By any measure, the house was a showstopper: a Colonial-inspired grande dame with Palladian windows and a cinematic perch over a glassy harbor with undulating meadows rolling in the distance. And yet, it didn’t quite fit designer Celerie Kemble’s clients. “It was very traditional ‘New England,’” notes the owner of the tastefully furnished Southport, Connecticut, home that she raised her children in before deciding it was time for “a major rejuvenation” better suited to her style.
“We inherited amazing sight lines and views, but there were no cartwheels, no backbends, no disco moves,” Kemble recalls. A fix came swiftly after the first design meeting, which transpired in an unusual room. “She brought us into her closet and said, ‘You’re not going to get to know me walking through my house right now, but this should give you a good sense.” Indeed, bold prints, bright embroidery and beaded details—all archival quality—filled the stacks. “Even her yoga pants were animal printed!” designer Samantha Stephano adds. “The interiors did not match her personality.”
Another muse for the ensuing makeover came courtesy of the clients’ impressive art collection, which includes works by Calder, Léger and Lichtenstein, to name a few. Against this curation, anything standard issue wouldn’t do, and the challenge became hunting for unique design finds to “bring a special energy into the house,” designer Mindy Griffith shares. Walking through the residence now, the trio’s rarified finds go off like fireflies on a summer night, from the great room’s pair of custom rugs designed to look like antique Swedish flat weaves, to the zinc-top oval dining table chosen to patinate in the sea air, to the den’s coffered ceiling, whose recessed panels were given a russet wallpaper patterned like an antique quilt. Even the powder room off the entry received a heavy dose of wonder, thanks to an inky-black holographic wallcovering depicting exotic flora and fauna from passion flowers to conch shells. “We wanted something that would pop and create a mood,” Griffith continues. “It’s almost like we chose that wallpaper to contrast the formality of the architecture, which is essentially what we did throughout the house.”
The newly christened “morning room”—a client request that trades the former and seldom used dining room for a place to sip coffee while overlooking the water—provides another playful antidote. Sheathed in an emerald wallpaper with flitting birds and butterflies, the space is an instant mood booster. “The family has a very large German Shepherd, and it looks like someone sent him out into a fictional meadow where he scared every bird and butterfly up into the air!” Kemble says. “We wanted that room to be happy and bright,” Stephano adds, noting that the ceiling was painted a warm pink hue “to coordinate precisely with the tone of one of the butterfly’s wings. We love the glow that it gives coupled with the reflection of the light off the harbor.” The whimsical mélange, Kemble adds, “is supposed to feel like a sunny day when you lay back in the grass and the sky spins over you.”
Daytime hues spill into the adjoining great room, where, tempered by crisp white walls, a rainbow of blues, greens and periwinkles plays to vistas beyond the windows. “I originally had some trepidation about adding lots of color, having been taught that nothing should compete with the water,” the client admits. “But as time went on, I realized the views will always be a showstopper and that color would only enhance that experience.”
And nowhere is this truer than in the primary bedroom suite, where the sherbet tones of sunset inspired the soft palette of terra cotta, plum and raspberry. “She would regularly text us photos of the sun going down from her bedroom balcony, just for inspiration,” Stephano notes. With its peachy grass-cloth wallcovering and wave-shaped headboard, the space celebrates its coastal setting in wholly original fashion.
The results of all this design sorcery? A perfect match. “We love absolutely every detail,” the client shares. “It is impossible to be grumpy surrounded by so much color and light.” That lack of grump factor came through loud and clear for Kemble and her team, too. In her own words, “This is a house where we all had fun.”