WITH THE HELP OF DECORATOR BRIAN DEL TORO, A WATERFRONT PLAYHOUSE STEPS OUT IN SOLILOQUY
Citing the words of the celebrated decorator Albert Hadley, interior designer Brian del Toro says, "You don't wear a ball gown to a picnic." In the case of the residence he's referring to, you probably don't want to move furnishings from a client's Victorian house to a former 1920s playhouse on the beach in Greenwich, either.
The designer, who works at the New York City firm Bunny Williams, was just finishing up a project for a client when he got an unexpected call from her one day: "'I'm so sorry,'" he recalls her saying, "'but we've bought another house.'" Granted, it had views of the sound and a total of six bedrooms—more than enough space for her and her husband and their four children, ages 7 to eleven. So, while some pieces intended for their current residence were still on backorder, del Doro swiftly set the stage for act two. Examining components of the old project and envisioning the new, he carefully considered "appropriateness," he says, to decide what could be transferred. The result became a study of texture, color and scale, repurposing some pieces, enhancing the qualities of the new house—views, views and more views!—and creating an eclectic home with antiques and modern furnishings befitting a fun, casual family.
Before they set out to decorate, however, a few major changes were in order. Del Toro took one look at the layout of the house and knew it would benefit from a dramatic change. The front of the house originally faced the water and the dining room overlooked the parking area. "All the surprise of seeing the water was gone," del Toro says.
Now, from an entry, doors on either side of the fireplace guide you through the house: The right leads to the kitchen and the upstairs; the left leads to the dining room with dramatic soundfront views. Other additions include a punchy orange-and-white breakfast room that opens to the family room and kitchen, a portico at the new entrance and dormers with French doors that lead from the bedrooms to the balconies, infusing the upstairs with more light and connection to the outdoors.
Woodworking details continued inside. The living room, the former playhouse and the oldest part of a house, features the original wood paneling and a barrel-vaulted plaster ceiling. Del Toro brought unity by continuing these architectural details throughout, adding paneling and wainscoting in the dining room. He also paneled the reconfigured master bathroom with antiqued mirrors. These elements, which transitioned seamlessly into the given scheme, mimic a beautiful paneled dining room del Toro created for the residents' original house, which they used for only a few weeks before moving. "The residents became intrigued with this idea that nothing was out of the box and everything was custom," says del Toro. "And because this is a bigger space, it was an opportunity to elaborate on what they were interested in."
For the furnishings, del Toro chose a mostly neutral palette that wouldn't compete with the colorful beauty outdoors. "Views were a paramount concern," says the wife. She's also fond of aquas and blues, which were primary colors in the old house, so continuing with these tones allowed them to more easily work in some of the last project's pieces. In the living room, which was designed around a sofa the family already owned, del Toro crafted an inviting environment by mixing traditional and new furniture that spans from the 1800s to the 1950s. "They didn't want it to be stuffy," he says. "They're a young family, and they have point of view. It's eclectic but classic."
Upstairs, the neutral-white master bedroom, with a vaulted ceiling that follows the roofline of the exterior, is the wife's dream retreat. Unfussy furniture provides a backdrop to the pictorial views from the French doors. These tones also resonate in the bathroom's white lacquer and terrazzo tiles. In the children's rooms and bathrooms (some were added), colorful wallpapers and tiles are "interesting enough to grow up with," says del Toro.
Now that they have seen their new home through such dramatic change, the residents don't plan on going anywhere any time soon. "It's our dream house," says the wife. "The light from the views is truly tremendous." So is the lulling wash of the sound, which at times sounds like a standing ovation for a grand performance at this old theater.