INTERVIEW WITH CARMIÑA ROTH, CARMIÑA ROTH INTERIORS
An inspired mix of NEW AND ANTIQUE finds and TRADITIONAL AND CONTEMPORARY art makes the designer feel at home
Tell me about your house—how old is it? We actually built this house and completed it this past March. We wanted it to look and feel like an old house, but with all of the modern amenities and high ceilings. It’s in Old Greenwich, and it’s about 4,500 square feet with a 1,200-square-foot basement.
What was behind your decision to build new? We’d been living in mid-country and had put our house on the market, and it sold in three days. Because the new owners wanted a fast close, we ended up moving into a rental in Riverside, and once we were there, we realized that we really, really liked the Old Greenwich and Riverside area. We bought this house as an investment—we had planned to renovate the old house that was on the property, but we ran into a lot of issues with setbacks and other things. We couldn’t do any of the things we wanted to do, so our architect said it would be much easier if we just tore it down. Midway through construction on the new house, we realized that we loved living in this part of town, and we decided to make this home our own.
How would you describe this house? I would say it’s a traditional clapboard house. It was definitely inspired by the house that was here before, which was a turn-of-the-century shingle home. The property is long and narrow, so the house spans the length of the property to the back. It’s a little deceiving—the home is larger than it looks.
What launched the interior design? Any specific priorities? Since this house was supposed to be an investment, we wanted to build a very marketable house. That meant a combined kitchen and family room, high ceilings, all of the things millennials now want, since it’s within walking distance to Old Greenwich. Other than the combined kitchen and family room, I didn’t have a particular vision for the house until we moved in, and then it immediately fell together. I brought with me all of my old furniture and antiques that would fit. We downsized coming from our old house, so I let go of a lot of things, but I incorporated as much as I could into the décor. It’s a mix of antiques I’ve collected over my lifetime plus new things we bought to suit the house.
How did you select the color scheme you used? I usually do a lot of color and a lot of blues, but in this house, I really strived to do a neutral-and-black palette. It ended up being more colorful, just because of the furniture and artwork we already owned, so there are punches of color throughout. The living room is mostly shades of white and cream with a few black accents; the guest room and powder room are black and white. I was really trying to be as disciplined as I could about creating a neutral backdrop, as opposed to my usual interiors, where I typically use a lot of blue. I think I barely used blue in this house, save for a lamp here and there.
Any specific reason you wanted to steer away from blue? No, I just wanted to try something different. The rooms are smaller than in our old house, and with a light palette, I can easily change things up now. It sounds cliché, but by changing out accessories and pillows, the rooms can feel really different because they have such neutral color palettes. There’s a lot of white on the trim; most of the cabinetry is white. I wanted a simplified, airy space without a commitment to any particular palette.
What about finishes and metals? Because I wanted the house to feel like an old home, all of the door hardware and hinges are unlacquered brass by Baldwin. Most of the bathrooms have polished nickel fixtures because they’re easy to maintain and give an Old-World feel. I then mixed metals when it came to lighting. A lot of the lighting in the house is more contemporary in feel.
I was admiring your artwork. Were these all existing pieces? This collection has been mostly curated over time, though I bought a few new works on paper from Cynthia Byrnes Contemporary Art recently to fill in some of the major spaces, like the master bedroom and the dining room, that were crying out for new pieces. I was working with Cynthia on a project for a client and fell in love with some of the pieces we were purchasing for other people, which is an occupational hazard! [laughs] But most of the pieces are ones I’ve collected over time. I love abstract art, and I like to juxtapose contemporary and traditional—I like the tension it creates.
What drove the kitchen design? It was inspired by a kitchen I’d seen in a magazine twenty years ago and saved—the center island with old icebox latches was the inspiration, and I wanted symmetry with the stove and the latches. There is minimal upper cabinetry so the space would feel light and airy since it gets a ton of light. CJS Millwork was instrumental in helping me design the kitchen, and they did most of the millwork in the house. The stonework in the kitchen was inspired by the Dolomite marble backsplash, and I did countertops to match. The backsplash and all of the floor tiles were purchased from Vita Imbrogno at Greenwich Tile.
I see a spacious butler’s pantry—do you host a lot of parties? Not yet, but hopefully! We love to entertain, and my husband is quite the mixologist. We like having an open-bar area where guests can help themselves to drinks, or we mix drinks for them. It’s also where I store my vast collection of glassware and tableware.
Have the kitchen and family room become the hub of the home? Yes—our family is really close-knit, and our kids tend to congregate in whatever room my husband and I are in. That was one of the main drivers behind the floor plan for the house, having that space together so we could all hang out, and the kids can watch TV while we cook. There’s also a really nice back patio right outside of the kitchen where we hang out, eat and grill out. My daughter will do her homework out there, too.
I love the black-and-white wallpaper in the guest room. What’s the story behind it? It’s from Marthe Armitage, and I happened to see it while I was tile shopping with Vita. She said, “You’ve got to see the wallpapers,” so I researched it and ordered some samples. It’s digitally printed with matching fabric for the window treatments. The bolster on the bed is in an Hermès fabric, and I love that blue-and-black combination, so the blue lamps and the black-and-white wallpaper were inspired by that Hermès fabric.
There’s another bedroom with a platform bed—whose room is this? That’s my nine-year-old son’s room, and the entire room was inspired by that settee. It had been in my office forever, and my son would say, “Mommy, I want that chair.” When we moved, he said he wanted a modern room and was very specific about getting a low platform bed. Ideally, he wanted one that lit up, but I said, “No way” [laughs], so we compromised on this one from CB2. It’s a full-size bed with built-in night tables, and it fits perfectly between the window and the wall.
Did your son have a lot of input regarding the rest of his room? Oh, yes! He selected the rug, took his pick from our existing artwork—he has some of the most interesting art in the house—and called dibs on the chair. He had a very strong vision, and he was my little client. He’s very proud of his room.
What look and feel did you want for the master suite? My husband picked the paint color first—he took my Farrow & Ball set and chose Blackened, so the room was sort of driven by the paint! It ended up being a really soft, quiet palette, with a mix of beiges, pale violets and the palest hint of blue, with hot pink as an accent seen in the flowers and artwork. All of the furniture, except for the night tables, is from our old house. And then for the bathroom tile, I wanted something graphic. I saw this tile and knew immediately that I wanted it. It feels very French.
What was it like working with your husband on this house? He was heavily involved in the construction and managing the project, and then when it came to the design, I took over. We recently renovated a house together in Rhode Island, and we enjoyed the process, so we wanted to do it again. This is the first house we’ve built from the ground up together. I love working with him, and our skills are very complementary. Our tastes used to be very different—he was way more contemporary, and I was more traditional. It’s sort of been through a marrying of our styles that my now-signature style has come to be. He’s always pushed me in a more contemporary direction, and the result is what I now like to do the most, which is the mix.
How often will you switch things up? The major pieces and antiques I love will remain, but it’s going to be a house that will really allow me to be dynamic and switch it up for holidays and change the feel with art, flowers, pillows and accessories. There’s a certain freedom in that, because in my old homes, I decorated rooms with a lot more color as a backdrop, so the rooms had to be a bit more static. But with the neutral-and-black scheme, I can make spaces feel completely different.
When you step inside your home, what feeling do you get? It’s elegant but very, very livable. It’s bright and light and cozy. Someone is always curled up on the sofa reading a book, someone is cooking, there’s always music playing. It’s my favorite house I’ve ever lived in. This was also sort of the result of a bunch of unforeseen things that happened in our lives, but I pinch myself because I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. I feel like we have a better lifestyle—it’s a great neighborhood, and there are a ton of children on our street, which we didn’t have living in midcountry. I’m a big advocate now for downsizing and moving close to town.
Interior designer: Carmiña Roth Interiors, Greenwich; 203-987-5961; carminarothinteriors.com