A Study in Contrasts

July 27, 2012

Text by Megan Fulweiler    Photography by Bruce Buck     Produced by Stacy Kunstel

Anyone who believes an eighteenth-century house should always be period-appropriate has only to visit the home of interior designer John Roch and architect Richard Campbell. Nestled on the edge of a wee village in Litchfield County—a picturesque area where seriously creative types have long gravitated—their house is a study in clever juxtapositions. Antiques and modern furnishings coexist as happily as peas in the proverbial pod. A tour reveals a clutch of Hans Wegner wishbone chairs here, a nineteenth-century pine cabinet there. Having designed scores of homes in myriad styles, Roch prefers a clean, orderly vibe in his own surroundings. Every space is carefully edited, and every object that makes the cut is thoughtfully placed. As a result, the little house exudes a sense of style as big as nearby Bear Mountain.

Of course, some credit must go to previous owners for their renovations. A long way removed from its original state, the house’s interior already had a contemporary outlook. Thrilled to find a small home with a spacious great room—one that could hold a dining table that seats twelve along with a congenial living area—the men looked no further in their search for a weekend retreat. The user-friendly interior, not typical in a colonial, freed them to focus on cosmetic changes.

Still, the makeover was fairly epic. There was a roof to replace (make that two roofs—the barn also needed one), aluminum siding to remove, clapboards to be added and much painting to be done. For a decade, the property had tended itself, too. Initially, due to overgrown plantings, the men couldn’t see out their first-floor windows! Underneath it all, though, were the abode’s handsome Yankee bones and feeling of openness. Four years later, the duo gave up the idea of weekly visits and claimed the charming house as their permanent address.

Roch commutes daily to his Fairfield firm, Roch and Chase Interiors, while Campbell’s office—Richard Swift Campbell Architects—is based at home. “It was a compromise, but we wanted to make this our year-round residence,” Roch explains without a tinge of regret. And it’s certainly easy to see why. Comfortable and bright—the sun pours in all day—it’s a wonderfully stylish place up and down.

Gone is the theme of avocado, gold and blue the kitchen sported when the couple moved in. Now the walls are a handsome dark gray, the color of the sky before a storm, and the floor is covered in an old-school black-and-white pattern. “It was just supposed to be a temporary fix, but we like it so much we’re keeping it. It’s humble, like our house, but graphic,” Roch says. The cool Arne Jacobsen chairs married to the eighteenth-century kitchen table were another of Roch’s just-for-now maneuvers. In the end, this union also turned out to be too delicious to alter.

The contrasts Roch concocts seem effortless, but study them for any length of time and you’ll notice a pattern. Consider, for instance, the Charles and Ray Eames lounge chairs and antique table cozying up to each other in the sitting room. The curve of the old table speaks to the chair’s contours, and even the antlers on the wall have a subtle similarity of shape. Roch modestly claims he doesn’t think about it; he just does it. Whatever the case, his ingenious marrying of disparate eras and elements propels the decor into the current century. Like yin and yang, the interaction brings harmony.

Clutter is forbidden, of course. In this home, there’s a place for everything and everything’s in its place, though not necessarily out in the open. “Things go away. Negative space is important; it complements where you do have things. Our house is always camera-ready,” Roch admits with a laugh.

The owners removed miles of bookshelves (the former inhabitant, a travel writer, was an avid reader) to maximize square footage and forge wall space for their burgeoning art collection. As a result, antiques become more beautiful given room to show off; modern pieces better flaunt their lines. And good-looking artifacts, like the wood piece once used in harness-making that now poses by the great room’s bookcase, assume a sculptural presence.

According to Roch, Campbell has a talent for finding charming treasures and oddities from the past. The wood pillars supporting candlesticks alongside the dining table are among his discoveries. Their lean silhouettes frame a favorite painting and strike an elegant note in a setting that includes a Le Corbusier–designed table base (Roch commissioned a custom wood top). Sitting nearby, an antique lantern from Robert Walin and Tucker Frey Antiques in Woodbury is more than another interesting form: frequently lit at mealtimes, it casts a flattering glow.

On balmy summer evenings, Roch and Campbell are apt to have their dinner on the screened porch. Unperturbed by nasty bugs, the men can linger around the gateleg table till the stars appear. Roch painted the table and the reproduction Windsor chairs jet black—a perfect foil to the porch’s crisp, green-as-a-leaf floor.

It comes as no surprise that the home’s bedrooms are equally appealing. In the master bedroom, where walls are painted Benjamin Moore’s Mink, the reproduction pencil-post bed wears a geometric Pendleton Mills blanket. Lithographs by Alicia Penalba, from Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York, pop against the sultry background. The windows are kitted out with non-fussy linen curtains. It’s all so wonderfully simple—think Shaker given a fashionable twist.

In the guest bedroom, Roch again expertly interweaves old and new. A drop-leaf table tucked beside an aged iron bed displays an edgy reading lamp. A sisal carpet (“they’re so forgiving,” the designer explains) covers the wood floor. Visitors can’t help but feel that sleeping in this serene room—or spending any length of time in this chic, understated house, for that matter—will lower stress levels. It’s additional proof, should anyone need it, that a house doesn’t have to be overly grand to be celebrated, just brilliantly conceived. •

Interior design: John Roch, Roch and Chase Interiors

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