White on White
With books in between
In the 38 years Ron and I have been together, we have rented and owned various country houses, from a cabin in the woods of Stony Point, New York, to a gatehouse in Rhinebeck owned by the Wilderstein Historical Trust to a quaint farmhouse near Millbrook. Our dream had always been to find a house where the local village was within walking distance. Friends in Connecticut led us to Litchfield where we found the perfect house.
It is a classic 1950s Cape Cod with a living room, dining room, den, and kitchen on the first floor and three bedrooms upstairs. Sometime in the early 1960s an addition was designed consisting of a sunroom, master bedroom, and the smallest bathroom tiled in an unimaginable shade of powder blue. The best part is that, while the house is on one of the main streets, it sits on a flag lot that is not visible from the street. So, we have the convenience of being in town but little exposure to the noise or traffic. One of the appealing aspects of the house was that it needed no major renovations or repairs.
That is, except for the kitchen, which hadn’t been touched since its original construction. And so we were blessed with 1950s copper-toned appliances and coral pebble design linoleum. The stove sat at a right angle to the kitchen counter because the doorway to the backyard interrupted the flow on that side of the room. A breezeway ran from the garage to the back door. For some unknown reason there was a back door into the kitchen next to a back door into the den.
Architecturally the house was not extraordinary and there were too many doors: double doors on either side of the living room, double doors leading into the bedroom, a swinging door into the kitchen, doors at either end of the den. But when they were all open, there was an uninterrupted sight line from one end of the house to the other. Having most recently lived in a farmhouse with its cozy rooms, wide plank floors, and low ceilings, this was a welcome change. But all those doors had to go—and they did. Our dogs Cate and Maggie love it because they can chase each other straight through with no obstacles.
Fortunately Ron and I share the same tastes. We agreed that all the rooms should be painted the same color: white. Since the house is filled with light on sunny days, the color changes as the sun travels through each room. We are both big fans of interior designer Vicente Wolf and used his favorite shade—Benjamin Moore Super White. It has since been repainted throughout in Benjamin Moore’s Icicle, a slightly warmer tone. The floors, covered in beige carpet, turned out to be nondescript maple strips. We had bleached floors in our New York apartment and thought of doing the same here. In addition to seven acres of land that slope down to the Bantam River, the house came with the amazing Ed Weik, who had been the previous owner’s handyman and caretaker. Ed set about making the floors white. Every weekend we met and I would say, “They aren’t white enough yet.” After three or four of these conversations, I arrived one Friday and Ed proudly said: “So, are they white enough now?” He had taken plain old white deck paint and it was perfect. The floors have no varnish since that would have given them a yellow cast. More and more the house began to feel like a beach house, except there was no water and we were in the middle of a village.
Ed’s next major project for us was to create a library. Although the previous owners had a few bookshelves, they were not collectors. Having been in publishing for over thirty years, books are my obsession. I had accumulated 75 cartons of books. The only room suitable was the dining room. Ed suggested—and we agreed—that entire room should be floor to ceiling bookshelves. We found a round dining table and Biedermeier-style chairs that worked perfectly.
We love to entertain, and we tend to have dinner parties of six or eight. Ron is the master chef in our house, but I set the table and do the cleanup. The northwest corner has a great many writers, most of whom I’ve met because of my publishing connections or my radio show, where I have interviewed many of them. What better place to entertain a group of scribes than a dining room full of books? If we are having writers who have not met before, we present them with copies of each other’s books. And, during a lull in conversation, a guest invariably points to a book on one of the shelves and a whole new discussion begins.
When Ron left the fashion business and I left publishing, we sold our New York apartment and this house became our primary residence. The first thing we did was to create Ron’s dream kitchen. We extended the space by taking 12 feet off the backyard and three feet from the garage to build a 17-by-29-foot space with a six-by-seven-foot granite-topped island.
The other major renovation, which was done about five years ago, was the enlarging of the master bedroom and bath. Finally the powder-blue bathroom was history. Architect Kate Briggs Johnson designed a 25-by-30-foot space replete with two sizable dressing rooms. Contractor John Cappello and his team did the construction and created the photography racks in both the hallway and the bedroom.
Since then not much has changed. New throw pillows replace older ones; one pile of books is substituted for another. It is a house where the introduction of a new element throws everything off. Where to put the beautiful coral shell from Pergola? After moving every object in the sunroom and living room it has found a home, although I am not sure it’s a permanent one. Books continue to be an issue. After disposing of five thousand books, there are still a great many. “No more book shelves,” Ron warns. But restraint on my part is difficult.
Now when a friend has written a new book or I’ve purchased one, it means that another one has to go. But that is about the only thing that is difficult in this white-on-white house that has become the ideal home for the four of us.