INTERVIEW WITH AINSLEY ROSE HAYES, AINSLEY DESIGN | PHOTOGRAPHER JANE BEILES
When you were hunting for a house, what drew you to this one? The goal was simple: an antique house with a big red barn on two flat acres, close to town. This farmhouse is defined by its center chimney design, which has back-to-back fireplaces in the living and dining rooms, and a beehive oven in the basement. A transom light of wavy antique glass sits above the front door, and a Dutch door leads from the living room to the garden. We agreed we would eventually fix or change what didn’t suit us, because the location, barn and original details couldn’t be beat!
What potential did you see in it? From the street, nothing has changed except for the screened porch roofline. The kitchen had pine cabinets and green Formica countertops, and the house lacked a mudroom. We saw infinite potential.
When it was time to renovate and expand with an addition, what were the priorities? After six years in our charming farmhouse, it was time to expand. We hired Christopher Moomaw, an architect out of Ridgefield, before hiring Ted Sihpol of Renaissance Partners. I had admired each of their local projects over the years, and we made a great team. The objective was a larger, updated kitchen, a mudroom, a master suite and an office for me. Since the roofline is prominent from the side yard, it was intentionally kept as simple as possible, and is reminiscent of the saltbox roofline common in many antique homes.
What overall look and feel did you want your home to have? I want my home—and every home I decorate—to reflect its inhabitants. The artwork is mostly by our boys, my sister, my husband’s aunt and his mother. Although I’m not into tchotchkes, I am sentimental, and I have a lot of things that are special to me. I want my home to feel timeless and evolved. Personality is key in design, and our home suits us.
As the kichen is the heart of the home, how did you update it? The black La Cornue CornuFé 110 range led the design. We chose copper accents because I still cook with the set of copper pots we received as a wedding present twenty years ago. The black lower cabinetry is stained, rather than painted, for increased durability. Two white farmhouse sinks and two dishwashers provide ease for a busy family. The 10-foot-long, 4-inch thick reclaimed wood island is another focal point. The wood was once in a barn across town, reportedly milled by a local timber business. French doors off the kitchen lead to a stone patio with a firepit.
Tell me about the new family room. This cozy room has a wood-burning stove, white shiplapped detail on the walls and windows on three exposures. The sheen of the ceiling paint reflects the light, which is a useful trick for rooms with lower ceilings. I bring houseplants in from the patio for the winter; my plants love this southern exposure. The room works well for both large gatherings and quiet puzzle time. Between the family room and kitchen is a wood-loading door that opens to the outside.
What launched the design of your master suite? Our bedroom retreat has soothing blue and green colors, painted furniture, ample closet space, a pair of chairs and a window seat. The king headboard is Raoul linen, and the bedside lamps are Simon Pearce. We kept the Elizabeth Eakins area rug small to expose much of the wood floors. We also tucked a whimsical round window into the sloping roofline.
How were you able to marry the old and new areas of the home? First was maintaining the ceiling height and adding neither a step down to the family room, nor up to the master. Either of those might have simplified the building process, but we resisted. Second was maintaining and creating axes and sight lines from room to room, as old homes have. And third was using wide plank floorboards, which we fabricated from trees on our property. One of our most-loved original features of the house is the wide plank floors. Over the years, we’ve removed overgrown pine trees that were too close to the house or barn and milled the wood into wide plank boards in random widths. The first batch, in 2010, was used to re-side the rotted area barn, and the subsequent batch, in 2012, is now the flooring in our addition. Not everyone wants soft pine floors, or their new countertops to age with time, but I love patina. When you’re working with an old building, finishes with patina are a great way to marry old and new areas of the home. The soapstone countertops, wide plank pine floorboards and soft linen furnishings will only improve over time. The new interior doors also mimic the old, with bead-edge detail and thumb latch hardware.
Tell me about your furnishings. We definitely mix old with new; it feels right in an older home. In any home, it’s important not to feel like all the furniture arrived on the same day. Many pieces came from our families, including the dining table, chairs, one of the coffee tables, the Stickley chairs in the den and the green trunk in our bedroom. Our upholstered pieces tend to be new, with a few exceptions. Renaissance Partners turned floorboards from the small upstairs bedroom we eliminated into a sliding barn door between the guest room and my office. It was wonderful to add that original character to a new room in the house.
Heading outside, how have you brought your property to life? A landscape designer lived here for twenty-five years. Although there had been an interim owner for ten years before we bought the home, the intention of the previous landscape was still evident. Living here has turned me into a gardener and given me new ways to practice my skills of color, layout and space planning. In recent years, I’ve added a daffodil meadow, replaced an overgrown hemlock hedge with native flowering shrubs and stopped regularly mowing two key areas of the yard, which invites turkeys, bunnies and an incredible number of fireflies. We also added a chicken coop and have seven hens. (We’re also currently rehabilitating a historic building next door into a guest cottage—stay tuned!)
In what ways does your home reflect who you are and what is important you? Good design isn’t just about fabrics and furnishings. It’s about building a lasting environment so you can enjoy your home and live your life. I’m very concerned with all of the items around us that have limited long-term use. Raising our family in a 200-year-old home is a lesson in sustainability. Our home is very comfortable for us. We host team dinners, throw parties and have welcomed our large extended family for Christmas every year since our addition. Luckily, my husband and I have similar tastes when it comes to the rustic farmhouse. His antique preservation extends into the barn through a collection of vintage trucks, outboard engines and boats, and a woodshop for the boys. We love our home. As recent events have illustrated, raising our family here provides constant projects and activity, whether we have a place to go or not.
What is your favorite space in your home? That’s a tough one, but I’d have to say the kitchen! It was the main impetus for the renovation, and I spend a lot of time there. We created a charming connection between the kitchen and the barn, with the firepit and garden in between. My husband and boys spend a lot of time in the barn, but I mostly appreciate the view from the kitchen.
Interior designer: Ainsley Rose Hayes, Ainsley Design, New Canaan; 917-805-2251; ainsley-design.com
Architect: Christopher S. Moomaw, Ridgefield; 203-431-9447
Builder: Ted Sihpol, Renaissance Partners, New Canaan; 203-313-4749; rpnc.biz
Custom kitchen cabinetry: European Woodcraft, Norwalk; 203-847-6195; europeanwoodcraftllc.com