Function Follows Form for a Big Family
Photographs by Hulya Kolabas
There are always treasures in an old house,” explains Jen Harding, referring to an antique door she and her husband Pete found in the attic when their family moved into their home three years ago. The piece of scrap wood was made into a table for the kids’ homework room, and anyone who works on the house gets to carve his or her name into the slab. This homemade guestbook is just one of many stories that exist in the Harding home, a stately Greenfield Hill colonial that dates back to 1750.
Prior to settling here, the high-spirited family of seven was a nomadic tribe of sorts, living in six different homes between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Connecticut since 2005. “We always had one foot in Fairfield because Pete grew up here,” says Harding. The first morning of house hunting, the entire Harding clan walked into their current home and were sold. “It was love at first sight,” remembers Harding. She broke every rule in the house-hunting book and blurted out in front of the realtor, “OK, kids, this is it—we’re done!” Given the family’s transient history, they were in agreement over one thing: this was the place where they would set down some roots, and the interiors would reflect that. “This was a new chapter. The decorating would be about a feeling of permanence and making sure the kids felt like this was home,” says Harding.
The house had everything: a historic past, over two acres of land, charming bones, a location close to town, and a neighborhood where the kids could walk across the street to their church youth group. But there was work to be done.
Luckily, the former homeowners had doubled the square footage and added modern conveniences such as an updated kitchen and new bathrooms. “We are the seventh family to live here, and the previous people made it a comfortable family home,” explains Harding. Before moving in, she and Pete interviewed local designers, but in the end they decided on a Southern duo based in Charlotte who are their close friends. Tara Julian and Tracy Garrett of JST Interior Design were the Harding’s neighbors in North Carolina and decorated all three of their homes there.
Over the next several months, Julian and Garrett changed every paint color and light fixture in the house. “The space was very traditional and dark with eight-foot ceilings, which was a challenge,” explains Julian. “We painted many walls neutral and brought color up to the ceilings to lift the eye and showcase the crown and ceiling detail,” she says.
The JST team eschewed a traditional layout and made changes to adjust for a larger family. The dining room wasn’t large enough, so it became a game room, and the former billiard room in the center of the home became the dining room. Other work included redoing the mudroom, furnishing Pete’s man cave, carving out a homework room just off the kitchen, and renovating the basement to house a movie theater, gym, laundry room, guest bedroom, and bathroom.
“First and foremost, we wanted to design a house that was not only sophisticated but also a place where the family could be comfortable and live as stress-free as possible with five active children,” says Julian. Fabrics, accessories, and furniture were chosen with informal elegance in mind. “While Jen loves traditional and the rough-hewn pieces that reflect character, Pete would prefer a more classic modern style, so we gave them a refined, rustic, elegant home that tells a story about the family,” says Julian.
One of Harding’s favorite memories is the first time her children saw their bedrooms. The family had sold much of their furniture in the move, so the kids had given their parents wish lists for their rooms. The five of them (a set of triplets now 13, a 17-year-old, and an 11-year-old) went to camp for a month and hadn’t seen the finished product. “Tracy, Tara, Pete, and I worked around the clock to get everything done in time for their arrival,” says Harding. Even though it was July, it was like Christmas for the Harding kids. “The rooms were designed to their specifications, and it was like they each had gotten their own puppy. Everyone was screaming with joy,” says Harding.
The latest achievement of the Harding and JST collaboration is the barn—a tangible example of the family’s desire to have an oasis where they can all have fun together. Building the two-story, 1,800-square-foot space was Pete’s idea. “It’s child-proofed but adult-friendly too,” Harding notes. “And a great place to escape the cold and stay active in the winter.”
The kids use the barn for hanging out with friends. Favorite sporting event and concert tickets dot the wall, along with medals from the kids’ and parents’ road races. Other features include a poured-concrete bar for the adults, a soccer goal, a climbing rope, pull-up bar, swings, and two Pop-A-Shot basketball hoops.
This happy place got off to a great start. Harding recounts a tale of receiving a letter from the previous owner. The woman welcomed the Hardings, explaining how special the home was and that she hoped they’d make wonderful memories there. “I was so touched,” says Harding. “One happy family sold it to another, and we live in gratitude every day.”