A dated nineties manse gets a much-needed facelift
Born and raised on the Upper West Side, Rebecca Hickey is a New Yorker through and through. At least, she was until she gave birth to daughter Morgan and realized that living in a very small two-bedroom apartment with her husband, a baby, and a dog just wasn’t cutting it. The suburbs, often disdained by Manhattanites, suddenly seemed very appealing. And they had a lot to offer a growing family: more living space, close-knit communities, and an abundance of green.
Having grown up in Wethersfield, a picture-postcard Colonial town just outside of Hartford, Rebecca’s husband Kevin was no stranger to the lure of Connecticut. The couple scouted a handful of towns in Fairfield County, but Wilton’s low-key, family-friendly personality, coupled with a doable commute and a high-quality school system, ultimately won them over.
To get a better feel for the town, the Hickey family camped out for six months at the Avalon Apartments. During that time, Kevin and Rebecca previewed many properties, including a five-bedroom house on three flat acres on Liberty Street. Built in 1999 the house had good bones, but was also dated and needed cosmetic work. They were intrigued, but not smitten. “The previous owners had a different style than us,” says Kevin diplomatically. “It was very bold.”
“Lots of red and gold,” Rebecca adds. “We loved the flow and the light, but I got cold feet,” she admits. “We decided if it was meant to be, the house would still be available when we were ready to buy.” And thankfully, it was. Even though it wasn’t love-at-first-sight, the Liberty Street property made enough of a lasting impression to eventually win the Hickeys over.
The couple took the plunge, and committed both to Wilton and to a major overhaul of their new home. Both busy professionals, the Hickeys realized they needed an experienced designer to help bring their vision to life. They knew they wanted a big family, so renovating the kitchen and adjacent family room were a top priority.
A search through the online design site Houzz, led them to Jill Kalman of Westport-based Jill Kalman Interiors. “I really connected with her,” says Rebecca, “…and she was a great communicator. We had a strong vision of what we wanted and she understood that.”
“The layout and the size of the rooms were really good, so massive construction wasn’t needed,” says Kalman. “But the previous décor was very ‘Vegas’—lots of gilded decorative paint, dark colors, and dark wood. There was an enormous cascading crystal chandelier in the foyer. We’ve changed every fixture in the house.”
The couple also wanted all the floors redone and much of the cabinetry and millwork replaced. Kalman introduced them to Thomas Talak of TT Woodworking in Norwalk, and the team was in place.
The original kitchen had a massive island, which took up too much space. It also housed the stove, a feature that Rebecca was not comfortable with given the young ages of her children. The room was completely gutted allowing Kalman to improve the flow and made it more family-friendly.
Now the room has a timeless white cabinetry, marble countertops, and a farm sink. Adding upgraded appliances and high-end features like a pot-filler and fridge drawers makes the space even more functional. Now the island is a great place to sit on one of the chic French bar stools to enjoy a glass of wine, to have a casual meal, or for the kids to snack or do art projects.
The previous owners’ more over-the-top colors and features have been literally neutralized. Now, the look is classic and transitional. “Kevin and Rebecca love blues,” continues Jill, “so some rooms are blue gray, and neutrals are layered throughout the house.” The new palette incorporates pops of color such as chartreuse, orange, aqua, and navy so the design can be easily updated along the way by simply changing out home accessories.
At Jill’s suggestion the couple opted to buy artwork for the living room before any design choices were made. They selected a seascape by Westport-based artist Kerri Rosenthal, and the coastal palette of the painting ended up being the inspiration for all the fabrics and furniture in the room.
The seaside is evoked again in the master bedroom, which features three original watercolors by Connecticut artist Nell Waters Bernegger that hang over the bed. The room’s décor is neutral and complementary, and features a headboard upholstered in champagne Belgian linen, two custom swivel chairs covered in a graphic gray and white blossom print, and an end-of-bed bench upholstered in a dove gray velvet chenille.
The entire house was refreshed and refurbished in phases over a two-and-a-half-year period with pauses along the way to add new family members Madeline, and twins Logan and Connor, to keep big sister Morgan company.
As far as the Hickey family is concerned, they have found their forever home and community, and couldn’t be happier. “I like that it’s a simple, easy lifestyle,” says Kevin. “It’s not pretentious here and that was really important to us. I love the Village Market and tapping maple trees at Ambler Farm. We’re close to town and the NRVT trail, which we use all the time.”
Rebecca chimes in, “I love all the people that we’ve met. We’ve made a lot of friends in not a lot of time. There’s a good mix here and I don’t feel displaced as a New Yorker.”
Sounds like little old Wilton just took a healthy bite out of the Big Apple. Their loss, our gain.