Seasonably Warm

January 12, 2015

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

Tailored, sophisticated, yet cozy and child-friendly, a New Canaan home makes a welcoming nest for a young family.

After yet another snowfall, you might expect that frigid temperatures and slippery roads would elicit pleas for palm trees and warm sand. That may be true for many Connecticut residents, but not for the family that lives in this 1920s New Canaan home. When the winter sun makes its horizontal pass through the sky, it pours through the windows and glints off walls covered in shimmering paper, matching the sparkle of the snow outside and infusing the house with warmth.

From the front door, down the hallway past a trio of colorful James Nares limited-edition prints, the living room beckons. If there’s a fire going, its smoke and embers will reflect the hues in the Claudia Mengel painting that hangs above the lavender-gray velvet sofa. A leather-covered daybed and a pair of tailored slipper chairs, both in a luscious shade of caramel, face off across the glass cocktail table in front of the sofa. Rounding out the seating arrangement is a duo of petite benches upholstered in lavender fabric. In the perfectly tailored space, a lavender-gray glazed Phillip ­Jeffries grasscloth gives the walls depth and shine.

The house was almost perfect when Kelli and ­Robert Cook decided to move from the city to Connecticut with their three children (they have since added a fourth to the brood).

Meticulously restored by New Canaan–based architect James Schettino and the previous owners, it needed no architectural changes. A generous mudroom had been added and the kitchen beautifully updated for family life. The only change neces sary was a new interior design to reflect the young, sophisticated new owners.

Kelli’s passion for interior design had led her to classes at Fairfield University, and she had started to work on the house, purchasing furniture and installing lighting. “I have a huge interest in interior design,” says Kelli, who has since launched the website Delve Décor, an online marketplace for buying and selling new or nearly new high-end furnishings. “But I just reached a point in the house where I got stuck,” she admits. Hoping to partner with someone who had more experience, Kelli interviewed interior designers. She clicked immediately with Michelle Morgan Harrison, who understood Kelli’s situation and was happy to help.

Morgan Harrison could see exactly in what direction the house should go, and thought the course correction would be an easy one. Overall, she thought, the spaces needed to be softer, earthier, and with fewer color changes from room to room. The living room saw the most dramatic makeover. A custom J.D. Staron carpet in a herringbone weave replaced a yellow-and-white geometric rug. Navy and white ikat-patterned chairs were reupholstered in the caramel-hued fabric, and a chaise was added to help with the furniture layout. “All of it revolves around the lavender-and-gray-toned sofa, which was my starting point,” says Morgan Harrison. “I created a living room that is now a blend of soft lavenders, mochas, taupes, silvers, and ivories.”

She added layers with organic-looking crystals and shapely vases and by incorporating Kelli and Robert’s books and family photos. The couple took the design one step further, hiring Heather Gaudio, whose New Canaan gallery works with homeowners and serious collectors to select and place fine art in their homes.

“The artwork can really transform a space,” says ­Gaudio. “It completely makes it a home and brings out the interest in each space. Art has this way of making you want to be in the room.”

All the living room’s colors are gathered in the Claudia Mengel oil on paper. From room to room and even in the hallways, bold art pulls out the subtle tones and richness of the interiors.

Kelli had already selected the iron-base dining table and upholstered chairs for the dining room. Morgan Harrison added natural hemp wallpaper with thick vertical silver stripes. Art again takes center stage, this time above the sideboard in an encaustic work by Andrea Bonfils, a Darien artist. The hues seem to bubble over the frame’s edge, filling the space with color and movement. “The dining room is very glam, but it’s neutral,” says Gaudio. “I think the art brings it to life.”

Throughout the house, Morgan Harrison worked her earthy-refined mix—natural textures, refined finishes, and a bit of glamorous shine. “The Cooks wanted all the rooms to stay family-friendly, and they wanted to feel casual enough that they could live in each room,” the designer says. “I wanted to make sure that the rooms not only had an earthy texture and pattern but also had warmth.”

The family room’s large stone fireplace has a come-hither sizzle, spreading a glow around the tailored space. In this room, with its large print rug in a palette of gray, ivory, and cornhusk, the drapery fabric was the initial inspiration. The Osborne & Little ombré fabric has variations from pale gray to slate blue to charcoal, bringing the whole room together.

Just across the hall, past a large-format photo of a Pacific Ocean pier, sits the kitchen, a white-on-white space with a sun-washed breakfast area. It’s no surprise that such a bright, open space is where the family is most likely to gather.

Morgan Harrison added the built-in banquette and a vinyl-covered cushion in a blue so pale it looks like snow in twilight. It surrounds a lacquered white table and white vinyl-covered chairs.

Such contemporary touches are a reminder that a young family from the city lives in the old house. “Michelle brought in a more up-to-date, modern feel,” says Kelli. “That’s what we were going for.”

Upstairs, the master bedroom is a sea of tranquility in what can sometimes be a slightly chaotic household. Chocolate brown walls recall the mocha tones from the living room, and creamy-colored bed linens and pillows echo the ivory tones from the family room. The upholstered headboard’s edge is defined with a tight nailhead trim, and to either side, a mirrored dresser serves as a nightstand.

Warm, cozy, and family-friendly never compromise style in this house. In such a spot, who cares if it’s a long winter? •

Interior design: Michelle Morgan Harrison

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