A Cheerful Midcentury Modern Home in Westport Eschews Colonial Style for Something Different
April 15, 2019
Text by Debra Judge Silber Photography by Tria Giovan Produced by Stacy Kunstel
Midcentury modern has become the hula hoop of the current decade.
Look around, and you see everybody doing it. But few embrace the style with the dedication of Denise Davies. The founder and CEO of D2 Interieurs has spent decades collecting art, artifacts, and furniture from the days of Sputnik and Saarinen, Mad Men, and Mies Van der Rohe.
So when New York–based artist Geoffrey Stein and his wife, attorney Patricia Poglinco, went looking for a designer to restore the midcentury house they bought in Westport, their choice was obvious. They were impressed not only with Davies’s knowledge and use of vintage pieces, but also her knack for contemporizing the style. “Denise was loyal to the aesthetic but not a slave to the period,” Stein says.
In projects like this one, Davies doesn’t stop at referencing the period in the chairs, coffee tables, and lamps she chooses. By taking on the task of landscape and architectural design as well, she envelopes all those selections in a virtual time capsule where past and present coexist. Her work honors the home’s origins, but doesn’t allow its design to become mired there.
The single-level house bears familiar hallmarks of midcentury architecture. A thick fieldstone wall bisects the house, emerging out the back wall. Random slate floors in the entryway course through the center hall and into several rooms. In the slightly sunken living room, an indoor planting bed sprouts tropical foliage in the light of floor-to-ceiling windows. Although it mimics the style of well-known architects working in Fairfield County at the time, the home was designed and built in the early 1950s as a labor of love—and thrift—by a man named William S. Hinn and his wife. In 1951, House Beautiful magazine published Hinn’s account of his project, in an article titled “How to Get More House for Your Money.” Ten years later, the same magazine featured a photo of the living room on its cover, this time with a colonial-style wing chair backed against the stone wall.
The current owners discovered the property in 2015. It was exactly the type of house they were seeking as a Connecticut retreat—a style Stein defined simply as “not Colonial.” They were smitten with the home’s retro design, especially the way the intersecting stone wall anchored the house to the landscape. “We loved the way it flowed,” Stein says, adding that the large windows and skylights appealed as well. “The light was just terrific,” he says. “To me, it was the classic midcentury modern.”
The structure was in good condition but would need a thorough overhaul, Davies recalls. “They wanted it to have all the character and the feel of the original, but they wanted it to be modern and comfortable,” she says.
Calling in trusted collaborator Marek Bil of Old World Construction, Davies embarked on a full-scale renovation. The fieldstone walls were sandblasted and repointed, the HVAC and electrical systems were updated, and a new bathroom was installed. A kitchen renovation replaced the European cabinetry with a custom design by Davies that makes more efficient use of the space while opening it up to the dining room.
Outside, Davies updated the pool area, refreshed the vertical siding, installed new windows, and replaced all the doors, except for the main entrance. Charmed by the front entry’s perfectly round brass doorknob, she had it replated and then accentuated it by painting the doorframe around it a vermillion hue. “It felt amazing,” the designer says, recalling each step taken to reanimate the home’s period details. “This is an era of design that I study, that I love, and I knew exactly what had to be done.”
The designer also drew on her experience to maximize comfort in the small rooms so common to vintage houses. In the master bedroom, she designed built-in shelving and nightstands that hang from the walls, visually opening up floor space. In the family room, she boosted the midcentury vibe with a wall of 1950s-style walnut shelves that are just twelve inches deep. The designer called in carpenter Michael Yedowitz to craft the cabinetry, which accommodates a flat-screen TV along with books and vintage curiosities from Davies’s vast inventory. The retro lines of the shelves and their curated contents make it hard to discern what is old, and what is new—exactly as Davies would want it. “It feels like it has always been there, because the style winks to the period of the house,” she says.
With an authentic wink here and a custom nod there, the furniture references—but doesn’t replicate—the period as well. Davies describes her selection as “an eclectic midcentury mix,” an approach she favors over stuffing rooms with every vintage piece she can find. A neutral palette, which draws cues from the earthy tones of the stone wall and slate floors, also bridges the decades. “I wanted it to be of this century and feel fresh and new, so I was very careful on my choices of color,” she says. “I did not want it to feel like a decorator was there.”
A decorator, perhaps no—but an artist, yes. In many rooms, bold paintings and collages by Stein and other artists punch up the style more effectively than any decorator’s calculated dash of color. “He had this amazing, amazing artwork. That’s what really inspired the design of the house,” says Davies.
Stein’s own portfolio includes portraits of public personalities captured in collages that combine paint and printed matter. Their bold style casually hints at the work of midcentury artists, reinforcing the sense that inside this home, this year could be The New 1950. And that’s just as Davies envisioned it. “I try to keep it real as a designer,” she says, “and it doesn’t get any realer than this.”