Designer Christina Murphy helps a world-traveling couple feel at home in Greenwich
photographs hulya kolabas
T wo years ago, when Jeff Buick and Amy Sung decided it was time to find a weekend retreat from their busy lives as the president of a hedge fund and a banker turned decorative arts collector and dealer, they had several criteria in mind: the house needed to be in a country setting, but no more than a two-hour drive from the city. Ideally, it should be convenient to restaurants and shops, but not in the Hamptons.
Although she was born in Taipei and grew up in North Africa, Sung had spent time in Westport as a young girl. “I suggested we rent a house there for the summer,” she says. “We loved it. We went to the beach every day.” By the end of August they were looking for a place to buy. “I had heard of Greenwich,” she recalls. “Then we discovered backcountry. I told the broker I wanted the smallest house on the biggest piece of land.”
It wasn’t long before they found the perfect spot: a 1950s five-bedroom colonial set on five acres, north of the Merritt Parkway. The landscape is classic Connecticut: stone walls, rolling green lawn, large oak and pine trees, flowering dogwoods, an old perennial garden, a small barn with an overgrown paddock and a swimming pool that overlooks a pond shared by eight homeowners. “We have a rural country house experience here even though we are only forty minutes from the city,” Sung says.
But even the “smallest house” in backcountry Greenwich is no slouch, and at nearly 6,000-square feet the house presented a sizable decorating challenge. “It was old and filled to the brim with antiques and quite dark with lots of wood paneling,” she says. “But the bones were great. There was a lot to work with.”
First order of business was lightening up the space and making it more cheerful. Almost everything got a coat of white paint, including the wood paneling, the built-ins, the kitchen cabinets, even the reclaimed barn wood floors and the wood beams in the family room. She ordered white linen drapes with a blue tape trim for the den, and painted the back of the bookshelves and the living room walls a light blue. The couple bought a bunch of oversize furniture “so we could have something to sit in and sleep on.”
Because the couple spends several months a year in Asia, they weren’t ready to tackle the interiors in a meaningful way until the following spring. They loved the home’s colonial architecture and didn’t want to make any structural changes. “New England preppy is in this home’s DNA,” Sung says. “I wanted to retain that feel but I wanted it to have some flair.” For that, she turned to New York-based designer Christina Murphy. The two hit it off right away.
“Their biggest complaint was that the interiors were too cold,” says Murphy, whose associate Meg Gabriele served as her right-hand person on the project. “The blues and whites helped to brighten up the house but it had a very summery feel. Our goal was to make it more of a year-round home, and keep it very low-key and comfortable.”
To that end, the designer suggested covering the living room walls with a Phillip Jeffries textured wallpaper in a natural raffia that immediately warmed up the room and made it a place people would want to linger. “Until then it had been more of a pass-through,” Murphy says. A tall secretary against one wall and paneled window treatments in F. Schumacher’s Betwixt chocolate brown and ivory create the illusion of height. Among the chic touches: a skirted swivel chair in a strie coral and pink silk linen blend and a pair of tufted slipper chairs in a zebra linen print, both from Brunschwig and Fils. A pink clover-shaped side table from Oomph Online and a coral and brown ikat-covered spool chair add pops of color. “The whole look is youthful and modern,” Murphy says.
To brighten the formal dining room, where the couple eats all their meals, the designer covered the wall with a bold coral print by Alan Campbell from Quadrille. “It’s the wow factor,” she says. Here, Murphy incorporated a mix of transitional (the hammered metal orb chandelier) and traditional (the European-style sideboard and dining chairs).
For the den, Murphy needed to find a way to “undo” the white walls and drapes and also incorporate a large, leather-trimmed, tapestry-topped trunk that was serving as the coffee table. “We added more textures and layers to give the room depth,” she says. A pair of custom throw pillows done in a Claremont print of rust and blue picked up the colors in the tapestry, and set the tone for the rest of the room: the sofa’s blue velvet upholstery, the back of the bookshelves done in a rich rust, cushy club chairs covered in hand-woven linens, an iron branch table in distressed gold, even a pair of vintage burnt-orange velvet X ottomans, a 1st Dibs find.
Overall, from the entry foyer with its Farrow & Ball striped wallpaper to the book-lined den, the ambience throughout is warm and friendly. “It’s completely unpretentious,” says Sung. “No one has to be afraid of touching things.” As for all that oversize furniture? It found a new home in the family room off the kitchen, which has super high ceilings and a massive stone hearth. “It’s a really good example of how you can change themes in a house with architectural differences,” says Murphy.
Christina Murphy Interiors, 212-842-0773, christinamurphyinteriors.com