From the moment they approach through its hornbeam allée, visitors to this stately New Canaan, Connecticut, home are often fooled into believing that its history stretches back much further than a mere 31 years. The trickery begins with a canopied, cobbled drive, from which one catches glimpses of an old apple orchard before entering a walled courtyard. Then the house’s stone façade comes into view, quietly conveying a sense of immutability with its timeworn patina, and the illusion is complete.
Among those captivated by this bit of magic were the New York City couple who recently relocated to the three-acre idyll with their growing family, tasking designers Suzanne and Lauren McGrath with making the dwelling’s interiors feel as established and timeless as its exterior. Years before, the mother-daughter duo had renovated the couple’s Tribeca apartment, merging its existing modern architecture with the wife’s taste for more traditional furnishings. The Connecticut project would be simpler, it seemed, because “this is what she’s always wanted: To have a beautiful, traditional home that she could put traditional furniture in,” Lauren says.
But there was a bit more to this creative brief. “At 10,000 square feet, it’s a big house, so it felt a little fancy,” Lauren recalls. “They wanted the interiors to feel understated; to enhance the architecture while also taking the formality down a notch.” Adds Suzanne: “It was meant to feel like a home befitting a family with young children running up and down the halls.”
Without moving a wall or window, the designers achieved that sensibility by filling the rooms with textural decorative finishes, from wallcoverings in grass cloth, bark paper and stenciled fabric to expanses of strié-painted plaster. In the kitchen and breakfast room, they painted the existing wood floors with a distressed blue-and-white diamond pattern, a nod to Bunny Mellon’s iconic Cape Cod home—and to the homeowner’s favorite hue.
“When we first browsed our textile library with the client, pretty much everything she selected was blue and white,” Lauren recalls. “So we had to say, ‘We’re definitely going to give you a blue-and-white house, but we need to add some dimension.’” In the living room, the designers explored shades of silvery grays popped by hits of sky and peachy pink; the sunroom is enveloped in a chalky khaki green; and interstitial spaces, like the grand entry hall, introduce sandy neutrals to the milieu. “With any residence of this scale, you can’t just work with a two-color scheme, or it becomes boring and monochromatic,” Lauren explains. “Playing with many different tints to bring depth to that color scheme was one way to make this house feel cozier.”
Another method was to combine approachable furnishings—from deep sofas to stick wicker chairs—with carefully placed, fine antiques. “In the main entryway, for example, the center table needed to be special,” Suzanne says, “so we sourced a 19th-century French mahogany piece that is very unusual because of its curved legs and carved base.” Another exhaustive search yielded the dining room’s uniquely large 19th-century Scandinavian table, which the designers paired with reproductions of antique Swedish chairs and a graceful English console that was stripped of its finish to make it feel fresher and more youthful. In the living room, striped slipper chairs flank a rare, sculpted-bronze coffee table by Philip and Kelvin LaVerne—the aesthetic value of which the homeowner immediately appreciated. “She understood that having one very special piece in the room would really elevate the space, but in a very understated way,” Suzanne notes.
Barring a few carefully deployed flourishes—blousy garden roses on the living room’s slipcovered sofa, or the graphic grid of the dining room rug—the home, notably, features few patterns. “One of our edicts is that we don’t want anyone to come into a house we’ve designed and say, ‘Look at that fabric!’” Lauren explains of the design’s restraint. “Instead, we hope they’ll walk through and say, ‘Wow, this space has such a warm feeling about it.’ We wanted to highlight the bones of this house; to make it feel like it’s been here a while. It’s all about looking a little undecorated.”