October 14, 2014
A South Kent home reaps the benefits of its owners’ years of seeking out unique, wonderful pieces for their clients.
Text by Megan Fulweiler Photography by John Gould Bessler Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent
Joanna and Bill Seitz share a long history in the design world. She is a former magazine editor, stylist, and public-relations professional for the fashion industry, while he had a successful career as an architectural photographer. For the past twenty-eight years the two have been the proprietors of J. Seitz & Company, a landmark destination for good design. The couple’s equally talented daughter, Amanda, is also a vital part of the team. As fresh today as when it launched, the New Preston shop (which also offers interior design services as well as fashion and jewelry) bears witness to the couple’s approach to life—that nature is to be celebrated, friends and family treasured, and authenticity revered.
No surprise, then, that their South Kent home is a personality-filled treasure trove. Perched on twenty-five bucolic acres teeming with wildlife (a bear in the yard is not unheard of), the stone and shingle house designed by New Haven architect Peter Kurt Woerner nods to the 1950s buildings that stood here when the place was a children’s camp. Too worn to salvage, all but one of the old structures had to go. The owners admired the symmetry of the lone rescued building and enlisted Woerner to bring a similar flavor to their dream home.
Woerner, who has designed scores of drop-dead gorgeous houses from Italy to Vermont, is well schooled in a variety of architectural forms and adept at matchmaking when it comes to marrying a house with its surroundings. What may set him most apart, however, is his hands-on knowledge of construction. He refers to himself as an architect and a builder with an appreciation for natural materials—something his clients clearly share. “Joanna and Bill’s design sensibilities are similar to mine. This project was really a joint effort,” Woerner insists.
The drive into the property rises over a small hill. The house is tucked to the right just below but still high above the spectacular lake. A stone path leads to the intimate front entry, which in turn opens to a two-story foyer affording the owners, as Woerner points out, “a pleasing procession of spaces.”
To guarantee water views and easy access to the screened porch for both the public and private spaces, Woerner located the living room, kitchen, dining room, and master suite along the back of the house where—icing on the cake—the lush perennial bed can also be spied. “It’s a burst of color,” says landscape designer Bruce Bennett of Kent Greenhouse. “Many flowers are spring-blooming, most have berries, and all have fantastic fall color.”
Two guest rooms on the home’s second level also have screened porches for flower- and water-gazing, thanks to the owners’ input and to Woerner’s channeling of fond childhood memories during the design process. “I recalled this great cabin with a porch and a swing,” he says, thinking back to summers spent at this very lake. “I’d sit and watch the weather move across the water.”
The Seitzes’ captivating interiors, where feathers, shells, and animal horns are treated as works of art, will also be memorable to those lucky enough to cross the threshold. Given places of importance, these finds underscore the owners’ affinity for nature. A neutral background provides their eclectic mix—Indian, Brazilian, and American furniture, one-of-a-kind discoveries brought back from their global travels, and products culled from their shop—an ideal backdrop. “A neutral tone is one of our trademarks,” Joanna says. “For me, it equals serenity and quiet, which is what we need when we come home.”
Happily, there is no danger of the owner’s interpretation of “quiet” veering anywhere close to boring. There is heady design wizardry at work here. A partial inventory of the porch reveals a zebra rug, a stone Buddha, and a Venetian-glass pendant. In the foyer, hand-painted butterflies mill about behind the orchids. And while tailored sofas from Cisco lend the living room a pleasing traditional note, there’s also a hefty antique coffee table of teak and a gleaming silver skull to interject the unexpected punch.
The Seitzes have unleashed their talents to similarly enliven every corner, including the sunny kitchen. Adhering to her preference for mixing styles and eras, Joanna has teamed the antique Brazilian Peroba-wood table with cool midcentury mesh seats. And in the more formal dining room, classic chairs gather around a zinc-topped table. Part of the formula for conjuring a current look—the kind the couple’s shop is renowned for—is to introduce industrial elements, Joanna explains. “Keep the bones of your rooms intact but add something, say, metal and suddenly it’s completely different.”
The master suite’s decor is another lesson in marrying disparate objects. A regiment of antlers parades above the mahogany bed, while a Lucite Mr. Brown double-ring lamp casts a beam for nighttime reading. The light shares the Giacometti-like nightstand with another skull, this time sun-bleached. There’s a Mexican serape draped over the John Derian settee and a Lucite-legged stool wearing a Tibetan wool seat.
And, really, what else but a hand-carved Italian angel could so perfectly preside over the adjoining bath? “We found the artist in Venice. Seeking out lovely handmade objects is our great joy,” says Joanna. “We don’t consider it making discoveries; that sounds pretentious. The artists have been there all the time; we just needed to find them.”
Manhattan interior designer Abbey Darer is responsible for the clever catch-a-leafy-view floor plan for the bath, which centers the tub at a window flanked by his and her sinks.
Occasionally, Joanna and Bill find time to visit their second home, in the Santa Fe, New Mexico, desert. Still, it’s this New England nest that lets them enjoy the changing seasons. Its many layers ground them, and every item, however small, has its story. In sync with the community they’ve served so well and in love with their peaceful lakeside setting, they make sure they’re never gone for long. •