With purity of love comes the fortitude to meet any challenge that life—or an angry goddess—throws your way. That’s the moral behind the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche. The lovers are the subject of Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’ large-scale work, Amore et Psyche after Francois Gerard, which greets all visitors who enter this Westport, Connecticut, home.
For interior designer Lisa Friedman, the piece served as both muse and mantra for the entire project: “Its underlying message is that strength and serenity can coexist,” she says. “Design can be quiet, and still be powerful.”
That most homeowners want their surroundings to be a soothing respite from the outside world is a given, but for this family of four it was paramount. The husband is the founder of an investment firm and the wife leads women’s groups through counseling and meditation practices at home. Friedman has worked with the family on other projects over the years, and they knew they could trust her vision to create a calming refuge where they could recharge with their two preteen sons.
The family had fallen in love with a grand European-style manse that oozed old-world charm and had an enviable waterfront location in Saugatuck Shores, but it came with a few challenges. Built in 2008, the house was constructed along the property setback, which was angled on one side towards the coastline, so all of the rooms in the entire left wing were slightly out of square. Friedman enlisted the help of architect Marybeth Woods and general contractor George Desmond, who worked on the home’s initial build, to address the unusual geometry without altering the floor plan. “The existing house was beautiful; we weren’t going to tear it apart, but we did want to change the vibe and update it a bit,” says Woods.
One of the first items on the agenda: Employing clever, sleight-of-hand tricks, such as resetting the recessed lights, to give the rooms the illusion of being more linear. Next, the team pared back features that dated the residence. “Whatever room we touched, we tried to make the details cleaner and crisper,” notes Desmond. Plaster was removed from the ceilings in favor of a flat-painted finish and walls were given a lighter, more modern texture. Simplifying the millwork, updating the staircase and replacing the ornate fireplace mantels with contemporary stone surrounds were small but thoughtful changes that imbued the home with a dramatically different feel. “It wasn’t so much a renovation as a transformation,” Friedman is keen to point out. While the bathrooms were gutted and the kitchen was refreshed, no walls were moved on the first or second floors and the majority of the work was cosmetic.
By contrast, the third floor saw the most radical reinvention. “The attic was originally a series of rooms that felt very chopped up,” says Woods. The clients dreamed of having a personal wellness sanctuary that combined a home gym with a meditation area and spa, so Friedman designed the ultimate staycation spot. Removing walls opened up the space and adding a skylight brought in more natural light while increasing the ceiling height. In order to give the walls the kind of patina that one might encounter while on holiday in a historic European villa, Friedman incorporated a Belgian plaster finish in the same gray as the limestone in the bath. She then wrapped the floors of the gym and the meditation area in custom leather tiles in a similar smoky gray. “It’s meticulous work; there are no visible seams, so you can’t see where anything begins or ends,” she says.
With such stunning craftsmanship on display, it made sense to open up the stairwell to the third floor with a custom anodized steel and glass wall. Not only does it allow light from the upper foyer to stream into the spa area, but it also offers sound protection, so time spent meditating or relaxing is mindful and free of interruption.
To unify all three floors, Friedman turned to a timeless neutral palette. Subdued hues lend a calming aura and put the focus on the clients’ growing art collection as well as the home’s tranquil seaside views. Shades of charcoal, platinum gray, creamy oatmeal and snowy white create a luxe cocoon in which understated elegance envelops every room like a soft cashmere wrap.
“The house has a seamless flow, yet each room has its own carefully curated identity,” she says. “At the same time, everything is interchangeable within this house; these pieces could be used in a different way, but still create the same sensibility. You need that connection from room to room to truly establish a sense of Zen.”