Connecticut Cottages & Gardens VISIT OUR NEW SITE:
June 2009 Cover
Current Issue

Features Columns
Kitchen & Bath IQ
Travel for Design
Deeds & Don'ts
Wine & Spirits
Editor's Letter
What's New
On the Couch
Parties & Benefits
Meet the Designer

Design Consultants

Find Us on Facebook

June 2009


Remaining Neutral
By Sarah Firshein
Photographs by Michael Luppino



OBJECTS IN MOTION STAY IN MOTION until, much like the owners of this vacation home—an ambitious couple accustomed to relocating to such far-flung cities as Sydney and such familiar ones as New York—they stop, be still for a moment and take it all in. For the now-London-based family, finding a suitable locale for a summer residence—one where they could eventually retire—proved challenging. But just as friends and colleagues were jaunting to fabulous summer mainstays throughout the Hamptons, the Catskills and the Jersey Shore, the pull of the Connecticut coastline beckoned to this family like the soft, enduring glow of a lighthouse.

"My husband is English, I'm American, we love both countries and we really wanted to have a base in both countries," the wife says. "We come back every summer and really wanted our son to feel that America is home. We very much think of Madison as our American base."

The couple reached out to Manhattan-based interior designer Laura Bohn, who had completed their Upper West Side penthouse years before. Bohn's shoestring transformation of a space with industrial lights, black lacquer detailing and leather furniture into one that suited the then-newlyweds' then-traditional tastes and love of light gave the wife good reason to call upon the designer again. "We laugh about the fact that the budget they had then probably wouldn't cover the sheets now!" says Bohn, who was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 1998.


The owners have since grown fond of a mix of antique and contemporary décor and have retained their penchant for air and easy flow. "We can't bear crammed, small spaces with lots of layers all on top of each other," says the wife, adding, "When we walk into a space, we immediately have a vision for how the end result is going to feel—and how we're going to live in it." They were able to relay their vision to Bohn and Madison-based architect John Matthews. "We really wanted to pull from local knowledge and input—those who really know how people live here—and we wanted to support the local community," the wife says. Together the team worked to coax the cramped-feeling floor plan away from its spec-home roots into one more in keeping with the owners' affinity for summery, breezy spaces.

Throughout the home, fabrics and surfaces play to the coastal setting. "From every room, you look straight into the water—it's like you're on an island," Bohn says. "And yet there's still part of it that's always going to be comfortable and family-lived-in." Natural elements such as wood, sisal and seagrass comprise the first-level flooring; gauzy blues, aquas, grays and whites predominate the palette and unify spaces with corners and bends. Thanks to Bohn's know-how, says the wife, an L-shaped living room flows together with ease while still maintaining disparate conversation groupings.

Bohn found the dining table at Avant Garden, an antiques store across the New York border. When the couple drove out to inspect it, they happened upon other favorite pieces, like their rustic coffee table—"essentially rough wooden planks that have been put on wheels," the wife says. "People can put their feet on it; it's where we put books or candles," she adds. And nothing makes her heart soar quite like the sight of her 10-year-old son curled up in one of the worn-in leather club chairs—an Avant Garden find from that same trip—watching SportsCenter (their two other children are grown).


The first-floor bathroom, with its pebbled stone floor and cylindrical custom shower, is the most adventurous room in the house. "There's so much you can do with bathrooms, and they can always be different," says Bohn. Accessible just off the beach at the rear of the house, "the whole thing functions like a wet room," says the wife. "My vision for the bathroom was that you'd be able to come in, all wet and sandy, and step into the shower," she adds, emphasizing every detail of Bohn's wizardry—hooks spaced 12 inches apart provide a chic solution for soggy bathing suits and towels.

The lived-in aesthetic continues upstairs. The wife wanted the master suite to mimic the exposed rafters of the great room and bedroom of New Zealand's Huka Lodge, where she and her husband took their first vacation together. Thus, she asked that the soft ceiling be removed—the room now extends up to exposed rafters. The master bathroom and closet spaces were transposed. "At the beach, you don't need that many clothes—the closet just has to function," she says. "But the bathroom should be special. I thought, wouldn't it be great if there was a way to get the view while you're taking a shower?"

Other living quarters comfortably shelter friends and extended family (the wife proudly recalls hosting 18 guests a mere week after the house was finished). A carpeted attic with banquettes, all kinds of media and skylights (one of Matthews' ideas) serves as a kids' hideaway—at times, eight or nine have bunked there. And in the guest bedroom, an oak screen further plays to the couple's love of "clean lines and sense of open space," the wife says. The bold, zigzag structure divides the room into sleeping and sitting areas, offering visitors their own hangout nook. "I wanted the kind of place where people would always feel comfortable," she says. "It's a house where you're always happy." With these words, the tenor of her voice swells elatedly. Then she stops and is quiet for a moment, as if taking it all in.