Sleeping Beauty

April 5, 2013

Text by Regina Cole    Photography by Michael Partenio    Produced by Stacy Kunstel

A savvy designer awakens the inherent beauty in her old Colonial Revival house with a do-over that emphasizes its classic good looks.

Katherine Hodge confesses to a penchant for falling for the least lovely house on the street. “Why buy something halfway decent if you can find something really bad and fix it up exactly the way you want?” asks the interior designer. For ten years she has worked largely in renovation design, with layout, cabinetry, kitchens and bathrooms her specialties.

She points to her family’s own home in Fairfield to illustrate her weakness. “We were relocating from Washington, D.C., four years ago,” she explains. “The neighborhood appealed right away. Beautiful houses were built in the 1920s with big porches, just four blocks from the beach.”

This house, however, was a bit of an orphan. No one had paid it much attention for years, as was obvious by the porches hanging on by splinters and the seriously out-of-date bathrooms.

“But I love old houses,” Hodge says. “This Colonial Revival was built with graceful lines and good bones in 1928. And I love being near the beach.”

To turn her ugly duckling into a swan, Hodge designed an addition that added approximately 1,500 square feet to the original 3,500-square-foot plan. The new section includes the family room and master suite as well as an enlarged kitchen. Hodge expanded the kitchen by combining the original space with two other small rooms, then adding six feet to the back and connecting the new space to a rear terrace via French doors. “The kitchen is now the biggest room in the house,” she says.

While the back of the house was enlarged and given a more contemporary, open look, Hodge kept the original configuration of the front of the house, where living and dining rooms flank a center entry on the first floor and two bedrooms sit on the level above.

In the formal dining room, Hodge went with one of her design signatures: soothing, goes-with-anything white. Crisp, pale-painted woodwork, white lampshades and upholstery fabric shine against a soft, saturated background of warm brown. “I like rooms that show a dark-light contrast,” the designer says. “Against dark walls, pale tones start the room humming. Here, we set two light couches against a backdrop of a brown that has a little green in it. The result is a formal room with great presence.”

She eschews much pattern and color; a pair of light-green slipper chairs sounds the living room’s one color note. Simple Roman shades dress the windows. “I look at stuff all day long, and don’t like that many things,” she says. “I’m pretty structured, and I like traditional design with clean lines and a subtle palette. I use color judiciously. And I don’t like heavy window treatments. I like really simple and linear architectural design.”

Too much pattern, she believes, competes with any art that hangs on the walls. As devoted collectors, she and her husband, Ron, buy a painting a year. “We tend toward representational art,” she says. “And we are careful in placing pieces. Too many paintings can overwhelm a space and leave no breathing room. Every room should have just one hero.”

While a light palette distinguishes most of the rooms in the Hodges’ home, the small den, entered from the living room via a set of French doors, features deep tones of brown and blue. The intensely cozy room is a “winter room,” according to the designer. “We also have a summer room, which is the informal family room. It has neutral colors and lots of light, and opens to the out of doors.”

The big transformations happened at the back and the top of the house. What was once a dark attic is now a spacious, light-filled third-floor office for Hodge’s interior design business, Sage Design. This radical change was wrought with dormer and eave windows, white paint and white-upholstered furniture. “The dormers bring tons of light, which I need to look at plans,” says the designer. “I also need the white furniture to lay fabrics and other materials against. I love my office!”

Below, the spacious new family room features a neutral palette of soft beiges and browns. Hodge introduced a bit of pattern in the tan and chocolate-brown rug and scattered toss pillows in gold and a taupe-and-cream ikat fabric to lend interest to the pair of chocolate-brown sofas. The casual, comfortable room also gets a shot of glamour from a contemporary Venetian mirrored coffee table, a silver metal drum-shaped side table and a pair of Canton jars-turned-lamps behind the sofa. In a departure from the Roman shades that dress most of the windows in the house, Hodge hung simple beige panels that repeat the gentle wall color.

Hodge especially enjoys creating kitchens and bathrooms. Millwork of her design usually plays a starring role, as in the gracefully curved fronts of the two vanities in the new master bath. “It’s great when you’re shaving or washing: you can get really close,” she says.

The vanity legs are chamfered, adding another grace note. “I try to do open vanities,” Hodge says. “It ensures that they’re not heavy in the room.”

While the Hodges don’t make a point of collecting antiques, their dining room and kitchen tables are illuminated by old fixtures. In the kitchen, a handsome metal lantern descends above the table while the dining table is lit by a pair of antique bell-jar lamps that still hold candles. “My husband and I bought the lantern seventeen years ago,” the designer recalls. “In four houses, I have taken light fixtures with me because it’s hard to find good lighting.”

The lantern certainly suits the white kitchen, which Hodge says she favors above all the other rooms. With its round center table and farmhouse sink, it’s perfectly suited to the warm livability of this house.

“When our three kids are home from school, and we sit around on a Saturday night talking while they are cooking—well, it doesn’t get any better than that,” she says.

Interior design and architecture: Katherine Hodge, Sage Design

Builder: Ryan Burke, RSB Construction Management

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