Not 60 miles from Manhattan, Weston, Connecticut, remains a bastion of colonial New England, retaining both its romanticized rural qualities and strong sense of community. That’s largely what drew homeowners David and Kat McConnaughey to its winding roads, softly rolling hills, thick stands of trees and ultimately, to a 1928 cottage poised on a pristine riverbank. Former New York City dwellers who have traversed global points near and far, the couple found themselves uncharacteristically besotted with the setting, which they considered a naturalists’ dream. “We loved the idea of meditating by the river, watching the sunset and the wildlife go to sleep,” says Kat.
With such beautiful surroundings, the couple’s designer, Heide Hendricks, was tasked with enhancing, not upstaging them. “I was instructed not to block any windows,” reveals Hendricks, whose mandate was to create cozy, serene and textured spaces that would pay tribute to the rich tapestry of her clients’ lives. Kat, a native Texan and a former flight attendant, “had the most amazing stories about traveling the world,” Hendricks notes. “She wanted to create a home that was finally representative of not only her own life, but her life with David.” Known for lived-in interiors with a narrative quality, Hendricks was delighted to inventory the McConnaugheys most cherished items and give them pride of place at last.
A few months before finding and falling in love with Hendricks’ portfolio, the homeowners had tapped an architect they already knew and trusted, Jacob Albert, to renovate the residence. “The McConnaugheys wanted to enhance the way spaces related to each other. They hoped to maintain the charm that was already there, but to improve upon it,” Albert explains. That goal was met in large part by his decision to designate a proper central entrance to the exterior. “It made the way you move through the house fall logically into place,” he notes. In the end, renovations touched every room, says Albert—though it doesn’t appear that way. “Everything looks like it belongs.”
Remaining far afield during the renovation was hardly an issue, partly because Kat had tracked down the precise general contractor who spearheaded the home’s renovation for its previous owners. Already familiar with its bones, Russ Allik was able to execute Albert’s concepts flawlessly. “Russ excelled so much at the details that we rarely needed to be on site,” the architect notes.
By the time Hendricks arrived for the decorative layer, she had similarly earned the homeowners’ confidence. “David and I have strong opinions, but we trusted Heide implicitly,” reveals Kat. “At times, I asked her to take our requests out of the equation because I knew she understood us that much.”
Since celebrating the outdoors was imperative, one of Hendricks’ first moves was to designate a window-clad corner of the sun room as a breakfast nook. “David liked to eat at the kitchen island, but it wasn’t very comfortable,” the designer notes. “I saw a great opportunity. Now, they have their coffee here every morning.” Another moment of ingenuity is seen on the basement level, where Albert had converted a former root cellar into a convivial bar accessed via Dutch door. Hendricks followed suit with a coat of red brick lacquer. With David less keen on color than Kat, Hendricks notes, “all they need to do is close the Dutch door.”
Curios from the couple’s travels proved key here and throughout. “Having a cache of mementos was inspiring and quite useful,” adds Hendricks, who achieved harmony by balancing the couple’s treasured keepsakes with fresh acquisitions touting unique or soulful qualities. “Nothing made the cut unless it had significance for Kat or David,” the designer assures.
Hendricks happily reconceived family heirlooms, too: a black hutch in the dining room, which once belonged to David’s mother, displays his inherited antique silver, along with Kat’s milk glass and ironstone. A 1950s pink patio set, also from David’s mother, was repainted white and installed beneath Albert’s elegant design for the back patio. And a bobbin bench in the mudroom is topped with pillows fashioned from remnants of her late mother’s jeans. Incorporating his collection of vintage duck decoys was a must for David, whom Hendricks describes as the consummate outdoorsman. Her expertise found these characterful objets d’art homes within Albert’s built-in bookshelves, where they now converse with tomes, natural artifacts and other nods to the couple’s passions.
“Jacob and Heide showed us how to live in and really captured the essence of what our experience at home should be,” Kat concludes. For the first time, “there’s nothing missing.”