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Guiding Light

Every process benefits from a little give and take between participants, whether it is a team sport, a marriage—or a renovation. When one couple in Darien decided it was time for a new home, they toyed with the idea of moving but loved their narrow, carriage-wide street too much to give it up. Razing the structure and starting from scratch seemed too drastic, erasing the spirit of the historic farmhouse. Instead, they renovated, giving their family of five a “casual, peaceful” home with “a more modern sensibility.”

Achieving that sensibility, however, involved giving up some of the staid fabrics in saturated tones of blue and rose the family had lived with for years (her inclinations) in favor of light, neutral colors (his). And while the couple brought in more streamlined furniture and fixtures, they also held onto some cherished antiques and a treasure trove of family art, including fashion drawings the owner’s mother created as a young woman in art school.

Alicia Orrick, the founder of Orrick & Company, an architecture and interior design firm in Greenwich, proved to be a steady bridge between the couple’s past and future. She began working with the homeowners years before construction began, drawing up plans and imagining the renovation. “We were able to take the good parts of the old house, especially its character and the family’s attachment to it. We saved the best and resolved the problems,” Alicia says. That meant opening up a larger family room, consolidating the family’s scattered book collections into a studious-but-cheery library, creating new bedrooms and repositioning the kitchen so that the initial view upon entering the house was no longer of the stove.

Given her all-encompassing involvement in the structure and design of the home, Alicia did not wait for the dust to settle to start integrating the family’s furnishings. “A lot of designers start with a great fabric or a fun rug, but I always start with a furniture plan. It creates an appropriate circulation, the foundation for all those other layers that get added on. It’s really the underlying harmony of a room,” she says. For instance, she used a hefty antique sideboard, a family heirloom, on one end of the dining room to make the rectangular room feel square, a more suitable footprint for the round dining table. The large family room is divided into thirds: The middle is defined by couches that face each other; the other two sections provide an area for the kids to do puzzles on one side and  a serving area for entertaining on the other. A space that could otherwise feel cavernous, now feels cozy.

The serenity the owners craved necessitated muted paint colors, but while there is obviously nothing loud (“No bright red dining room here,” Alicia says), several rooms do swell to a gentle hum—celadon green, a subtle grayish blue. Alicia begs to differ with the notion that the house feels neutral. The Donald Kaufman paint colors are careful mixes of dozens of hues, she says, that look different depending on the time of day and the lighting. And there are pops of color in the contemporary Elizabeth Eakins rugs that cover many of the floors. What the neutral, upholstered furniture lacks in pattern or color it makes up in lush texture. Mohair, heavy linen, even cashmere add richness and complexity. The same can be said for the natural materials in the home. The pale limestone that covers the kitchen island is dotted with fossils, a powder room is tiled in semiprecious stones, and smoothed wood stumps give a handmade quality to the family room. As for light-colored fabrics in a house full of children? “Natural fibers are very easy to clean. And we easily got blotches of hot pink Easter egg dye out of the limestone countertops,” the owner says. Alicia even tested a mohair fabric with ketchup stains—which came out—before using it on the family room sofas.

It isn’t just unfussy upholstery that gives the home an appealing freshness. Alicia consistently used light-filtering wools and linens for window treatments. “I love the connection between the inside and outside of the house. Curtains that are translucent keep that connection,” she says. The owners insisted on more recessed lighting than Alicia would normally install, saying they wanted the option of having the house as bright as day, even on a dreary afternoon. To give the lighting dimension, Alicia mixed in mercury lamps as well as antique sconces and chandeliers from Ann Morris Antiques in New York and Charles Edwards Antiques in London. A work-in-progress wall of antique French mirrors in the living room reflects light from the outside, becoming in essence another wall of windows.

Adding the final touches of artwork or accessories can feel like a never-ending chore, but in this home, it proved easy. The owner’s mother’s fashion drawings, delicate figures draped in pastel clothing, are framed and hung in clusters in the living room. Her mother’s shadowy nudes hang in the master bedroom. And in the family room, there is a wall devoted to the owner’s brother’s ink drawings of trees. “The artwork is so exciting,” Alicia says. “This house is telling a story.”

In the end, embracing a give-and-take attitude left every person involved with a confident appreciation for something they originally saw as outside their comfort zone. Alicia discovered that what seemed like an overabundance of recessed lighting can cast the perfect glow on an active family. And the owners, after breaking out of a darker décor, finally feel at peace in the lightness of their new home.

Ann Morris Antiques, New York City, 755-3308
Charles Edwards Antiques, London, England, charlesedwards.com
Donald Kaufman, donaldkaufmancolor.com
Elizabeth Eakins, South Norwalk, 831-9347; elizabetheakins.com
Orrick & Company, Greenwich, 532-1188; orrickandcompany.com