A Storybook Stone Cottage

July 18, 2017

Happily ever after begins here, where a clever redo makes a tiny stone house in a picturesque, woodsy Darien neighborhood feel both snug and spirited.

Text by Megan Fulweiler    Photography by Michael Partenio    Produced by Stacy Kunstel

If a child immersed in fairytales were to close her eyes and imagine a cottage, it might look just like the one interior designer Patricia Lapierre’s client stumbled upon. Time and nature had only enhanced its sleeping-beauty appeal.

Far more than just a storybook home, however, the compelling cottage was the creation of American architect Frazier Forman Peters. Found up and down the coast from Maine to Virginia, Peters’s buildings have all the features today’s homeowners value: their thick stone walls make them energy-efficient, their floorplans are well-organized, and each—no matter the location—relates to its surroundings. Some people admire the stunning Connecticut abode Peters constructed for his own family. But it’s his romantic, compact dwellings, like this one, that so often stir hearts.

Tucked away in the picturesque Tokeneke area of Darien, the 1930 cottage was just right for someone looking to downsize. No structural remodeling was necessary. Admittedly, the landscape needed taming, and the place was overdue for a cosmetic lift, but having completed numerous projects with Lapierre, the client was confident the designer could turn things around. Lapierre was given full rein to select everything, from the palette right down to everyday staples like silverware, towels, and even a mailbox. “It was a dream project,” she explains.

The two-bedroom cottage couldn’t have hoped for a more sensitive hand to guide its overhaul. The fashionable French-born and well-traveled designer is known not only for her attention to scale and proportion, but also her ability to mix high and low. Blending antiques with contemporary pieces, Lapierre achieves a chicness that never grows old. A subtle, eclectic flair that can only be labeled Parisian charm underlies her interiors.

In this home, Lapierre also had a puzzle to solve. In addition to having to recycle furnishings from her client’s previous home, she had to make the 1,069-square-foot cottage functional. “I had to squeeze a dining room and office into the living room. The challenge was to make it all work,” she says.

Clearly, the designer was successful. Looking around the immensely comfortable living room, who’d change a thing? An inviting blend of upholstered seating by Ralph Lauren and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams gathers around the hearth. A large desk sits by the window on one side of the room, taking advantage of the natural light. At the room’s opposite end, a skirted table stands ready for intimate dining. Pillows, books, and plants add layers of richness. It’s the sort of calming setting that conjures images of tinkling ice in heirloom tumblers and good conversation unfolding by the hour.

To ensure the cottage didn’t veer so far toward cozy that it became gloomy, Lapierre had the wood floors refinished with a warm, glossy stain. She brightened the rooms, save for the wood-paneled living room, with fresh paint in pale hues. And in that paneled space, she cleverly added a dose of color by giving the backs of the shelves and the inside of the library cabinet a coat of paint in a fetching blue by Benjamin Moore. It’s a happy hue that—along with the shells and coral on display—reminds visitors the shore is only mere minutes away. A blue and red Hermes scarf (one of the designer’s signature touches) is mounted above an heirloom chest flanking French doors that lead to the sunroom.

The sunroom, a hub of warm-weather activity, is as festive as the living room is refined. Red-and-white-striped curtains and customized bistro chairs add an instant spark. Continuing her red and blue theme, Lapierre topped heirloom lamps with dreamy turquoise silk shades and covered the round dining table with an indigo-blue French plastic tablecloth. “It’s got this wonderful bamboo detail and it’s practical,” she says. At night, an oversize bamboo light fixture casts a glow as alluring as a summer moon.

Venture out to the graveled courtyard and the mood of joie de vivre follows. Jaunty striped umbrellas and navy-blue cushioned chairs lend every al fresco meal a Mediterranean ambience. And judging by the number of copper pots and pans in the kitchen, good food—whether enjoyed in or out—is a serious matter on these premises. True, the kitchen is small. But granite counters and a looks-like-brick tiled backsplash infuse the petite space with personality. Lapierre repainted the cabinets in Benjamin Moore’s Decorator White, updated the hardware, and added twin Piedmont-style lanterns from Ballard Designs in a burgundy-red shade that echoes the home’s trim. “They make a statement,” she explains. “Outside at night, you can see the lights through the window.”

Always conscious of how things will be viewed from different perspectives, Lapierre extended the predominantly blue palette to the master bedroom. If the door is left open and guests catch a glimpse from the living room, nothing is jarring. There’s a framed blue-patterned Hermes scarf adding graphic interest and a dainty antique table serving as a nightstand. The upholstered Ralph Lauren bed is sumptuous, the bedding crisp and tailored.

Right next door, the second bedroom exudes a similar at-ease attitude. Straightforward snowy curtains frame the windows, while the twin beds sport playful candy-stripe coverlets from Serena & Lily.

A shared bath might be a trial, but since Lapierre swept through, no one has complained. She had the tile reglazed and—as a foil to the room’s beautiful antique tub—cleverly incorporated a modern light from Restoration Hardware. A handcrafted Jonathan Adler zebra rug injects an unexpected note of fun.

As carefree and summery as the rooms are now, they’ll do a reverse come fall. “I believe in seasonal decorating,” Lapierre says. Rugs, pillows, accessories—the designer deftly moves the cottage into the cold months with style. A blue bar tray, for instance, will be replaced with a plaid version that better complements a blazing fire and, possibly, a Christmas tree. This annual switch continually reinvigorates the cottage and, no doubt, her client, too. It’s all part of Lapierre’s irresistible magic which, in the end, couldn’t have found a better place to work its spell.
Interior design: Patricia Lapierre, New York Architect Designers
Landscape design: Barry Bonin, Twombly Nursery

This article appeared in the summer 2017 issue of New England Home Connecticut with the headline: Once Upon a Time.

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