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Design Consultants

May 2009


FEATURES

Karmic Pull
By Sarah Firshein
Photographs by Tim Lee

A GREENWICH DECK HOUSE FUSES EXTERIOR LIGHT WITH INVITING INTERIOR WOODS AND GLASS

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No one sees the great potential of smallish spaces more shrewdly than New York City natives. So when Michele Perri first stepped foot into her 1960s Greenwich deck house, she viewed the modest entryway and foyer, set one flight of stairs lower than the living space, as an boon. "Frank Lloyd Wright would have you go through smaller spaces to get to the Aha! moment," says Perri, one of the founders and owners of the Greenwich Design Group.

In this house, then, the journey is just as important as the destination. A custom-made Iranian gabbeh runner ascends past a typographical mural—appropriately, the word "welcome" rendered in multiple languages, colors and fonts. At the top of the stairs, the space widens into the sitting room, exterior light pours in, and a metallic Peter Fowler painting echoes Perri's optimistic demeanor. "Any space should be fun," she says. "And, more than anything, it should reflect the people in it."

The setting, overlooking the Binney Park soccer fields, certainly reflects Perri and her husband, Mickey Kydes, an ex-professional soccer player. Originally the couple lived on the waterfront but selected this property a year and a half ago. "The irony is that every time my son and husband went to kick the ball, it ended up the water!" she says, chuckling. "Mickey is not a water guy, so when this house became available we jumped on it."

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The couple, along with Katherine, now 19, Nicole, 16, and Christian, 4, moved into a space that the previous owners never quite finished. "Gutting it entirely" meant switching six-panel Colonial doors for 20 glass ones and stripping all the moldings. Perri replaced a clunky 15-inch wooden beam with a sleek steel "H" beam as the roof support; a staircase that was once supported by a solid wall is now kept in place by a sheet of glass running along the side. And she and her partner, Sondra Peterson, reworked some spaces to expand the house's five bedrooms and closets.

Throughout the renovation, Perri held fast to her belief that "there's 'green' in Greenwich." "Everything we stripped or tore down was given away to people who could use it," she says of her collaboration with Norwalk-based Green Demolition. The structure of the house itself is further testimony to her sense of eco-responsibility. Deck houses, known for their large expanses of glass windows and continuous sheets of wood, were popularized in the '60s for their innovative design and energy efficiency.

Perri says she was first drawn to Greenwich by some softly defined "karmic pull"; in this manner, her current interiors, relaxed and sophisticated, inhale and exhale like quiet, repeating yogic breaths. Though she can't pinpoint her exact aesthetic, everything just feels right: the cedar-planked ceiling, the exposed brick, the woolen rugs and the slick stainless steel and glass peppered as refractory elements throughout.

For furnishings, Perri sought to create a warm space that would see her young son grow up and work as a setting for her and Kydes' dinner parties. "I envisioned us really living here and getting Christian through high school," she says. "We know he'll be bringing friends home. I wanted an easy place that would be very relaxed and inviting and everyone could feel like they could do no harm to any of the materials present."

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No-fuss pieces include the family's leather sofa in the family room, a cream-colored perch that's deceptively tough—it's a "guys' thing," Perri says. In the dining room, a late-1800s French drop-leaf table with nailhead detailing that she scooped up at Lillian August is equally maintenance-free. "It's a table you can just sit at and do puzzles or homework projects," she says. "You can put your glass down; you don't have to worry." And whereas most would regard panes of glass—say, as the surfaces of the outdoor coffee tables or the breakfast room table—as a huge undertaking, Perri emphasizes just the opposite. "People don't appreciate or they're afraid of glass," she says. "But it's easy to clean and it also lightens the space. It gives you the ability to expand a space, and it suits this house."

Other smartly chosen elements include the crystal Holly Hunt hanging light over the breakfast table; it's finely etched to project one of Da Vinci's theories on light onto the surrounding brick walls. "It's so beautiful—what it does to the whole room when it's on at night," Perri muses. "I tend to look at a space like an art project. It's about the relationship of how each piece relates to the whole."

In the master bedroom, a lofted area set above Perri's wardrobe cabinet offers a cozy, tucked-away nook. Accessible via a ladder, the space overlooks the park and is just large enough to comfortably house a few family members. "My son and I go up there every Sunday to read the Times," she says. "It feels like you're inside a train and it's a romantic, magical little place. I do design with romance in mind." The potential of smallish spaces—indeed.

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