The con­tem­po­rary restora­tion of an 18th-cen­tury salt­box

A sur­pris­ing pal­ette and con­tem­po­rary fin­ishes make for an al­lur­ing restora­tion


Is there a cre­ative type alive who, while not ex­actly look­ing for a coun­try place, would pass up the chance to have a peek at an 18th-cen­tury Con­necti­cut salt­box just down the road from his fam­ily’s home, and on the mar­ket for the first time in 90 years? on top of which, it comes with 20 pic­turesque hectares and or­chards full of ap­ples. Who could re­sist that? def­i­nitely not a thir­tysome­thing Man­hat­tan glass-blower and his fash­ion de­signer hus­band.

not quite so ap­peal­ing, on the other hand, was the dis­cov­ery that the house needed se­ri­ous work. some of it at­trib­ut­able to ad­di­tions from the 1930s and 1940s. This meant that, af­ter the thrill of buy­ing the place (nat­u­rally), the cou­ple’s im­me­di­ate thought was the one we’ve all had: ‘oh, let’s just paint a few rooms white and leave the rest as it is.’ and yet, in

por­ing over old in­te­ri­ors mag­a­zines, they kept com­ing across a sin­gle name on every­thing they liked: stephen sills.

how­ever, they told each other: ‘We’ll never be able to work with the great stephen sills.’ But, still, why not just meet him? as it hap­pens, they were to­tally blown away by his ok­la­homa charm, and he fell for them on the spot. ‘hav­ing two cre­ative clients is a 100 per cent home run,’ says stephen.

They weren’t pre­pared for the ren­o­va­tion process, though. But then, who is? as stephen ex­plains: ‘It was go­ing to be a re­ward­ing chal­lenge to make the house feel con­tem­po­rary while avoid­ing the fash­ion­able, trendy and prim.’ In other words, it was an in­ter­est­ing project, one in­volv­ing wavy glass for eight-over-eight win­dows and a wholly re­con­fig­ured warren of rooms. all this was sched­uled to take a year and a half.

Iron­i­cally, had the own­ers de­cided to re­store their house to the cor­rect pe­riod, they would have been tak­ing the easy way out. More­over, it’s hard to pre­vent a restora­tion from be­com­ing a tomb. as stephen puts it: ‘You need to let some air in. You can’t com­pletely seal it off.’ and yet, it must have been tempt­ing when the orig­i­nal own­ers of­fered the trio their pick of the pe­riod fur­nish­ings, be­cause it’s pretty much im­pos­si­ble to evoke that spar­tan

Con­necti­cut look with­out in­clud­ing some an­tiques. Which is why a few score re­main in situ. Most of them painted white.

equally grat­i­fy­ing is the ab­sence of the ubiq­ui­tous 200 square me­tre kitchen. Mean­while, the men who live here are de­lighted with stephen’s ef­forts to make their house feel mas­cu­line and en­tirely un­sul­lied by mod­ish ‘decor’.

re­mem­ber those hap­haz­ard ‘ad­di­tions’? a few of them have been nicely re­fash­ioned into a not overly fem­i­nine bed­room that’s been painted a pink so sim­ple, so right, that it’s hard to be­lieve it was picked from among 15 sam­ples. af­ter lengthy con­sid­er­a­tion. at sun­set. The orig­i­nal white-oak floors through­out, cur­rently as crisp and warm as toast, were sub­jected to that metic­u­lous colour process as well.

not a de­tail, in fact, has es­caped stephen’s ex­act­ing eye. es­pe­cially not the fab­ric on the din­ing-room walls. as most

of us might, his clients ex­pected that its choco­latey lozenges would meet, point to point, on abut­ting ikat strips. But they don’t. and at first, the mis­match made them un­easy. now, of course, they love it, just as they love their lemon-yel­low din­ing ta­ble and stephen’s take on the up­hol­stery. ‘The fab­rics I chose are very “to­day”,’ he says, ‘be­cause I’ve learned over the years that it’s up­hol­stery that dates an in­te­rior’s time and place.’ Yes, from Louis XIV bro­cades to deco geo­met­rics to crisp, clean and very beige mid-cen­tury mod­ern, he’s nailed it. as he has the salt­box’s strict façade, where the shut­ters are now a sur­pris­ing white.

In ret­ro­spect, those 18 months were worth it. ‘It’s been a mas­ter­class in de­sign,’ says the glass-blower, de­lighted. ‘My taste has evolved in amaz­ing ways.’ as has this re­vi­talised salt­box.

the liv­ing-room fire­place of this 18th-cen­tury con­necti­cut salt­box fea­tures whale ver­te­brae lean­ing against the orig­i­nal pan­elling. the sofa cush­ions are made of an­tique per­sian vel­vet and an art­work with found ob­jects hangs on the back wall

above op­po­site page, clock­wise, from top left ta­ble is sur­rounded by white-painted bow-back chairs; in the back porch, the vin­tage wrought­iron fur­ni­ture has been painted white and cov­ered in tran­quil, palepink fab­rics; the op­po­site side of the liv­ing room fea­tures a comb­back chair hug­ging the wall and a re­pro­duc­tion of a wing chair mis­matched strips of a dis­tinc­tive made­line wein­rib ikat fab­ric line the din­ing-room walls the kitchen has wire-brushed oak cab­i­nets and stone coun­ter­tops; on a patch­work rug in the liv­ing room, this game 1930s 1960s

clock­wise, from top left on the con­crete cof­fee ta­ble; this con­tem­po­rary braided-wool rug livens up the hall; glass vases blown by the owner sit on an an­tique ta­ble in the turquoise guest bath­room the yel­low-and­blue guest room is lit by a vin­tage mo­saic glass globe from paris; in the den, an­te­lope horns sit un­der vic­to­rian glass

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