey Matz to fine-tune the layout, the couple chose a modest solution for rearranging their interior spaces. Because they wanted to amplify the natural light and make way for some enhancements to the master suite, Matz designed a small bumpout on the living room side of the house that would fulfill both requirements. “This renovation is a good example of letting a house be what it wants to be,” says Matz. “The Massams had the patience and passion to take the challenge of combining a classic form with their modern taste. Everything they did was terrifically thoughtful.”
Downstairs, the basement also needed some unusual modifications to create a new media room. Out went the sixties-era fallout shelter with hand-cranked ventilating fan; contractor Dan Motill’s crew had to take apart the foot-thick, all-concrete structure with jackhammers. Once that was accomplished, the renovations rolled out from bottom to top.
Architect and contractor worked to integrate new spaces with old. This attention to detail extended to the new banks of windows, which were custom-made with extra-thick muntins between the panes, to match the elegance of the existing openings. “The old windows are one of this house’s nicest features,” Katy says. “We thought that the new ones should have the same weight and presence.”
With the home’s expanded footprint in place, it was time to put together the new interiors. Katy, an accomplished chef who, pre-family, was a food editor at Gourmet magazine, also wanted to make sure the kitchen had the functionality and good looks that would enhance her enjoyment of cooking and entertaining.
Working with designer Stephen King at Studio Snaidero, she opted for a modernist design that the company calls Opale. Cabinets in the main kitchen and butler’s pantry have spare lines, metals have softly reflective brushed finishes and treatments for the lower cabinet doors and drawers—which look like high-gloss lacquer—are a brilliant blue laminate. Says King: “The kitchen and butler’s pantry are very large spaces, with a lot of cabinetry. By choosing the laminate, the cabinet surfaces that the Massams selected have the look of an extremely high-end, labor-intensive finish that’s actually been done by machine.”
Having made an astute aesthetic choice for the cabinets, Katy could splurge a bit on other custom details. The terrazzo-style tile floor, from Bisazza, has multihued blue flecks that accent the cabinet surfaces. Instead of the customary four-inch painted toe kick beneath the cabinets, Massam chose a six-inch, satin aluminum trim piece, which gives the illusion that the cabinets are floating. Durable and easy to clean—must-haves in a family kitchen—these features also add dimension to the room. “Some people are surprised when they see my kitchen,” says Katy, noting that wood cabinets and lots of traditional details are the norm in Greenwich. “It’s much more modern than the kitchens of many people we know. But as a cook, I love that it’s so easy to work in and easy to take care of. We’re always having company, whether it’s family or friends. This kitchen is a pleasure to cook in and a wonderful space where we can socialize, too.”
For the other interior spaces, Katy used her own considerable talent for putting things together, using furniture and objects that she already owned, and adding to them piece by piece. In the living room, the focal point came first. A big coffee table from Lillian August—“it grounds the whole room,” says Katy—a classic and comfortable white velvet sofa with simple lines and side chairs from Barbara Barry are key elements in the scheme.
Gradually, shopping trips in Greenwich, Westport, and the Hamptons, augmented by her savvy use of Internet resources, have helped her dress each room with great style and, given the realities of family life with three small children, an utter lack of fussiness. The master bath, with its .25 Waterworks tub positioned under windows with a great view, its glass tiled shower, limestone floors and a custom-made floating vanity, is a showpiece of luxury. Yet the basic simplicity of its elements makes it so appealing to the little Massams that “they’re always taking baths here,” smiles Katy. “They love that big tub!”
Throughout the house, while it reflects the style that both Katy and Geoff love, she also keeps things simple and easy to care for. “I like neutrals, with the odd pop of color here and there,” Katy says. This strategy works to create a good flow between spaces, providing an appealing and calming backdrop for the beautiful accessories and art that the couple have assembled.
As the interiors came together, Katy enlisted the help of garden designer Robin Kramer to transform their landscape. The previous owners had not taken full advantage of its charms, and what remained of the outdoor space when Katy and Geoff bought the house was an old brick patio, totally overgrown with shrubbery. “We removed all of that and basically started with a clean slate,” Robin remembers.
The designer, who studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, brings her formal art training and knowledge of composition to landscape work. “I created a master plan so that the Massams could get the most important elements in place, and install the entire landscape in steps, over several years. “
Designer and clients worked out the plan based on a close consultation about how the family lives, and what they wanted to do with their outdoor space. From these conversations, a hedged lawn, a pool area and entertaining space that extend the back of the house were the first components to emerge. “The Massams’ aesthetic is refined and simple, and we worked to extend their style to the outdoors. The result proved to be life changing for them and how they use their house,” Robin says.
Katy acknowledges the success of the landscape design. “We live out here in good weather,” she admits. Robin, mindful of the schedules of a busy young family, has created a lush look for the garden elements, but one that does not take great efforts to maintain. High impact and low maintenance are its very appealing features, and ones that mesh perfectly with the Massams’ delightfully comfortable home.
Jefferey Matz Architects, Greenwich, 203-422-0256
Motill Construction, Stamford, 203-329-8171; motillconstruction.com
Studio Snaidero, Greenwich, 203-869-7448, and Norwalk, 203-831-9944; studiosnaidero.com
Robin Kramer Garden Design, Manchester by the sea, Massachusetts, 978-526-4221; robinkramergardendesign.com