Inside this grand shingle-style Darien home lies an interior that’s equal parts classic and comfortable
To venture to the rear edge of this property on an envy-inducing stretch of road in Tokeneke, down a rolling lawn that melds into reedy marsh before dropping off into a labyrinth of coves and islets on Long Island Sound, is to travel back in time.
About a century ago, due east across that great body of water, on Long Island’s North Shore, there sat a fictional place called West Egg, where a man named Jay Gatsby presided over a fortune shrouded in mystery. Roughly 100 years later, from this vantage point on the Connecticut side of the Sound, at this cedar-shingled manor that hunkers down into the hillside, all the aspiration and promise of that gilded age doesn’t seem so far away.
A meticulously detailed Colonial Revival skirted for most of its girth in generous wraparound porches, this house is a home for the new century, fashioned in the style of the last. In fact, the house was inspired in part by a house designed in the late-19th century for art collector and philanthropist Samuel Parrish in Southampton, New York, by storied architects McKim, Mead & White. Architect Sean O’Kane came across an image of the Parrish house while leafing through a book and realized that it represented the compromise in styles he needed to satisfy his clients: The husband desired the formality of a classical Georgian; the wife longed for the casual quality of a shingled home.
With the frontal symmetry of tidy columns that belie a rounded and rambling rear, the structure is also a study in optical illusion. From the road, it appears to nestle unassumingly behind a screen of Norway spruce, viburnum, and azaleas. But for the most part, it disappears down into an eastward sloping lawn, with much of its 15 thousand square feet sitting deceivingly below grade on a spacious two and a half acres.
O’Kane says the clients were insistent that the house not appear out of scale or overly opulent. So he used a few tricks. He set the rear of the house on an angle to capture prime views, kept porch ceilings low in the front, and gradually lifted them around back to catch breezes. He located the drive at the south edge of the property, where it is flanked by a pair of Persian ironwood trees, so the approach is gradual rather than abrupt, and he separated the garage structure from the main house to reduce its bulk. (The two structures are linked by an enclosed breezeway.)
“In one sense, the clients wanted a formal composition, and yet it unfolded to be quite informal and livable,” says O’Kane, who for two years oversaw a dedicated project team of as many as five at his Ridgefield-based practice. “It’s really a combination of classical elements rendered in less formal materials.”
“I was struck immediately by the amount of millwork that was required,” says Walter Lorenz, chief operating officer at Hobbs, Inc. the New Canaan custom builder that constructed the house. To illustrate his point, he ticks off the extensive mirror-backed latticework that partitions the kitchen’s three sections, the paneled library, the 1920s Adirondack beadwork in the attic, and the interior of the studio office over the garage, which evokes the interiors of a ship.
At times, Lorenz says, there were as many as 45 tradesmen from five different millwork shops laboring on the job. “The chances of a successful project are so much better when the owner, the decorator, and the architect understand one another,” he says. “The chemistry of the team was excellent.”
Ian Hobbs, a partner in the firm that can now lay claim to more waterfront projects in the area than any other, concurs. “This house represents the highest level of craftsmanship and detail that our company has produced in 55 years,” he says, explaining that their work runs the gamut from Georgian mansions built of stone to shingled houses on the dunes of Long Island. “It doesn’t get much better than that. It was a great compilation by the homeowner, architect, decorator, and builder.”
With the bones of the structure in place, it was left to interior designer Allison Caccoma to conceive of an appropriate interior scheme for a family of five and their two dogs. Endeavoring to evoke a “crisp and clean version” of the traditional aesthetic the client favored, Caccoma says she was also intent on taking advantage of the “spectacular light” that floods the home, seeping in across the floorboards of curved and spacious porches.
As with Samuel Parrish, the couple’s taste in art tended toward the refined and the classical. Over the years, they had collected works by Childe Hassam, John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, and Maximilien Luce, among many others, and stored them away because they did not have adequate space in which to display them. This house would give them the space they needed.
“The paintings dictated the color palette,” said Caccoma, who founded her own firm, Caccoma Interiors, upon landing the project—after a six-year run at Bunny Williams followed by a year with Jeffrey Bilhuber. (She began her career selling U.S. Treasury securities on Wall Street and remained there for nearly 12 years, gravitating to interior design only after getting hooked on design classes at the New York School of Interior Design.)
While the architects detailed the moldings and cornices, and the millworkers sanded cabinetry with hidden pulls, the client determined on which wall each painting would be mounted–and Caccoma got to work on her schemes. George Murray’s portrait of a woman in a burgundy dress with a frisee of white fur around her neck would hang in a dining room fit for Edith Wharton, for example, while the six oversize, hand-colored Audubons were destined for the sunroom. William Trost Richards’s “On the Jersey Shore,” a large 1901 seascape of breaking surf iridescently drenched in green and blue, set the tone for the living room that opens onto the lawn and the water beyond.
Taking these color cues, Caccoma decided to finish the dining room walls in a saturated blue Venetian plaster and ordered chairs in tufted burgundy leather with brass handles. (The room has been known to host pizza parties.) The box-beam ceilings of the sunroom were painted in a glossy yellow and white, and the living room features well-placed accents of aqua blue (a velvet lumbar pillow, a glass lamp) and gold (George II-style carved gilt-wood stools with a scallop-shell motif).
Throughout the process, she made suggestions, such as lightening up the hue of the limed-oak paneling in the library and inserting mirrors into the French doors that lead to the bar, backing the kitchen latticework in mercury glass to reflect light off the water, tweaking the shape of the cutouts from squares to diamonds, and finishing the master bedroom, moldings, and walls alike, in a high-gloss light blue.
Along the way, she was able to impart a few of her secrets. In the kitchen, a Robert Kime raw-silk fabric with an expansive repeat in pink, blue, and green was chosen to reupholster Louis XV-style antique chairs she sourced from Amy Perlin Antiques—she then had them vinylized—and pink lusterware, a personal passion, can be found in several accent pieces.
Upstairs, in the spacious master suite with panoramic views of the Sound and an antechamber lined in built-ins, she designed a roomy tufted custom chaise with a scalloped back that her client sits in when reading. Modeled on an antique English chaise she saw in a magazine, it was crafted by J. Edlin Interiors.
“Now they market it as the Caccoma Chaise,” she says with an amused grin. Maybe her own gilded age is just around the corner.