Romance of the Stone

November 18, 2012

Text by Paula M. Bodah    Photography by Robert Benson

If a glimpse of this stately Tudor-style house puts you in mind of Newport’s Gilded Age, the couple who live here wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, that’s just what they were aiming for. Not the unabashedly opulent “cottages” like Marble House or the Breakers, mind you, but rather the quietly grand homes built by yesteryear’s more modest captains of industry.

Rising from its perch on a mountaintop overlooking the Farmington Valley, the three-story stone-and-brick house with its turret, dual chimneys and multiple rooflines would look right at home on turn-of-the-twentieth-century Bellevue Avenue. Inside, though, it becomes clear this gracious home was designed for modern-day living. The high-ceilinged rooms flow one into the other for the open feeling favored by today’s families. There’s not a dark, drafty corner to be found; sunlight spills through every window, and each room offers a view to the valley or the home’s own beautifully landscaped seven acres.

All this airy brightness comes from the design devised by Farmington architect Jack Kemper and interior designer Anthony Como of Luxe Interiors in New Rochelle, New York. Along with the homeowners, the two worked as a team from the very beginning of the project. “We spent about six months designing the house,” Como recalls. “We had meetings every single week.”

The first challenge lay in granting the clients’ wishes for a home with all the grandeur and romance—but none of the gloomy re­ality—of Newport’s English-inspired stone manor houses that so charmed them. “I wanted to bring the outside in,” the wife says. “I wanted lots of light and cross ventilation.”

The solution took the form of a long, slender design that lines the rooms up along the property’s north-south axis and lets light and air flow east to west through them. “The plan is laid out so every room has a view,” Kemper notes. In front, the tall turret and its bank of high windows, a copper-roofed bay window and a series of slim dormers in the roof pull in the eastern light. In back, three bay windows reach out to welcome the afternoon light and show off vistas of the valley.

The floor plan is contemporary in its openness, yes, but rooms are divided by classic Old World columns and arches and paneled in millwork with a jaw-dropping level of detail.

The foyer is enough to induce a swoon, soaring as it does up to the roof of the turret. “The entry is about fifty feet tall,” Kemper says. “It’s so cool.” The front doors—antiques from Italy that Como and the wife found in an antiques store—open onto a floor of jet-black granite and honed white limestone. The rounded walls are clad in millwork painted a soft white, and a Holly Hunt crystal chandelier gleams overhead. A staircase tucked off to the right gracefully wends its way around the foyer to the upper floors.

As tempting as it is to linger in the welcoming entry, the living room beckons straight ahead, with its wide bay window drawing the eye through the house and to the view of Farmington Valley. A rolled-arm sofa dressed in camel-colored velvet nestles into the bay, a perfect spot for a quiet tête-à-tête. The solid stone fireplace is the focal point for an additional seating area, where two armchairs, a second sofa and a settee covered in a romantic flocked fabric keep company under an antique crystal chandelier. Here again, the millwork, crafted by Clement Letourneau of Woodwork Specialties, in Bristol, is a quiet star. “Once we decided on the fireplace, I gave Clem a detailed sketch of the crown and he mimicked it for the moldings in the living and dining rooms,” Como explains.

Curtains of silk taffeta dress the windows. “I wanted them to feel like a ball gown,” the designer says of the rich deep-gray window treatments.

Two steps up, past a set of columns with ornate capitals, sits the dining room. A long table—an antique that was one of Como and the wife’s first purchases for the house—holds court under a ceiling covered in a metallic silver-leaf paper and sporting ornate medallions from which hang twin crystal chandeliers. Around the table, elaborately carved nineteenth-century English chairs alternate with upholstered chairs.

The kitchen is as hardworking as can be but, with its dark gray cabinetry and Calcutta gold marble, no less dramatic than the rest of the house. “When I came up with the idea of the dark cabinetry, my clients weren’t so sure,” Como recalls. “I mean, who wants a black kitchen? But they love it!”

Como chose a palette of mushrooms, camels and grays for most of the house, deviating only in the wife’s library, where furniture and accents in deep red set a rich tone against charcoal-gray paneling.

Upstairs in the master bedroom, the wife admits, she and her husband were stymied in trying to choose the best spot for the bed. “I wanted to be able to wake up and look at the view,” she says. “Anthony suggested we float the bed in the middle of the room.” She wasn’t convinced, until the designer showed her his plan: a freestanding millworked wall that ensconces the bed’s headboard and even provides built-in night tables and shelves for knickknacks.

Husband and wife agree the house is everything they dreamed of, and more. It has all the grandeur and romance of old Newport, while sacrificing none of the freshness and comfort every modern family looks for. What’s more, the whole team raves about the process. Architect and designer have formed something of a mutual admiration society, praising each other’s skill and imagination and agreeing that they thoroughly enjoyed working together. Of course, in the end, it’s the clients whose opinion matters most, and they’re as enthusiastic as the pros. As the wife says, “We watched our dreams come to fruition because of these wonderful people.
I am perfectly happy.” •

Architecture: Jack Kemper, Kemper Associates
Interior design: Anthony Como, Luxe Interiors
Landscape Design: Creative Exteriors
Builder: Marion Czaplicki, Marie Associates

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