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