Opposites Enhance

January 28, 2016

A husband’s penchant for color and a wife’s preference for neutrals come together to form a happy union.

Text by Stacy Kunstel    Photography by John Gould Bessler    Produced by Stacy Kunstel

A husband’s penchant for color and a wife’s preference for neutrals come together to form a happy union.

Perhaps her time working at the fashion magazine Elle is what taught interior designer Michelle Morgan Harrison that you can tell a lot about people by observing what they choose to wear.

Her instincts told her that the recently married Greenwich couple she was meeting with was a case of opposites attracting. The wife, witty yet reserved, wore a camel-colored sweater over her white blouse, with only a trace of makeup and little jewelry. Her husband was more gregarious in every way, in his navy-and-white-striped shirt and a royal-purple pocket square peeking out of his navy blazer.

But as the couple talked about the house they were building with E. Ronald Gushue of ERG Architect on the water around the cove from a yacht club, Morgan Harrison began to realize the two were actually more alike than a cursory glance would suggest. The husband is actually fairly traditional in his furniture tastes, but he longed for bursts of color in rich hues. The wife appreciated the color statements, but wanted them softened. Shots of intense purple were fine, just take it down to lavender in places or blend it with a warm taupe for a more transitional feel.

Sited on a hillside above an inlet edged with reeds and beach grass, the house has windows across the back, giving most rooms a water view. The three-story-tall foyer offers a glimpse of Long Island Sound through an archway that leads to the rear of the house, where the family room, breakfast area, and kitchen have giant windows overlooking the water.

Morgan Harrison worked architectural details into the first floor, starting with the finish millwork, adding full-height paneling to the foyer and living room and designing the arches between the foyer and connecting spaces. Trim details on the living-room and dining-room ceilings add interest to the large spaces, and wherever she could, Morgan Harrison added built-ins to hide storage, keeping the spacious feeling of the rooms.

In the kitchen, the design plays up the large windows over the main sink, with their unending scenery of water. “The view from the triple window at the sink is, in my opinion, the best in the house,” Morgan Harrison says. “We designed a stunning hood that echoes the curves and arches of the foyer with a large slab of marble for the backsplash.”

To avoid a center seam in the large island, Morgan Harrison designed the countertop to be a massive square with four mitered corner borders. “With the pattern of the Calcutta stone it is a marvelous detail,” she says.

When it came to decorating, the wife had two specific items she wanted her designer to use, but, says Morgan Harrison, “the rest was up to me.”

One of the items, a bold oil painting bursting with sienna-hued buildings and boats bobbing along on water made purple and pink in the late-afternoon light, was a purchase from the couple’s honeymoon in Italy. The second was a taupe-and-white mosaic tile that the wife wanted in one of the bathrooms.

The painting hangs in the living room above the fireplace between crystal sconces. Walls of gray and white serve as a soft backdrop for the painting and for a mix of traditional and transitional pieces. The husband’s desire for color shows up in a pair of purple velvet ottomans, while the more neutral rug, sofa, and silver-backed armchairs speak more to the wife’s style. A white marble sculpture found through the New Canaan gallery of Heather Gaudio, who helped with a number of art pieces in the house, sits squarely in the window facing the driveway.

On the other side of the foyer, bold color takes over in the dining room, with dark-blue grasscloth, blue-velvet chairs, and a pair of paintings that erupt with purples and blues. Simple white sheers with a horizontal stripe of silver hang from ceiling to floor, and a rich blue rug in a lighter shade covers the floor. Gaudio helped the couple select the paintings, by Jasmina Danowski, Morgan Harrison explains. “They are feminine, yet bold and fluid—a perfect blend of the couple’s styles,” she says.

The family room—with its taupe walls, tan sectional sofa, and coffee table topped with caramel-hued leather—stands in soothing counterpoint to the bold dining room. Cafe au lait colors wash the entire room, save for a pair of paintings in lavenders on either side of the archway that leads to the living room.

It’s one of the wife’s favorite spaces, not only because of the color, but because the doors and windows on the back of the house are always open to the terrace in warmer months, creating visual layers of house, yard, and water. “The back of the house is really indoor-outdoor,” says Morgan Harrison. “The colors of the outdoor spaces tie into the family room palette, bringing the outdoors in and vice versa. Besides, who would argue with that view? I would want to spend all my time outside, too.”

Upstairs, the master suite shares that view. Creamy silk drapes hang in the bedroom against walls that have just a whisper of lavender. Save for a headboard of dark velvet, everything is the color of heavy cream. In the master bath, Morgan Harrison found a place for the wife’s favorite tile, using it as a mosaic covering for the floor. Mirrors accent the panels of the light-gray cabinets.

The fluctuations between bold and soft flow easily through the rooms, but it’s also easy to pick out which rooms are more like which spouse. The husband’s tastes predominate in the living and dining rooms, while the family room and master suite more closely mirror the wife’s tastes. Her lavenders play into his purples, her mochas ground his deep blues, and the simplicity of gray and white underlies it all. The styles meld together in such a way that each room complements the others. Which, come to think of it, sounds an awful lot like a good marriage. •

Architecture: E. Ronald Gushue, ERG Architect
Interior design: Michelle Morgan Harrison, Morgan Harrison Home

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