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September 2009


FEATURES

American Pastoral
By Sarah Firshein
Photographs by George Ross

A CLASSIC GEORGIAN REVIVAL AND A LARGE SLICE OF GREEN OFFER A TUCKED-AWAY RESPITE FROM THE CITY

Click on any photo for a larger view.

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Like a ship billowing through undisturbed waters, the grand Georgian Revival on the Litchfield County horizon carries designer Debra Blair's every wish on board. It is here, among open fields overlooking the Berkshires, that Blair gets what she has always asked of a weekend home: an oasis that respects traditional architecture, encourages good old family time and stands, ever so statuesque, amid a rolling verdant expanse.

Blair and her husband, who works in the financial industry, are duly familiar with every bend of this corner of Connecticut. They purchased their original weekend home here in 1980, a small A-frame on the lake, and then moved to a converted general store built in 1846. They finally moved into this bucolic retreat six years ago; it provides a family getaway for themselves and their two sons, now teenagers, and a fine respite from city life on Manhattan's West End Avenue.

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LATTICE WORK (click photo for larger view)

The house, built in 1929, sits on 75 acres of what had once been a 2,000-acre land grant from King George III to a local farmer. "We always wanted to have a house with a lot of property," says Blair, principal of NYC-based Blair Design Associates. "I would say it was more about how the house was situated than anything else." Here she enjoys landscaped lawns and uninterrupted vistas of the mountains beyond. The hay fields out back feed local farms, a separate barn houses chickens, at times, and pear and apple orchards offer seasonal bounty—from ripe fruits to butters and chutneys.

The main house itself was a study in leaving beautiful things alone; few structural changes were designed to take further advantage of the views. Blair sliced and diced through a dark kitchen with low ceilings until it afforded the natural light she thought it should. An airy kitchen with gleaming checkerboard flooring now overlooks the natural environs. An adjoining breakfast room opens onto a screened porch by way of French doors; both spaces repeat the Chippendale-style railing that runs along the top of the house. She also widened the hallway that leads to a 1980s addition, which houses the boys' bedrooms and bathroom.

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Blair found certain period architectural features particularly endearing—the light-suffused front-to-back entrance hall, the wide, window-less walls to hang art on, the rooms with distinct walls and distinct purposes. "With so many new-construction projects, people build these enormous homes and they all live in one space," she says. "I personally don't care for rooms where there's too much multitasking. It makes a room more special when you're not in it constantly." A separate TV room with indigo paneling serves its just purpose; the capacious living room promotes old-fashioned game-playing and badinage.

Plush Fortuny drapery, left in place by the previous owner, served as a springboard for furnishings and fabrics. In the living room, navy ones with silver-and-gold detailing are hung from mahogany-gold leaf polls, a damask print is rendered in casual linen, mohair velvet and leather are flung here and there, and a game table always has a half-finished puzzle set up on it. "I didn't want to downplay the formality of the house; on the other hand, we really live in this space, so I didn't want anything that was too fussy or too formal. We sit on the furniture, and we put our feet up on the tables. Nothing is too precious or too perishable," Blair says. Four recessed bookshelves offer pretty perches for her volumes of art, design and gardening books, as well as the collection of creamware she has amassed over the years. "It looks very simple and understated, but it's still very beautiful," she says. "I like it because it's difficult to find. It's not something you see every time you go out antiquing."

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Though it took Blair some time to decide how to design the dining room, it, too, spiraled into place from Fortuny drapes—persimmon ones, this time. Ultimately, she commissioned a light blue-green Chinese hand-painted garden scenic from Paul Montgomery Studio, which she paired with pewter ceiling paper. "It's really quite wonderful when you're sitting in the room," she says. "You feel like you're in a special garden—especially because of the French doors that open out to the garden!"

These French doors—an elegant feature common to all the main rooms, including the master bedroom—are what most immediately alert Blair to the fact that she's left the city. "The first thing I usually do when I get here is open all the French doors—weather permitting, of course," she says. "Then I walk around the property and look at the gardens and see how they've changed—every day looks different. Then I sit in one of the Adirondack chairs in the back field, take a deep breath and start the weekend."

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