Decorator Billy Baldwin once said, “The relationship between [a designer and] a client must be ‘we.’ ” When a designer and a homeowner click, a house is more likely to become an authentic expression of its dweller. Factor in a client with a keen eye, and it’s pure gold. Such is the story of designer Greg Shano and homeowner Debra Goldstein.
The Manhattan-based lifestyle writer and her partner, Paul Brody, had connected with Shano when he helped pull together their first city apartment. “From the beginning, Greg was my aesthetic soulmate,” Debra says. “The spaces he creates are on trend but timeless—the just-right mix of classic, chic and ultra-livable.” So when the couple began looking for a weekend retreat, they gave Shano a heads-up.
Their search began in New Canaan, Connecticut. With its mix of architecture—stately mansions blend with more modest classic Colonials and ultramoderns—cosmopolitan yet charming downtown and year-round beauty, it was an ideal locale. “For about a minute, we considered looking in neighboring towns, but Paul’s daughters grew up here and we wanted to preserve that sense of home for them,” Debra explains. The trick was finding a house spacious enough to accommodate their combined brood—three kids and two pet pooches between them—that still felt cozy.
This 1905 Colonial charmer, which Debra describes as having a “nontraditional” vibe, hit all the right notes. “First, we loved the location,” she says. “I’m a city girl at heart, so having a house within walking distance to town and the train station was key.” One step through the front door and their dreams took root. “When we walked inside, we immediately got that ‘This is the one’ feeling,” she recalls. “The rooms are all human-scaled, and we fell hard for the architectural details, like the coffered ceilings, arched doorways and gorgeous millwork.”
The couple purchased the property in 2014 and promptly began an overhaul. At the helm was Shano, whose initial role was narrowing down Debra’s goals. “She’s the first to admit she probably had too many ideas and was looking to me to help focus and edit them into one cohesive vision,” he says. Once room schemes were nailed down, the shopping began. “We went to many showrooms to find furniture, lighting and accessories,” Debra says. “But I also love vintage pieces, so we scouted dozens of antique shops in New York, Connecticut and the Hamptons—we even took a road trip to the Brimfield Antique Flea Market in Massachusetts.”
At Debra’s request, Shano grounded most public spaces in a trio of white, gray and black; enlivening the palette are touches of aqua, pink, navy and green. The restrained color scheme informed fabric and finish decisions: Underfoot, for instance, original oak floors were stained a combination of ebony and dark walnut and given a glossy finish. “When you work with a limited palette, it’s important to infuse as much texture and novelty into your fabrics and finishes as possible so a room doesn’t appear too flat,” Shano explains.
Things also needed to connect. “I like to consider how each of the rooms is going to be used by the clients and then pulse certain details and finishes into them so they relate but still feel special in their own right,” Shano says. “In the most heavily trafficked spaces, I focused on comfort and durability in the fabrics and furniture pieces. And as I moved into the rooms that were slightly more formal, I amped up some of the details to provide a little more drama.” Bold-patterned fabrics, textured wallcoverings, high-gloss paints and lacquered surfaces did the trick. All four are featured in the foyer, with its geometric rug, silver-leaf ceiling, ultra-shiny trim and lacquered console.
Finally, furnishings—a mélange of new, bespoke and vintage—had to hit the sweet spot between sophistication and practicality. “The homeowners didn’t want anything that felt overly precious or showy, as that isn’t how they live,” Shano says. Favored retro pieces include the living room’s black lacquered table and a pair of 1940s scroll armchairs in the master bedroom.
The breakfast nook embodies Debra’s preferred casual vibe. “I knew this was where the family would be spending most of its time, so comfort and function were key,” Shano says. There, a custom industrial-style dining table of reclaimed wood and cast iron marries Tolix chairs topped with cushions in a hardy indoor-outdoor fabric. But Debra was open to infusing some elegant moments into the home, provided they felt approachable. Case in point: the dining room. “This is the first room you see when you walk in the front door, so I felt strongly that it should be a really pretty space that represented a bit of what the house was all about—elegant, refined and comfortable—with great silhouettes, details and finishes throughout and an interesting mix of patterns to keep it looking modern and spirited,” Shano says. To signal its “specialness,” he bathed it in soft pale aqua, which figures in the room’s wallcovering. “I loved that it had a bit of a trellis feel to it, which works nicely with the bold stripe on the Roman shades and the cherry blossom print on the backs of the chairs,” he says.
Today, Debra and family continue to pinch themselves. “To say we love this house is an understatement,” she says. “Everything about it brings us joy, and to this day we still walk from room to room and marvel that it’s ours.” What makes the couple most content, however, is sharing their homestead. “Nothing makes us happier than having a bubbling houseful of people we love,” Debra says.