THE THRILL OF A GOOD “before and after” CAN’T BE overrated. THERE’S SOMETHING SO compelling ABOUT WITNESSING POTENTIAL FULLY REALIZED, CHALLENGES ELEGANTLY SOLVED AND EXPECTATIONS FAR EXCEEDED. WHETHER STARTING WITH A BLANK SLATE OR A LACKLUSTER ROOM BEGGING FOR A REFRESH, THE right mix of talent and ingenuity CAN TAKE ANY SPACE FROM SO-SO TO STUNNING. HERE, A DOZEN DESIGN PROS show and tell HOW THEY’RE TRUE agents of change.
Setting the scene: This is an elegant, classical Georgian house in backcountry Greenwich. We were hired to add architectural details to the interiors and update the décor. The family room, which is adjacent to the kitchen, has always functioned as the main hangout space for this family of six. There was insufficient seating, however, and the colors in the room and the sheers on the windows made the space feel a bit drab and dark.
Design goal: To create an inviting, relaxing place for the family to gather and watch TV. Seating needed to be resistant to wear and tear but stylish enough to stack up to the rooms flowing into it.
Launching point: The navy window treatments in Quadrille’s Lysette in reverse set the tone. There are notes of blue throughout the house.
The details: We chose to keep a neutral backdrop because the room flows into the kitchen and up the back stairs to the upstairs hallways. We had to work with an existing monumental stone fireplace, so we selected a variety of textiles, primarily in shades of blue and orange, to add pops of color that contrast with the earthy stone and wood elements.
Integration of existing pieces: The large square ottoman was the correct proportion, so we didn’t see a need to replace it. We simply covered it in a Holly Hunt leather that is the color of an Hermès box.
The biggest challenge: The double-story windows. Previously, the top windows were covered with blinds, and the French doors and flanking windows had non-functional drapery panels. We hung a drapery rod above the windows to unite the openings and to let in more natural light.
Favorite elements: The two wing chairs covered in a Galbraith & Paul hand-blocked printed velvet and the Franck Bohbot photograph from his “House of Books” series.
What made the biggest impact: The mix of patterns on the textiles, ranging from the Quadrille window treatments to the C&C Milano prints on the pillows, really brought the room to life.
A special request fulfilled: The client really wanted a soft, plush rug. We custom-designed a wool rug with Holland & Sherry that fulfilled our aesthetic requirements and is also very durable.
Interior designer: Carmiña Roth Interiors, LLC, 203-987-5961; carminarothinteriors.com
Setting the scene: The original owner created a Southwest/New Mexico feel for this traditional house. Our client wanted the interiors to reflect their modernist sensibilities, which in turn would complement their art collection. Before, when you entered the front foyer, there was an intrusive and overly heavy wooden stair that was much larger than necessary for the space. Everything—the small opening in the floor above, remaining floor space and oversize stairwell—felt cramped.
Design goal: To provide clear sightlines to big wall space used for art and to provide good lighting. Because of the floor plan of the house, the upper hall needed to be bound by a hallway on the second floor. The intent was to be able to see the art from downstairs even though the railing for the upper balcony was intruding into the sightline. Truly, our goal was to create an art gallery.
Achieving the openness of a gallery: We removed the old staircase, lengthened the front entry hall by seven feet and decreased the upper hall, which affords a larger viewing area from downstairs. Then, using glass rails, a floating staircase, single-stone treads and much better lighting, we provided the wall space and view lines the client was seeking.
The details: Soft grays were used to offset the bold colors of the paintings. Large square quartzite stone on the floor in two subtle grays works with the stone treads and wall colors.
What made the biggest impact: We enlarged and lengthened the front hall by removing a broom closet on the first floor and matched the gain on the second floor by making a closet smaller. Plus, we shrank the width of the surround second-floor balcony. These two changes drove this successful project.
Architect: McKee Patterson, AIA, Austin Patterson Disston Architects, Southport; 203-255-4031; apdarchitects.com
Builder: Eric Kotonski, EK Construction, Wilton; 203-856-0376
AMY AIDINIS HIRSCH
Setting the scene: This home is a classic Georgian with a traditional footprint. The library was smothered in knotty pine. The pine had an orange hue, and the room felt country. The lighting was reminiscent of a colonial period despite the home being fairly new.
The details: Looking for the opposite, I wanted to introduce a warm putty gray on the walls and a darker gray on the coffered ceiling. The true art form of lacquer was performed, with weeks of sanding, spraying and polishing to achieve the ultra-high sheen. The objective was clean and fresh.
Integration of existing elements: The client has great quality pieces, and each one has a nice silhouette; they just needed to be revitalized. I reupholstered the bridgewater sofa, salvaged two tufted chairs, which were hiding in other areas of the house, and repurposed the deco lamps and marble coffee table that are dynamite. New Lucite-and-nickel light fixtures were introduced along with a modern graphite grid carpet, and abstract art with hints of aubergine and copper was sourced above the mantel. The fireplace is the focal point as you enter—keeping the black absolute hearth, I incorporated an enormous clear glass fireplace screen to maintain simplicity.
A special feature: The room is well-balanced and symmetrical, and the space is quaint. I love how the lacquer is offset by the wool upholstery from Loro Piana, and the organization of the books and accessories allows the space to breathe. Providing a lighter tone on the walls and grounding the carpet in a darker tone make the space feel larger than it actually is.
What made the biggest impact: The old saying “less is more” is so true—eliminate the nonessentials and look for the foundation pieces that bring character. We used overscaled zebra pillows for pattern, and the use of decorative hardware centered on the lower cabinetry connects back to the nickel chandelier. Plus, the placement of the hardware isn’t typical—why follow the norm?
Biggest challenge: When eliminating grain and knots within a wood species, it’s essential to prep, prep, prep, which means time.
Favorite element: It’s all about the lacquer, more so because I know what is underneath it and how difficult it was to successfully cover. The process is so arduous; I can appreciate the craftsmanship needed to achieve the overall effect.
Interior designer: Amy Aidinis Hirsch Interior Design, LLC, Greenwich; 203-661-1266; amyhirsch.com
Setting the scene: This Shingle-style gambrel is located on the water, and the living room was decorated in a blue-and-white nautical theme. The floor plan consisted of six chairs gathered around the fireplace and a small coffee table. There was a console on one wall and a cabinet on the adjacent wall.
Design goal: To create a more comfortable, usable space and for the furniture to be casual, slipcovered and white. The client requested a soft, beachy look with an emphasis on relaxed furnishings and bleached furniture. We opened up the room by specifying a much larger rug than what was originally there, and we dressed the windows with unlined, billowy curtains.
The details: The color palette is white, beige, sand, soft greens, grays and blues. We used hand-painted wallpapers, hand-blocked fabrics, cotton ticking, bleached oak, brass and accents of ebonized and inlaid wood throughout.
Integration of existing elements: The house was purchased unfurnished. We kept the floors intact but removed the reddish tone, replacing it with a mellow brown that accents the whites and bleached woods beautifully. We incorporated an artisan-made shell chest that the clients had in their living room in New York City. When we moved the chest to this new house, it felt like it had finally found its home.
The biggest challenge: This room has very little usable wall space to anchor a seating arrangement. There are two large openings—one into the adjacent entry hall, and the other into the dining room. Another wall consists of six French doors, and the fourth wall houses the fireplace with a door on either side. The biggest challenge was creating an intimate seating area around the fireplace while keeping the living room open and airy.
What made the biggest impact: I like the placement of the sofa. It defines the room while still keeping the space open and encouraging the flow of the adjoining rooms. We also simplified the elevation of the fireplace by eliminating the columns, creating a traditional fireplace surround for a summer home and using art over the mantel instead of a mirror.
Interior designer: Liliane Hart Interiors, New York City; 646-490-3449; lilianehart.com
Builder: Conover Restorations, Edgartown, MA; 508-627-3844
MELISSA LINDSAY + TERRY SCARBOROUGH
Setting the scene: ML: This home reflects a design with high drama and a daring mix of color and pattern.
TS: Although the former kitchen was white, it was very dated, with pilasters and awkward open shelving by the window. Traffic flow was hampered due to the peninsula, and there was a very small island consumed by a cooktop.
Design goal: TS: To make the design updated, transitional and functional with beautiful materials. Moving the cooking center to the wall as a focal point launched the layout changes we made.
Starting fresh: TS: Everything is new except the wood flooring, which was refinished and stained.
ML: Everything had to go. I don’t even think the client kept the dishes!
The details: TS: We went with a neutral palette. The cabinets are in Benjamin Moore’s Collingwood, a very soft taupe, and metal accents on the hood, faucets and hardware are polished nickel.
A special feature: TS: The quartzite stone is the star. It was so beautiful, we used it as a full backsplash as well.
ML: A deep color isn’t typically associated with a kitchen, but we went bold in the breakfast room. We treated it like a little jewel box, and it has great visual impact.
The biggest challenge: TS: There was a support column hidden behind a pilaster by the oven and refrigerator that we couldn’t remove, so we buried it in the back of a pantry unit.
ML: Our goal was to create a dynamic play on cool tones (like soft gray and stainless steel) with warm brass tones. The breakfast room is moody with saturated color, the kitchen has soft grays, and brass is the magic ingredient that visually connects the two spaces.
Favorite element: ML: The custom light fixtures above the island make me happy every time I walk in. They not only add drama but provide the perfect dose of brass to balance the mixed metals in the space.
What made the biggest impact: ML: The client loves wallpaper and pattern, so when she said she wanted to go bold in the breakfast room, it was music to my ears! The geometric wallcovering introduced a beautiful blue-gray to the space, which we played up with indigo blue upholstery on the vintage horn chairs (which are another favorite element!).
Interior designer: Melissa Lindsay, Pimlico Interiors, New Canaan; 203-972-8166; pimlicointeriors.com
Designer: Terry Scarborough, Deane, Inc., New Canaan; 203-972-8836; deaneinc.com
Stone: Fordham Marble, Stamford; 203-348-5088; fordhammarble.com
JESSE CARRIER + MARA MILLER
Setting the scene: This classic 1920s center-hall Colonial served as a beacon for a family who had been temporarily living abroad with plans to return to roost stateside. The living room looked like that classic “formal room” that only gets used during holidays. It was sad, a little dark and foreboding, with a tight furniture arrangement around the fireplace that kept you out of the room. It had also become the dumping ground for many of the clients’ treasures that they weren’t sure what to do with.
Design goal: To engage the room with the rest of the house and make it a place they would use (and want to use) all the time. We did this by introducing lighter colors and less formal materials, like sisal rugs, linen slipcovers, a raffia ottoman and printed cotton curtains. We opened up the floor plan for better flow and added balance by introducing some cleaner, more contemporary pieces to mix with some of our clients’ more traditional and antique pieces.
Launching point: Our clients are design enthusiasts with a larger collection of design magazines than we had, so there was a lot to see and discuss. While they admired and collected traditional things, they didn’t want their home to look or feel like a museum. They wanted something fresh, light and comfortable. These were our marching orders.
The details: There was already an abundance of beautiful, polished “brown furniture” at our disposal, so to offset the weight that often comes with those pieces, we used pale neutrals and creams, cottons, linens and raffia to contrast and lighten the room. These materials also helped to make the room feel more livable and less “formal.”
The biggest challenge: Creating a versatile floor plan that works for as little as two and as many as twelve!
Favorite element: The unique personality created by incorporating our clients’ antiques and artwork. It’s a true reflection, filled with integrity versus “fluff.”
A special request fulfilled: “Must keep the bar.”
What made the biggest impact: The decision to keep the space neutral was difficult, as our clients and we tend to like color, but we feel this made the most impact.
Interior designer: Carrier and Company Interiors, Ltd., New York City; 212-706-1025; carrierandcompany.com
Setting the scene: This is an older home from the 1970s. This room was a huge, empty space with some scattered toys for the clients’ children to play with.
Design goal: I was drawn to the idea of making this a midcentury lounge for entertaining and relaxing. The clients and I have a love for midcentury design, so I wanted to incorporate as many details from that era as I could.
Launching point: I had a replica of a midcentury sofa custom-made in a gorgeous navy velvet. Since the room is long, it was important to get the scale of the sofa proportionate to the room.
The details: After selecting the fabric for the sofa, I found an amazing Missoni fabric that I had made into an extra-long lumbar pillow for the sofa. I decided to incorporate those colors into the design, so there are pops of purple, magenta, yellow and navy throughout the room. I found the blue silk rug at a design show in New York City, and I sourced the plexi art from Lulu DK in London. She worked with me to obtain the exact colors I was looking to incorporate into the room.
A special feature: The multiple entertaining areas. To the far left, I created a bar area with a vintage Milo Baughman console and two Karl Springer-inspired ottomans. Moving to the right, you find a Lucite game table, the perfect place to play checkers with the children or cards with adults. And as you move to the main lounge space, there are multiple seating areas for relaxing and entertaining. Since the clients have children, I wanted everything to be accessible to them, so most of the fabrics are Crypton, which means they’re not only pretty but practical.
Favorite element: The coffee table. I love the contrast of the espresso wood and the ivory, and the lacquered trays are removable when serving drinks.
The biggest challenge: The slanted ceiling and lack of any architectural element. The long room needed a focal point, so I presented the idea of creating a feature wall with a gas fireplace and bookshelves, which I had built. To take your eye away from the shape of the far wall, we hung a giant vintage Charlie Chaplin poster, which draws your eyes to the art and not the shape of the room.
Interior designer: Alana Irwin, Combined Interiors, New Canaan; 203-536-6216; combinedinteriorsct.com
Builder: AVM Construction, Stamford; 203-904-3883
Setting the scene: This 1916 residence was built in the Storybook style popularized during that period. The steeply-pitched roof with a dramatic overhang gives the home a sense of playfulness and whimsy. This kids’ bathroom lacked any style—it was a simple, utilitarian space in the home.
Design goal: The bathroom had been overlooked during a larger home renovation. We wanted to modernize it so it would mimic the new renovated home.
The biggest challenge: Creating a striking, sophisticated design with similar elements to the rest of the renovated home without making the space too serious since it’s a kids’ bath.
Favorite element: The black-framed windowpane shower door adds definition to the expanse of white while making the smaller space look lofty.
What made the biggest impact: The black Kohler single wall-mounted sink creates visual interest and an element of surprise consistent with the whimsical architectural style of the Storybook home.
The details: The timeless black-and-white décor is clean and uncluttered, like the rest of the home, and was achieved by using neutrals and carefully selected elements like the sink and a postmodern Danish chair.
Interior designer: Megan Wunderlich, DesignDot, New Canaan; 203-331-5787; thedesigndot.com
Architect: Louise Brooks, Brooks & Falotico, New Canaan; 203-966-8440; brooksandfalotico.com
Builder: Richard Rosano, RRBuilders, New Canaan; 203-972-6100; rrbuilders.com
Setting the scene: This home is an updated and modern spin on a classic. The “before” photo of this bar says it all—it was a very dated Colonial design that didn’t fit with the clients’ lifestyle nor the design of the rest of the home.
Design goal: The clients entertain often, and they wanted a sleeker, uncluttered modern bar that reflects their aesthetic. For a sophisticated look, we selected every element with that goal in mind.
Launching point: We updated the family room that the bar area is set into. Once we finished the family room, it was glaringly obvious we needed to proceed to the bar! We kept a very keen eye on flow when updating the bar due to the open floor plan.
The details: We kept the color palette neutral with charcoal walnut cabinetry and a white wavy, textured focal wall. We mixed metal finishes—polished nickel and stainless steel—and then added light reflective details for a layered effect. The custom floating shelves trimmed in stainless steel and minimal lighting added just the right touch of elegance.
A unique feature: The focal wall. Wavy porcelain tile adds the perfect amount of texture to the sleek space. It’s the art on the wall.
Integration of existing elements: We repurposed the existing lower cabinetry by redesigning all of the door fronts to feature a low-profile recessed-panel design.
What made the biggest impact: Removing the existing cabinets on the back wall and replacing them with the textured wall and floating shelves.
The biggest challenge: Reconfiguring the lighting, which turned out to have a simple solution—we added minimalist pendants that wouldn’t obstruct the view of the focal wall.
Interior designer: Susan Glick Interiors, Westport; susanglickinteriors.com
Setting the scene: We renovated and added to this Georgian home to fit the lifestyle of a young family. The living room was tired with furnishings from the 1990s. There were multiple doors and windows, radiators and beams in awkward spots and a buildup of years of paint. The only parts of the original space that remain are the fireplace and the mantel.
Design goal: This room was rebuilt as part of the large renovation and addition. Although we created a home with casual and comfortable living spaces, we retained a more formal feel in here.
Launching point: We started with the bright green Phillip Jeffries grasscloth, and then coordinated a calmer, softer palette for the balance of the elements. The space is fresh, bright and contemporary but still warm.
What made the biggest impact: The grasscloth—it has a lot of energy and feels young and modern. Using a grasscloth rather than paint added texture and enriched the green’s effect, and we introduced very deep navy and soft blues and grays to bring a striking color palette together. The bold color takes this classic living room and enlivens it. These greens and blues are also repeated throughout the first floor and integrate the interior design.
Biggest challenge: We opened the living room to the adjacent enclosed porch. We wanted the room to integrate easily with the porch, so we located the furnishings to accommodate this flow.
Integration of existing elements: The only existing pieces are the two large rubbings that were created by our client’s grandmother when she traveled to England many years ago. We had them framed.
A special feature: This space feels modern, yet most of the elements are quite traditional.
A special request fulfilled: We took this Georgian Colonial and adapted it to fit the needs of a modern young family.
Architect, builder and interior designer: Alisberg Parker, Old Greenwich; 203-637-8730; alisbergparker.com
Setting the scene: My clients were making the move into the suburbs from Manhattan. The wife had honed a vibrant, worldly look, so I happily channeled her vibe. This bedroom was acavernous space—aside from one full-size window, the only others were a row of clerestory windows in an alcove. It was an unusual setup.
Design goal: To make this bedroom cozier and warmer while also speaking to its generous proportions.
Launching point: I knew I wanted to use the same fabric for the walls and curtains. Since we needed a large number of yardage, I had in mind an inexpensive Indian block print from Les Indiennes. To match the scale of the room, we chose a large-scale paisley. It highlights the room’s proportions to dramatic effect yet draws you in.
The details: A natural indigo pigment is irresistible and almost functions as a neutral in my book. I knew a lot of different accent colors would complement it, from aubergine to ochre to midnight blue. A big, bold space needs some big, bold color, so we chose firecracker red.
Integration of existing elements: Everything is new except for the lighting. There’s a wonderful blue glass Moroccan lantern my clients bought in Marrakech, and family heirloom lamps grace the bedside tables.
What made the biggest impact: My clients intended to reuse their old bed, but halfway through the install, they decided to get something new.We got a handmade Charles H. Beckley bed, complete with box springs upholstered on-site, and a horsehair mattress. In this and in all bedrooms, thebed is everything!
Favorite element: The red chinoiserie secretary was a lucky score. It’s vintage, with a lovely patina and perfectly aged mirror in the doors, and that color! I chanced upon it at the opening of the Lexington Avenue Armory Antique Show. It was a leap of faith by my clients to make the sale so quickly, but I’m so glad; it doesn’t get any better.
Interior designer: Robin Henry Studio, Westport; 646-409-3099; robinhenrystudio.com
Setting the scene: This room is an intermediate space between what was originally a bedroom and a sitting room. Since the clients’ children are twins, we thought a playroom between two bedrooms would make sense both now and in the future. We made the playroom symmetrical on both sides of the French doors by adding a bath into the bedroom on the right.
The details: We wanted to go happy and bright. We placed the colorful “birds on a wire” print above the windows, and that kicked off the color scheme. We wanted some type of fort, but since a tent is too typical, finding the geodesic dome was a hit. We bought the blown-glass balloons above it in the corner from Italy, and we had a decorative painter paint the colorful dots on the ceiling. We built out the remainder of the pieces, including an orange sofa and green metal chairs, from there, with Benjamin Moore’s Stem Green on the walls and a layering of colorful rugs, one a comfy shag, and the other a flatter one so toys don’t fall into it and get lost.
A unique feature: We were going to put wallpaper on the ceiling, but we didn’t want seams, and we wanted all of the colors represented. So we hired Chinon Maria to paint all of those dots on the ceiling by hand!
Favorite element: The geodesic dome—it’s open and bright inside, and we like the cozy, padded pie-shaped floor. We also like the storage cabinet with colorful bins from Ikea—something so simple became so useful for toy storage, and it looks great, too.
What made the biggest impact: At first, we thought that with all of the color in the room, white walls would be best, but we realized that color needs color. Painting the walls Stem Green made everything come to life.
Interior designers: Tina Anastasia and Katie Schelle, Mark P. Finlay Interiors, Southport; 203-254-2388; markfinlayinteriors.com