Small Is Beautiful
Holiday Entertaining in the carriage house
Photographs by Wendy Carlson & John Kane // Styling by Chris Zaima & Ron Leal
When Deborah and Declan Murphy contemplated moving from Fairfield to Litchfield, they were sure of two things: they wanted a smaller house and more land. They got exactly the opposite. “The house is in the center of town,” Declan explains. “The house was built on a grand scale in 1829 and had only two previous owners. It needed a lot of work, but it had good bones. So we went for it.” The Murphys bought the house in 2000 and have spent much of the past few years renovating, redecorating, and making the house their own.
In addition to the main house, the property came with the original carriage house, essentially abandoned and in dire need of repair. Two dozen deer had taken up residence behind it. “We had so much to do in the main house,” says Deborah, “that we didn’t think about the carriage house. But we entertain a lot and the main house is quite formal. I envisioned using the space for smaller parties and dinners.”
Enter Kevin Mckinnon, owner of KRM Properties, contracting and construction services. “The space is about 750 square feet,” says McKinnon. “Deborah and Declan explained what they had in mind and I did my best to create what they wanted. The challenge was dealing with a centuries old structure and keeping it intact.”
The carriage house was originally used for horses, then cars and the floor was cracked painted concrete. The old floor was removed and replaced with new concrete stamped to look like wood planks.
There was already a bathroom but it stood six inches above the main floor, so it was reconfigured, fixtures were updated, and a shower installed. The Murphys also put in a new kitchen, replete with state-of-the-art appliances, similar to the kitchen in the main house. The original sliding barn doors were reinstalled to separate the work area from the entertainment side.
The project began in October of 2014 and by mid-January all the structural issues were resolved. “Kevin was the brains behind the project,” says Deborah. “We had a vision but he was the one who took that idea and made it a reality.”
The large center room is at once dining, sitting, and congregating area. The Large rectangular dining tables are made from antique chestnut boards that came from the attic of the main house. “There were some structural issues and we took the old boards and made these tables with removable legs that we stack against the wall when they are not in use,” says Deborah. “When they are all set up we can comfortably seat fourteen people for dinner. We hang the extra chairs from hooks on the wall.”
The proximity of the kitchen to the entertainment area makes serving easy and cleaning up even easier. For groups of eight or more, food is put out on the sideboard and guests help themselves. While the main house will have a huge Christmas tree and all the trimmings, Deborah keeps it simple and stylish in the carriage house.
For a casual lunch for eight, the three sets of doors are open allowing the outdoors to flow smoothly into the main room. This particular Sunday afternoon has brought perfect fall weather so that guests can take their drinks outside and enjoy the patio. “Originally there was no patio, so we installed one,” says Declan. “We decided we’d like a small fountain to anchor the area, and found one that we liked at United House Wrecking in Stamford.” It turned out to be too big for the area. Deborah’s solution? Make the patio bigger. And indeed it is now spacious enough to even set up tables and have dinner outside when the weather permits.
While the table is properly set, guests serve themselves. The meal consists of tomato soup, followed by fried chicken, macaroni & cheese, medleyof vegetables, and Bibb lettuce salad. For table décor, designers Chris Zaima and Ron Leal arranged gourds, a pumpkin, stalks of colored leaves, and canisters of walnuts to create an autumnal centerpiece. He has also incorporated a few nutcracker soldiers from Deborah’s collection of over 300.
An array of tempting desserts, including carrot cake, brownies, and assorted cookies is set out and supplies the perfect ending to the meal and a pleasant afternoon with friends. Perhaps there will be another lunch or dinner before cold weather sets in. Although the space is heated, the Murphys seldom use it in the winter.
“The carriage house has become a wonderful party space,” says Deborah. “But Declan and I sometimes come down here for lunch—just the two of us. It’s perfect.”