If you subscribe to the real estate philosophy of location, location, location as essential for a making a great home buy, then one Connecticut couple hit the mother lode. Not only was the property they found situated in what locals refer to as the “in-town” section of New Canaan—a coveted locale within walking distance of the town center—but the size of the lot also approached 2 acres. “It was one of the largest in-town properties and highly desirable,” says architect Michael Smith, whom the couple retained to design their home. “The typical properties in this area are much smaller, so this one gave us the opportunity to build an estate-size house.”
The homeowners, a couple with four young daughters, previously lived across the street and had been eyeing the property for quite some time when it finally came on the market, with the existing house listed as a teardown. With the couple already a fan of Smith’s work—“We saw a classic stone-and-Shingle-style home he built and loved it,” says the wife—the architect came to the job with an established framework from which to begin. “The concept was to create a strong street presence with formal architecture on the front reinforced by strict symmetry and elements like a double gable,” says Smith, collaborating with landscape designers Neil Brunetti and Heather O’Neill on the surrounding property, where they sustained the established scale and proportion. “It is important to me that the landscape design marries well to the home and its architecture,” says Brunetti. To achieve this, he introduced matching fieldstone walls on either side of the front door to complement the formal entry. In contrast, the backside, with its pergola off to one side and rambling porch, is more asymmetrical and casual. “There are a series of spaces for entertaining that serve as an extension of the interiors,” he adds.
That same formal/informal dichotomy is evident in the interiors, where the intricate millwork plays a key role. From the entry, the deep coffered ceiling beams and detailed pilasters that frame the living room opening signal formality, with the molding layers becoming noticeably less pronounced as you move through to the kitchen and family room. The mind-boggling job of keeping track of the woodwork fell to builder Vebi Gjyliqi, who, along with his crew, crafted everything in his local shop. “All the moldings are custom-made, and there is not one piece of stock anywhere,” says Gjyliqi. “It’s not just about cutting the wood; things have to be laid out just right, and each piece has to be symmetrical and perfect.”
When it came to furnishings and finishes, interior designer Michelle Morgan Harrison took cues from the architecture but introduced fabrics and paint to make a more transitional statement. “The homeowners wanted that balance of a traditional home with a more modern organic feel, and a yin-yang of luxe shine with natural textures and finishes,” says Harrison. One example of this is the designer’s use of high-gloss lacquered paint in all the main living areas before switching to a satin finish on the kitchen and family room walls.
According to Harrison, the wife was as clear about what she wanted—soothing ambience, with a palette of silvers, pale blues, lavenders, warm grays, ivory and gold, and a touch of glam—as what she didn’t want. She had a laundry list of do-nots, from chinoiserie to the color red. “It’s the first time someone has given me a ‘no’ list,” says Harrison, noting things such as geometric patterns and anything beige were also pretty much banned. “I loved it! We actually ended up doing a few things on it regardless, such as geometric prints, but it was very helpful.” In the living room, velvet with a sheen on the sofa, a pair of silk-covered slipper chairs, textured silk strie on the walls, and a pale gray thick-pile Tencel rug so soft that it begs for bare feet satisfied all the requirements. “The goal was to walk into a room, exhale and go aah,” says Harrison.
In the dining room, a gold sunburst mirror and a champagne sisal rug with a metallic border keep the space in the transitional mode while offsetting a traditional mahogany table from the couple’s previous house. The tufted chairs wear ivory-colored linen on the back and, in deference to those four little girls, sport pink Sunbrella velvet seats. Not surprisingly, durable fabrics also play a key role in the family room and kitchen. In the latter, the banquette is covered in vinyl, and the curved breakfast area chairs feature vinyl on the front and raffia on the back, both in pale gray. A silver-leaf light fixture with sandblasted glass and an oval table with a matte ivory finish round out the panoply of textures. Serenity reigns in the master suite, where the soft blue on the tufted headboard speaks in a whisper to the faint lavender on the draperies. Mirrored nightstands topped with crystal lamps supply a touch of bling, while the white fur rug is pure luxury. Housed in a turret, the adjoining master bathroom features a feminine beaded chandelier over the tub to contrast with the paneled ceiling. “Here and throughout the house, we succeeded in establishing an equilibrium of re ned meets texture and formal meets organic,” says Harrison. “But perhaps, more importantly, we accomplished creating something that will stand the test of time.”