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February 2009


FEATURES

Color Is a Many Splendored Thing
By Sarah Firshein
Photographs by Keith Scott Morton

FOUND PIECES, FLEXIBLE HUES AND PERSONAL LOVES ENLIVEN ONE STORIED NEW CANAAN COLONIAL

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Oh, to talk design like Kim Gilhool. Symmetrical balance and the rule of thirds take a backseat to the little four-letter word that really inspired the interiors of her circa-1764 New Canaan Colonial. "I try to collect things I love," says Gilhool, founder and one of the owners of Pimlico. "Even if they're in different styles and different values, it works. I don't have anything in this house that I don't absolutely love."

The warm, come-as-you-are philosophy befits Gilhool, an ex-Manhattanite who's as comfortable in jeans and Merrills as she is in "wild clothes." She had some reservations when she and her husband, Frank, moved out of the city 11 years ago (with their three daughters, Kate, now 15, Natalie, 14, and Daisy, 11, in tow)—"they practically had to strap me to the moving van to leave Manhattan." But eventually New Canaan won her over. "It felt a little bit more 'country' than suburban, and the downtown is charming and it really offers a level of sophistication," she says.

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The house itself was the major selling point. Gilhool, who grew up in a converted creamery in Chappaqua, NY, has always held historic properties particularly dear. "Over the years I've developed a hate-love relationship with old houses," she says. "I hate that everything's crooked—but I love that everything's crooked," she adds, laughing. And the property's two acres of plush land proved a most delightful contrast to the kids' former habitat, New York City sidewalks and playgrounds. "At first, the kids would go to the backyard and just look at each other," she says. "Where's the guy asking us for money? Where's the guy selling us balloons? But they pretty quickly came around—in no time at all they were collecting bugs and they never wanted to come inside."

This—her daughters tromping through the backyard, or later playing dress-up with totally glam gowns plucked from the $9.99 rack at Loehmann's—is exactly what Gilhool had hoped for when she imagined the years unfolding. When she first toured the property, she noticed that the previous owners had taped their kids' posters to the walls and that they kept their pet rabbit in the kitchen. "I could identify with that," she says. "I felt like the home really had a soul—that there have been happy families who have lived here and raised their kids here."

Gilhool, who no longer works on the Pimlico floor, is still heavily involved in the store's design projects and services, strategizing and marketing. So where does this busy mom-of-three find a moment of repose? Perhaps in the master bedroom, on the lavender chaise once belonging to her grandmother, which sits in front of the fireplace she installed after moving in. With soft, purplish walls behind her and luxurious bedding and pillows, it's easy to see why she takes to these tones—they're both airy and inviting.

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Many passions, including the purple one, repeat throughout. In the kitchen, a lustrous aubergine floor complements gray walls and dove-white cabinets, and a vintage crystal chandelier adds a sleek reflective element. Where she's more adventurous with color, she still manages to balance quirky hues with chic, silvery layers. All the girls adore bright, funky shades, so Gilhool bedecked their playroom with punchy yellow-lime wing chairs and splashes of hot pink—a pleasant deviation from the neutral walls.

In the dining room, a table made of a zinc top on mid-19th-century iron balustrades is set against a vintage garden statue and a sparkly chandelier from Pimlico. The room embodies her every fancy: "I love bringing the outside in. I love having garden ornamentation in the house. I love having a bit of glamour in the way of silver leaf and mirror. I love old crystal," she says. And let's not forget her zany collection of dog paintings peppered throughout the house. "Some of them are a little cute, but I just don't worry about it. If I like it, I like it. Besides, we're a huge animal-loving family," she says of their three pups, Ruby, Georgie and Hanna.

Three weeks after moving in, Gilhool and her husband attended a dinner party in Fenwick, a historic neighborhood in Old Saybrook, where they now own a shingle-style summer home. She sat next to a friend of a friend who had grown up in New Canaan. Through casual conversation the two discovered that the man's childhood home was, indeed, Gilhool's new one—and that the house itself had a somewhat fabled local reputation, rife with memories of families who had once made it their dwelling. "Everybody knows this house—there are lots of tales to tell," Gilhool says. "The next day, the man took the drive to come and see it. He said he loved that it hadn't undergone significant changes."

The home, perched near the street, serves as a pretty marker of New Canaan's west side. And Gilhool believes it aptly reflects the spirit of the Sam Walter Foss quote stitched on so many antique samplers she has come across during her travels: "Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man."

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