Chances are good that a house in Rye, Westchester County’s oldest community, comes with some history. The odds are even better if that house is located on Milton Point, a peninsula below the city’s center that’s dotted with shingled cottages and stately mansions built in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when wealthy New Yorkers made the scenic spot on Long Island Sound their summertime playground.
So when designer Christie Manning and her husband, Chris, discovered that the 1911 Milton Point home they were eyeing offered little in the way of original historical details, they were disappointed–but they also recognized an opportunity. “The previous owner had done a number of additions and subtractions of varying styles over 30 years,” Manning says, “which is why we didn’t feel like complete sinners for not abiding by any rules when we planned our renovations.”
Those updates, orchestrated by residential designer Louise Brooks, began with a complete reimagining of the home’s floor plan. “The original farmhouse had lots of small rooms, and the layout just didn’t work for this family of six,” says Brooks. “My favorite part of this–or any–renovation was figuring out how to make it viable for a new, young lifestyle.”
Brooks and the Mannings decided that the solution would be a combination of open, main-floor gathering areas–a large kitchen and adjacent family room–and more formal living and dining spaces, all of which would open onto a porch spanning one side of the house. Upstairs, they would reconfigure the existing rooms to create five bedrooms and a laundry area. And the basement would be expanded to accommodate a theater, a recording studio, and a spacious media and game room with an indoor/outdoor bar.
Making such extensive changes to a house Brooks describes as “structurally challenged” was no easy feat. “We had to go through structural gymnastics just to get it to stand up,” says Walter Lorenz, project executive for the construction team. Those efforts included replacing every last floor joist and shoring up a foundation that in some places was little more than “rubble or tree trunks thrown in a ditch,” says project manager Jerry Cobaugh. The team also lowered part of the basement floor to achieve 8-foot-high ceilings and opened the foyer’s low ceiling to make way for a sculptural stacked staircase and grand balcony.
A three-story addition provided square footage for the basement media room, the family room above it, and a large second-floor master suite–but presented another challenge: “One of the trickiest things with any addition is matching the existing structure with the new one,” says construction executive Scott Hobbs. “But it’s especially difficult when you’re trying to align a perfectly level and square new floor system with a sagging old structure.”
Far easier was selecting a high-contrast palette of finishes that creates a style Brooks describes as “modern farmhouse, without evoking a barn.” In the kitchen, white marble countertops and cerused-oak cabinetry nod to tradition, while a wall of stainless-steel appliances and cupboards denotes a thoroughly modern home. Similarly, the adjacent porch’s open rafters and fir floorboards “call to mind a waterfront Adirondack porch at the turn of the century,” Brooks says, albeit with sleek, steel cable railings. And in the media and game room, cedar beams provide a rustic counterpoint to polished concrete floors and a fireplace framed by cast-concrete blocks.
The homeowners’ colorful art collection–including painter Hunt Slonem’s iconic bunnies and butterflies–dictated neutral furnishings, many of which came from the Mannings’ previous home. “Everything that could be refinished got an update,” Manning says. A set of dining chairs sports fluffy new owl-feather backs and shagreen seats. The living room sofas are newly upholstered, and even the grand piano received a fresh walnut finish. Manning collaborated with Lillian August to design the dining and game rooms’ striking cowhide rugs. Another passion project: scouring the design world for spectacular light fixtures, including the dining room’s perforated-brass chandelier and a trio of handblown-glass lassos above the kitchen island.
At 10,500 square feet, the reimagined house might feel overwhelming if not for guidance gleaned from a book by designer-to-the-stars Mary McDonald. “It said the goal of design should be to create spaces that invite people to linger,” Manning says. “I’m kind of charged by that, so I made sure to create intimate nooks–from the Thumbelina sofa beneath the stairs to the bench in a dining room niche–where people can sit and chat and be comfortable. People often compliment this house’s open vibe; they say they feel like they’re in L.A. But what’s important to me is that it still feels really inviting, like home.”