November 13, 2011
Text by Megan Fulweiler Photography by Björn Wallander
Our life paths meander in remarkably unforeseen ways. Certainly, no one—especially interior designer Claire Maestroni—needs reminding of that. Corsican-born Maestroni was raised and educated in Paris, the glorious City of Light. By the time she met her now ex-husband, this adventure-loving soul had already zoomed all about the globe as an international lawyer. Marriage entailed even more accelerated travel.
But eventually, fate played her hand and the couple came to rest in Westchester County, New York. Always high on energy and daring, Maestroni decided on a career switch. Many of her past journeys had involved new nests that needed feathering, bringing to life her unmistakable design talents. Without further ado, she enrolled in Parsons School of Design and began turning her creative skills into what would become a hugely successful business.
Her first baby step, a fetching retail and interior consulting shop nestled in Greenwich, Connecticut, blossomed so rapidly she undertook an expansion a mere two years later. Today’s showroom, Mis en Scene, which translates roughly to “setting the stage,” is an impressive 3,500 square feet of solutions for every design concern imaginable. The exuberant high-quality offerings hail from worldwide manufacturers; given the profound effect travel has had on her tastes, it’s unlikely Maestroni will ever fall prey to the mundane. Her aesthetic is characterized by a bold mix of contemporary and antique elements, a wealth of materials and a sophisticated palette. It’s highly individualized and—no surprise, as the French are renowned for their charm—incredibly beguiling.
Take the designer’s own home, also in Greenwich. As soon as Maestroni purchased the pretty 1940s house, she launched a massive overhaul to give it her stamp. From the exterior color scheme to the backyard patio with its stellar granite fire pit, nothing is as it was. Thoughtfully pried apart and injected with sparks of color, the revitalized house is all about light and personality.
It’s almost inexplicable—and totally enviable—how Maestroni maintains her home’s streamlined look while finding room for myriad decorative accessories, not to mention space for three children ages seventeen, ten and seven. “People sometimes don’t realize this is a kid-friendly house. My children have been raised as I was to take care of things. And nothing is too precious or fragile anyway,” says the designer.
Still, if we look to the beginning of the project for clues, this chic, uncluttered state began with a good dose of taking away. Rather than leave the downstairs rooms all higgledy-piggledy as they were, Maestroni demolished the walls and forged an open plan, allowing the spaces to breathe. “I was coming from a dark Tudor,” she explains. “I was in need of something modern and airy.”
Today the posh living room, dining room, kitchen and family room spill gently into one another. Should privacy be called for, sliding barn-style eighteenth-century doors do the job, serving as instant partitions between the living and dining areas and the kitchen and family room. A newly added mudroom accommodates the inevitable welter of coats and boots. And as for light, Maestroni designed a generous expanse of windows to parade along the entire first floor. The bountiful glass maximizes natural light in all the public areas and threads the house to the verdant landscape.
Known for her fearless contrasts, Maestroni partners the living room’s matte black walls with a snowy Venetian-plastered hearth. Plexiglass chairs team with a rustic dining table. “The see-through chairs allow you to look at the beautiful wood,” she says.
Reclaimed French oak planks cover the floors, unifying the living spaces. The aged wood’s hue also brings a note of warmth, as do plush fabrics and, where there is bound to be prolonged lingering (think family room), portly pillows and feel-good throws. Hide rugs—elegantly striped in the living room, an edgy circular pattern for the family room—are cozy rather than formal or fussy.
The existing garage was repurposed as the new kitchen, increasing the square footage and boosting the livability factor. Dazzling white Corian counters and gleaming Miele appliances—hidden within a system of custom-made floor-to-ceiling wooden doors—are in keeping with the slick scheme. But even here, objets d’art find their place. Most intriguing is a cache of decorative treasures perched on pristine shelves mounted with rustic branch-like brackets.
The kitchen’s adjacent cafe/bar is like the unexpected sweet that tops the perfect meal. The European-influenced space invites morning coffee or evening cocktails. All the necessary bells and whistles are in place, from fridges to a built-in espresso machine. Twin bistro tables evoke the mood of a sidewalk cafe, but there’s the added luxury of a sumptuous banquette and no nosy passersby to disrupt the intimacy.
Originally the house had a pair of staircases. Maestroni dismantled one and ingeniously revamped the other. Retrofitted with metal and sporting a leather-upholstered guardrail, the reborn stairs defy their ho-hum past as they make their way to the remodeled second and third floors. The latter has been expertly converted from an almost-forgotten attic into a two-bedroom suite for the boys. Up here, Maestroni took a more casual route, clapboarding the walls to evoke an indoor/outdoor mood.
Her knack for choosing materials is evident again in the master suite. Gray flannel reveals its underlying sensuousness, wrapping her bedroom walls in a luxurious cocoon. Purple—the color of kings—is the designer’s favorite. Married with gray, shots of the hue enliven the space without disturbing its tranquility. At the bed’s head hangs a painting by Jean-Marc Louis. “I love interior design, yet art has always been my main passion,” the many-faceted Maestroni says. “Louis’s work is simple and unique.”
Pass through her walk-in closet and you’re in the master bath. Luminous Corian-covered walls conjure the cleanliness of a sun-bleached beach, while a sculptural tub moves center stage to claim the window. If it weren’t for its anchoring dark floor, the light-filled space could almost float. Like all the other rooms in Maestroni’s house, it’s a study in elegance, clearly the work of a designer with an unwavering eye.
Interior design: Claire Maestroni, Mis en Scene
Architecture: Rudy Ridberg
Builder: Ernie Bello