At photographer Stacy Bass’s Westport home, the interior design brings art, style, and comfort into focus
What happens when a photographer who makes her living shooting residential interiors and gardens suddenly finds herself in the midst of a gut renovation of her own home? Answer: She turns the lens inward and applies roughly ten years of accumulated knowledge and nuance to every inch of her 6,000 square feet.
When Stacy Bass, whose well-composed images are frequently featured on the pages of this magazine—and her husband, Howard, a consultant in the media and entertainment sector—began to plan the latest, and what she insists is the last, alteration of their home in Westport, she had a rich portfolio influencing her design.
“What I’ve photographed over the years inspired a lot of my decisions,” says Bass, who bravely took responsibility for the interior design of the house, with crucial guidance and assistance from an in-house designer at Lillian August. “I was inspired by the best of what I saw.”
From the street, their home is unassumingly traditional, with standard-sized windows and sandstone-colored clapboard siding. But inside hides a serene and contemporary refuge, bathed in natural light, and all of it anchored, thanks to an entire rear façade of floor-to-ceiling windows, on a jaw-dropping view of Long Island Sound.
“It feels like photography because it’s about composition,” she says of the biggest still life she’s ever shot, a composition that transitions from traditional to modern. “But more so than in photography, the imagination really comes into play.”
Imagination is apparently a quality this couple has in spades. In the 15 years they’ve lived in the house, they’ve overseen four previous alterations or additions. Along the way, they added two children for a total of four, which factors into this mom’s secret agenda: Make the house so inviting that the kids keep coming back to visit long after they’ve left the nest. (It helps that all of them have their own views of the water.)
“All the changes have been driven by lifestyle and how we use the house,” she says. “This one was about bringing the outside in and connecting the house to the water.”
By the time they met with local architect Peter Cadoux, Bass says her husband had produced a 25-item memo detailing a laundry list of must-haves.
There were the drawer for sunglasses and the pull-out racks for shoes (one for each family member) in the mudroom; the reclaimed French oak floors, the energy-efficient, foam insulation; the kids’ study with a pocket door and a secret spot for toy and game storage; and the veranda (this required an expansion of the footprint) with six panels of retractable screens, a concealed big-screen TV that creates a cinema amidst the crickets, and a large doorway with folding glass panels that allow for an open-air feel. Add to the list a mini-conference room, encased in its own privacy doors, that sits upstairs in the attic office-lounge with its tricked-out home gym, and master-bedroom closets whose millwork recalls that of a cozy boutique.
Nearly two years after the seven-month re-do, every item on the list has a check next to it.
“Peter made it all work seamlessly,” she says, explaining that she entrusted the construction, just as she did all the previous jobs, to general contractor Chris Moran of Easton.
The most significant structural change to the existing house was the complete overhaul of the rear elevation.
“There is no relationship between what the rear of the house looks like now and what it used to look like,” she says. Her husband adds, “It was a spectacular transformation.”
Inside they lifted the slanted and closed-in ceiling to a lofty one accented with coffers constructed of the same reclaimed oak used in the floors. They also put in a second story of windows and added an upstairs balcony that evokes a ship’s deck. The dark, entry-hall staircase and closet were replaced with an open, three-story stair tower that sits in its own column of sunlight. The steel and walnut stairs were made by a shop in Chicago that trucked them in along with an installation crew. And they installed a new kitchen.
And did we mention the innate intelligence of the home—a single “smart” panel from which the family can adjust lighting, climate, music, TVs, and garage doors, either while onsite or while polishing off a pepperoni pie at the local pizza joint? And what about its all-LED lighting, possibly the first in Connecticut?
For furnishings and decoration, Bass cataloged ideas from her shoots—a texture here, a color there--often committing an item to memory and then figuring out how to incorporate it into her own design. Details that fit that description include a shag carpet made in India of five different wools, honed marble countertops, a backsplash covered in a paper made of crushed granite, cabinet doors inlaid with a glittering mesh, a shell chandelier above her bed, and an opalescent mosaic tile she designed.
“I’d start fantasizing,” she says, musing that at some point her husband began to realize that his wife had a very expensive profession. “I’d come home and wish we had this or that detail.”
She also managed to integrate several pieces from her previous furniture plan, as well as some of her own photography (a still life of an ice storm, a detail shot of an allium bloom), pieces of art by family members including a spherical sculpture by her aunt, the renowned artist Ann Weiner, keepsakes from her family home such as a stamp and postage machine once owned by her father, and antiques including a display of weathered newel posts and a terracotta figure from the Han Dynasty she found on her honeymoon in Hong Kong.
Of all the features of her new home, Bass says that what she enjoys most is the scenery, which changes from season to season and from light to dark, and the movement of the creek out back, where the tide swings eight feet from high to low.
“Nothing is static,” she says, recalling that years ago, before she had her own equipment, she had to rent a camera for her first professional shoot. (Her second professional shoot, wound up on the cover of Westport Magazine.)
It’s a fitting statement for a photographer turned interior decorator who is anything but still.
Peter Cadoux Architects, 203-227-4304; cadouxaia.com
Chris Moran, Moran Construction Management, 203-913-7735
Lillian August, 203-847-1596; lillianaugust.com
H & H Woodworking custom cabinetry, 914-965-1900; hhwoodworking.com
MILK Design (stair and railings), milkdesign.net
Stacy Bass Photography, 203-856-0447, stacybassphotography.com