Distinguished by expansive lots and an abundance of verdure, Greenwich, Connecticut, is home to scads of stunning early-to-mid-20th-century houses reflecting European architectural styles. Such is the tale of one 1937 local residence whose original structure was inspired by Georgian Revival architecture. It was the home’s understated good looks and the cozy, intimate scale of its rooms—as well as its gracious perch on a 7-acre parcel populated with mature trees—that sparked the interest of the couple who purchased the property in 1993 for their family of three then-growing young boys.
Although a minor remodel took place six months into moving in, it wasn’t until many years later—when the family was living in London—that they decided to completely renovate the abode. It was then that they engaged interior designers Ellie Cullman, who had conceived the earlier interiors, and Claire Ratliff.
“We chose Ellie because everything she does has a comfortable elegance about it,” the wife says. Cullman introduced the couple to architect John B. Murray, with whom she frequently collaborates, while contractor Brian MacDonald came on by word of mouth.
Together, the team undertook a 2 1/2-year makeover that saw the original structure gutted, reconfigured and expanded. “This renovation was everything: It was brand new windows, new air-conditioning and heating systems, and all new wiring,” says Murray. To accommodate visiting family and friends, a new guest wing was introduced, along with a new pool/guesthouse, wine cellar and two-story garage with an upstairs gym. The team also replaced the existing pool with a newly designed one, converted a screened-in porch into a library and spun the old garage into a game room. “It was a comprehensive renovation to say the least,” the architect quips. Ensuring the new spaces married well with the scale and character of the old ones was key. “We were not trying to unravel what was the stylistic approach to the house,” Murray explains. Thus, alterations to the façade were limited. “We did some modifications, such as adding a window to the entrance to bring more natural illumination into the formal receiving area,” he says. Murray also borrowed architectural elements from the original edifice and mirrored them in new sections.
“We replicated the same bay window from the main structure and made it the centerpiece of the new pool house,” he says. Seamlessly integrating new materials with seasoned, weatherworn ones was a challenge. “We spent considerable time locating the right brick-and-mortar combination along with a very subtle white wash to ensure the additions had the same aged look,” MacDonald says.
Inside, structural changes were constrained by existing 8-foot-tall ceilings. “In older houses you are somewhat limited by ceiling heights,” says Murray. So, taller ceilings were incorporated wherever possible, including in the new library, where steps leading down into the former screened-in porch were tapped to raise the roof to 9 1/2 feet. To create a more gracious flow throughout, the floor plan was reconfigured. Case in point: An existing tiny library with a fireplace and a disconnected stairwell in the formal reception area were commingled to create a spacious parlor with a fireplace and bar. “It’s a much more upbeat sense of arrival,” the architect states.
To create a feeling of casual elegance without being fussy, Cullum and Ratliff incorporated a neutral palette of pale beiges, greens and blues enlivened with pops of red throughout the interiors. “Even where we used a bit of color, it doesn’t scream at you,” says Ratliff. “In the entry hall, bits of red in the curtains and crimson accessories brighten the space without overwhelming it.”
Furnishings are a blend of existing pieces: new, bespoke items and European antiques. “We did purchase quite a bit, but because Ellie had previously worked on the home, we were able to reuse much of what she previously bought,” Ratliff says. Imparting panache and personality are photographs from the owners’ collection of vintage and contemporary photography, which includes works by Aaron Siskind and Irving Penn. “The unexpected addition of the black-and-white photographs really adds to the mix,” observes Ratliff.
Classic finishes, such as Carrara marble—which clads kitchen countertops—and reclaimed-oak plank flooring, ensure the look is rich and timeless. “The stained-whiteoak planks in random widths give a sense of warmth,” says Ratliff. Walls, many boasting light hues, are a combination of Venetian plaster, fabric, glaze and grass cloth. Stenciling lends an elegant touch as a damask design on the dining room walls and on the floors in the foyer.
With its relaxed interiors and seamless union of old and new, the revived Georgian has become a cherished family retreat. “We very much wanted a family home— something livable, easy and welcoming—and that is exactly what we got,” says the wife. “We especially love the family room; it’s the heart of the house. But honestly, we just love every space.”
— Terri Feder