In Living Color: A Connecticut Artist Makes Her Home Her Canvas
February 21, 2014
Text by Stacy Kunstel Photography by Michael Partenio Produced by Stacy Kunstel
Why not design a room around a painting? That’s just how artist Kerri Rosenthal keeps recreating her own vibrant home.
Any story about Kerri Rosenthal’s home must also be about her art. The first thing you see after you’ve crossed the threshold of her Weston home and given her woolly dog, Maggie, a pat is a painting that practically jumps off the wall. The piece bursts with more color than a ripe citrus salad, and hangs above a wash of white—white walls, white console, white pouf.
Twelve more canvases—acrylic paint thick and glossy in every color the sky could possibly be between dawn and twilight—cover the walls beyond. Paintings in the living room to the right and the dining room to the left all bear Rosenthal’s signature.
On a bright winter day Rosenthal is painting in the warmth of her attic studio. Her energy—and it takes a lot of energy to paint as she does—almost competes with her work, her beaming disposition as sunny as her favorite colors. She works the canvas with such confidence that you’d think she’d been a painter all her life, yet it was just seven years ago that she first picked up a brush.
The house came long before that. Rosenthal calls it her cookie-cutter house. New, nondescript, but nicely constructed, it sits on a little hill in a residential area of similar homes. Twelve years ago, she and her husband, David, weren’t house hunting, but found themselves walking through this one on a sunny afternoon. “I saw the double-height windows, and I loved the house immediately,” says Rosenthal. “The light hit me. I cried. I just got that feeling. I thought, ‘I have to live here. I have to live here now.’” They sold their home in New Jersey in two days and the pair became Connecticut residents.
Her move to becoming a painter had an equally dramatic start. She and David were out to dinner with friends in Greenwich when she saw a painting she just went crazy for. “The next day I went to an art store,” she says. “I bought paper and acrylics. I bought every book by every artist. I painted in the basement next to the boiler.”
Her first paintings were abstracts with lots of yellow; then came colorful landscapes. “Color was ingrained in me and came out in my painting,” she says. “Other painters like neutrals, but I just went for full color.”
Before long, her art was influencing her feelings about her home. “The house started out French country because that’s what everybody was doing,” she recalls. “I was painting more modern than the house actually was. As I evolved as a painter, my interiors evolved, too.”
Rosenthal began to change the look of the house room by room, using her friend Denise Davies, an interior designer living nearby, as a sounding board. The two found they were so in tune they began working together on projects, forming D2 Interieurs. “I realized I had a knack for interiors when a client came to my house to purchase art, fell in love with my home, and asked me to help her with hers,” Rosenthal says.
The great room, with its soaring ceilings and tall windows posed a particular challenge. Open to the breakfast area, kitchen, and entryway, and with a balcony above it, the room floats in the middle of the house. “There are no walls in the room, so I created visual walls with furniture and filled the vertical height with paintings,” she says. She grounded it with overscaled pieces; for example, a large sofa, an enormous veneered coffee table, and a pair of mod vintage table lamps that stand at least four feet high.
In cozy contrast is the den, with its low ceilings, warm beige walls, and electric orange chairs. “Sometimes I’ll paint a painting and design a room around it,” says Rosenthal. “That’s what happened in the den.”
The painting between the windows came first. “I didn’t know the art could even fit there. I don’t plan,” she explains. “I pulled different elements from around the house. I had two vintage orange chairs from Montage in Westport. Then, boom—there was my room.”
The living room began with the art above the fireplace. Rosenthal painted the walls dark blue, then, deciding that looked too historical, switched to black. “I just had to do it,” she says of the black, which continues into the backs of the bookshelves in the room. David found the massive coffee table. “When he makes a suggestion it’s always good,” Rosenthal says.
She often changes out the art as pieces sell, which leads to more rearranging, putting the house in an artistic state of flux. But is it decorated? “I don’t think my house feels decorated,” she says. “I don’t have window treatments in my living room or rugs everywhere. I can just switch some paintings around and do something else. No fancy fabrics. The house has an organic, real feel.”
The bones, for the most part, are neutral, with lots of white or dark walls and linen-covered furniture. “I go to Bungalow or Dovecote for pillows, switch out my books, and then I’ll just rework a room,” she says. “My house has been a labor of love for twelve years. I waited for all the pieces to come to me. That’s why it doesn’t feel decorated.”
The most designed spaces in the house are the bedrooms. Eleven-year-old Emma got full use of the D2 talents, requesting purple for her room. “She loves purple, so we just toned it down to a lavender,” Rosenthal says. “I designed the bed with Denise. The headboard fabric is a sheet I liked.”
The master bedroom is a serene wash of whites with touches of blue. There’s simply nothing colorful or jarring about it. The adjacent bath is dominated by a vintage textile design in black and white along with favorite pieces by Jonathan Adler. “I feel like each room is a painting,” says Rosenthal. “For clients of D2 we flow from room to room with color, but each of my own rooms is individual. My bedroom and bath are vanilla and beautiful and I need them to be that way.”
Creativity and self-expression are Rosenthal’s lifeblood. “Who knows where it will lead to next?” she says. “Who knows what tomorrow will bring?”
No doubt, there will be art involved. •