All That Matters
July 27, 2012
Text by Megan Fulweiler Photography by Michael Partenio Produced by Stacy Kunstel
Cleaning out a closet—shedding the gaudy Hawaiian shirt you never wore and those outdated shoes—is one thing. Editing years of acquired furniture and keepsakes is quite another. A silver tray can transport us back in time as readily as a photograph. Memories of people and places we love lodge themselves inside books and cupboards, only waiting for us to turn a page or open a door.
So Greenwich-based interior designer Amy Aidinis Hirsch faced a monumental challenge. Over time, her clients’ tastes had ranged wide, with a special affection for English and Swedish antiques. Now, however, they were relocating to New Canaan. Their elegant new home, designed by New Canaan architect Alex Kaali-Nagy, was filled with fantastic light-streaming windows, which put wall space at a bit of a premium and required a less-is-more approach.
Fortunately, Hirsch sympathized with having to pare down. “Collaborating with clients who had a lifetime of items was wonderful,” she explains. “It was representational of them. My job was to take the existing furniture and items that meant the most and tell their story. The architectural box Alex Kaali-Nagy created was a beautiful foundation on which to begin.”
Inspired by New England’s historic houses in general and New Canaan’s in particular, Kaali-Nagy had designed the home to reflect a similar feeling. Proportions and classic details were paramount, as was meshing the building with its surroundings. “We always design a house to fit its site,” Kaali-Nagy says. “This property, being high and flat, was perfect.”
Passersby often mistake the structure for an old house, which, for him, is the supreme compliment.
Still, where to begin with the interior? The symmetrical floor plan—living room to one side, dining room to the other—was ideal. And the quality of construction and millwork—the numerous columns, handsome paneling and glorious moldings—gave every room equal importance. A dramatic jumping-off point was called for. The talented Hirsch knew exactly the right spot. Where better than the entry, the place where first impressions are made? Installing custom hand-painted chinoiserie wall panels in a heady marriage of soothing sage green, blue and white, she set the tone for the decor. An antique round table with a stone top and a prized antique Konya rug complete the scene.
In the adjacent dining room, Hirsch ingeniously combined Chippendale chairs with more casual hand-carved white Oly Studio seats. The chalky finish of the latter, she points out, riffs on the room’s Swedish clock. Over on the sideboard, a set of Chinese lamps—formerly jars—frame a neoclassical mirror with a black and gold-leaf finish from Niermann Weeks. “I absolutely love layers,” Hirsch says. “And that’s what is going on here. It’s all about mixing eye-catching textures.”
The pale living room across the way is anchored with a needlepoint rug in a Greek key pattern. Seating by the fireplace includes a Holly Hunt custom sofa and twin armchairs with fabulous ram’s head details along their flanks. Hirsch designed the chairs not only to stop you visually in your tracks but also afford maximum comfort. The curtains of Holland & Sherry wool-flannel emphasize the room’s loftiness while barely kissing the floor. But the key piece that gives the setting a sense of history is the antique secretary with its drop-front desk and bookcase, which the designer skillfully positioned opposite the windows. The beloved object was a must-keep, and its stature tempers the newer acquisitions.
Of course, the adjacent library is not to be outdone. A modern mahogany coffee table parks beside a custom sofa—another Hirsch design—covered in Milano wool and strewn with flowery pillows. The bookcase shelves are lined with indigo-blue embossed leather. In such a spectacular home, this bit of finesse doesn’t seem over the top in the least. Instead, the luscious leather helps showcase the architecture and calls attention to favorite books and mementoes.
Kaali-Nagy’s kitchen design is exactly what the owners wanted. A bounty of snowy cabinets soar all the way to the ceiling—“just as in old-time kitchens,” the architect says. With a pristine white tile backsplash, the space practically hollers cleanliness no matter how many weekend cooks crowd about.
The butcher-block table Hirsch designed for the sunny breakfast room welcomes family and friends without worry, too. Set atop a curvaceous painted base and teamed with upholstered chairs, the sturdy table looks as refined as a teacup. Its partner is a large Holly Hunt lantern that’s also as pretty as it is functional. At the windows, John Rosselli’s crisp green-and-white fabric is a morning tonic that plays off the outdoor views.
Traffic at this address flows as readily as the seasons, which Kaali-Nagy facilitated by equipping the house with two staircases. “I always design my homes envisioning how people will live in them,” the architect says. The less-formal back staircase climbs to a second-floor landing that has become an inviting resting place. The oversize light-reflecting mirror and sweet settee came along with the clients from their previous home.
So did the silk carpet, antique Waterford chandelier and bed in the owners’ private domain, where a gauzy canopy drifting over the bed makes a pleasing contrast to tailored wool-flannel drapes. “I sort of imagined this space as being a chic hotel,” Hirsch says. With an adjoining sitting room and luxe bath, the master suite certainly rates five stars, merging a sense of the past with a decidedly of-today ambience.
The guest room follows a similar formula. Art and refurbished furniture from the clients’ previous abode coexist with a new Niermann Weeks lantern, while Cowtan & Tout’s Uppermarsh fabric—a medley of foliage and flowers—dresses the windows.
If the owners ever harbored doubts about having to edit, they’ve evaporated. Kaali-Nagy and Hirsch have created a stunning world that preserves their clients’ fondest memories. More than a move, it’s been an evolution, as if everything the owners really treasured was just waiting for this moment—this house—to shine.