Second Act

April 13, 2010

Text by Megan Fulweiler    Photography by Michael Partenio

What a show house it had been! Frescoes, faux finishes and fancy trims thrilled ticket holders. Every room hosted a different theme. But when the sell-out event ended and the doors closed, this lovely Greenwich house was left with a melange of colorful walls and glam finishes. Not in sync with the area—one renowned for gorgeous, traditional-style houses—and lacking continuity, she was a painted damsel in distress. The stunning architecture lay hidden behind all that decoration, and modern materials minimized, rather than enhanced, the thirty-some-year-old home’s charm. “It’s really a Cinderella story. Despite the good bones, too many ideas all at once gave the place a sort of craziness,” says Greenwich interior designer Cindy Rinfret.

A major player in the design world (Tommy Hilfiger has recruited her help on fourteen homes), Rinfret, in addition to heading an eponymous firm, has a book to her credit and a home and garden retail shop. But where to start on a vast four-story, five-bedroom house that sports almost as many sitting rooms as closets? “First, in my head, I picture how it will look when it’s all together. Then I work backwards. It’s like a treasure hunt, finding the right pieces,” says Rinfret. Her vision in this case was inspired by her close relationship with her clients. Their lifestyle and tastes were similar to her own, and she’d already successfully guided a number of their previous homes.

With three children and dogs, the owners had zero interest in taking the formal route. “What they wanted was a classic transitional look. Not grand, but comfortable, young and welcoming—a house where people like to hang out,” Rinfret explains.

Accordingly, the complete gut, launched by Rinfret along with architect Chad Nehring of Danbury and Old Greenwich builder Frank Usowski, was primarily focused on undoing past errors, bringing to light once and for all the home’s best features and making it über livable.

“In almost every room,” Nehring says, “there was something to be done.” All the moldings and trimwork were replaced, new walnut floors were laid throughout and a variety of coffered and paneled ceilings went up to lend a more elegant tenor. Baths were modernized and the kitchen reborn. Today’s hub—given more footage with the removal of a wall—is outfitted with handsome Christopher Peacock cabinets and a beefy island wearing a stainless steel top.

The owners also sought the sorts of upgrades that wouldn’t have been found in the most state-of-the-art homes of three decades ago. In addition to top-notch mechanicals throughout, the house now also boasts a wine cellar and an exercise room and gym complete with basketball and lacrosse courts. The generous terraces were rebuilt to provide for al fresco dining and entertaining. Even Mother Nature’s vagaries were tempered. “We installed radiant snow melt in the terraces and driveway. Winter is no problem,” Nehring says.

Of course, the interior Rinfret created suits her clients and the house from top to bottom. A harmonious palette of pale blues, grays and tans unites the rooms and complements a blend of materials. “It’s all about textures and layering,” the astute designer says. “The house needed to be one period, but period with an edge—a meeting of old and new.”

So deft was Rinfret’s handling of the decor, visitors get the distinct impression the family has been in residence for heaven knows how long.

Inviting rooms like this take time to evolve, right? In reality, the work was completed in eight months. A masterly feat, when you consider the scope of the project and the details involved. Nothing—certainly, not the light fixtures—was chosen haphazardly. “There must be, at least, fifty fixtures,” Rinfret admits. “Lighting is important to me. It’s a home’s jewelry.”

According to the designer, the many chandeliers, each more beguiling than the last, help “humanize” the lofty spaces. In the dining room, where walls are covered in misty blue De Gournay combed silk, two wood and crystal chandeliers hover above the table. “All crystal would have been an overload. I’m a silk shirt and blue jeans kind of person. I like mixing it up,” she says.

From the spacious foyer (where an original black-and-white stone floor peeks from under a wool-and-linen rug) to the expansive living room (as in dual mahogany chandeliers don’t crowd each other), past and present easily marry. Neither staid nor sterile, the cheery come-stay atmosphere is just the way it was meant to be.

At the wife’s request, the living room includes a stellar walnut bar and a fun pool table. A hand-made Tibetan carpet, soft upholstered furnishings and a revamped fireplace are welcoming elements, too. Only upon scrutiny are the clever contrasts evident. Antique nickel heads, for instance, finesse the wing chairs, while the hearth surround is cool steel.

Head to the sunroom, where several intimate groupings of settees and tables afford opportunities for conversation or cocktails, and you’ll find more visual play: sisal, needlepoint, glass and wood. A woven Ralph Lauren wallcovering and a repetition of patterns on carpets, curtains and pillows are the linking threads.

In the TV room, an outdoor lantern swings from the ceiling to evoke a relaxed conservatory-like mood. “I love garden elements inside,” Rinfret says. Creature comforts here like a fox fur throw nabbed at a Wyoming sale are casual and classy.

No surprise, the bedrooms have also been transformed. A teenage daughter’s summery blue-and-white sanctuary includes a sophisticated sitting area. A leather headboard in a son’s room pairs with suede-banded curtains and walls swathed in suiting cloth.

Stunning each and every one. Yet, none so luxe as the parent’s retreat. Taking a silverpoint etching as her cue, Rinfret has concocted an iridescent scheme of pearl-like colors. A crystal chandelier dangles over an heirloom loveseat and hand-painted cornices above the bed and windows interject memorable character.

The master bath, with its marble floor and mirrored vanity, unfolds with similar swankiness. “Baths should be wonderful. This is where you start the day,” Rinfret says. In truth, however, morning or night, she’s made certain every room in the house is life-enhancing.

Architecture: Chad Nehring
Interior design: Cindy Rinfret
Builder: Frank Usowski, Francis Development

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