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July 2008


FEATURES

Close Quarters
By C.J. Hughes
Photographs by Chi Chi Ubiña

A WESTPORT COUPLE FINDS THEIR IDEAL RETREAT NEXT DOOR

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Four years ago, Rondi Charleston and Steve Ruchefsky, after another long trip from their home in Westport to a rented house on Martha's Vineyard, decided that a closer getaway would make for better peace of mind. And what could be closer then the house next door—a two-story, 3,000-square-foot humdrum 1966 Colonial whose owner was eager to relocate?

But that longtime resident left behind a décor scheme that was less suggestive of "airy beachside cottage" than "dim Italian restaurant." The interior featured tiny windows, darkly stained woods and even a framed painting of a Venetian gondolier.

Brightening the spaces required a multi-year, roof-to-basement renovation. Southport-based architect Jack Franzen started by removing two dining room walls to allow for clear sightlines from the living room to the kitchen. He also elongated the living room's existing windows to the floor, and paired them with French doors, which together guarantee that the newly-installed blonde ash floors glint with sunlight from morning onward.

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Then Franzen removed a low ceiling to expose the peaked underside of the home's wood-shingled roof. It was paneled with bead board, which evokes those late-19th-century New England homes whose owners were too parsimonious for plaster.

There is also a definite nautical inspiration in the design; the library's built-in seats, whose surfaces lift by finger-hooks, conceal deep storage lockers, and the kitchen's satin-nickel ceiling fixture is the kind that usually helps differentiate port and starboard.

But the change that perhaps best signals the house's new function, as it evolves from a year-round dwelling to a part-time one, is the conversion of a ground-level bedroom to a changing room, with four generous compartments for hanging clothes, towels or swimsuits.

Two photographs of willowy Block Island dune grass taken by the interior designer Melissa Markis of Westport, hang from a wall near an exterior door whose vestibule was formerly a closet. A shower, the floor of which is studded with stone-like lumps, anchors the attached bath. "The idea was to create a seamless inside and outside," Markis says.

It's no surprise, then, that aspects of the artful landscaping precisely mirror what's found in the house, like the wide fieldstone fireplace on the patio fronted by white-cushioned chairs and a couch.

ENJOY GREAT DESIGN

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