Building a team for a historic home makeover
Chango and Co., a small Brooklyn design firm tasked with renovating this historic Litchfield home, put its team of project managers, interior architects, and designers to the test in completing this major makeover. The team’s mission: infuse a five-bedroom, 6,500-square-foot, turn-of-the-century Colonial with modern attitude and character. Within six months, Chango had transformed the house from an outdated, buttoned-up abode into a spacious weekend get-away perfectly suited for the homeowners—a family with three young children, a large black Labrador, and a cat.
Reality check: it was not exactly presto chango. As is the case with many old homes, designers are often required to adhere to rigid historic building codes during the process of updating and renovating. In 1959, the borough of Litchfield was designated a historic district by the Connecticut General Assembly. Many homes in and surrounding it are considered to be among New England’s finest surviving examples of typical late 18th-century structures. Yet, homes aren’t living monuments so it can be a balancing act to preserve a sense of the past during the process of modernizing and making changes that reflect personal style.
“Fortunately,” says creative director Susana Simonpietri, “we kept the existing exterior palette and style intact, so we did not run into any problems even when it came to adding an expansive deck to the back lawn.”
She notes that in old homes, they are always prepared to find twists and turns: lead pipes, asbestos, etc. In this home, the only stumbling block turned out to be some asbestos in the plumbing pipes, which required abatement. “The biggest challenge in the home was the kitchen, which had been renovated in the late ’60s to early ’70s and was composed of many segmented rooms,” says Simonpietri. The team set to work designing a more spacious, airy room, accomplished by taking the kitchen back to its bare bones.
“Once we decided to gut it and tear out all the dividing walls, a lot of structural steel had to be brought in to support the frame of the top floors of the home. Everything in the kitchen was designed and fabricated from scratch—everything including the kitchen sink,” Simonpietri says.
A massive solid white oak kitchen island, topped with a 12-foot seamless slab of honed Calacatta Caldia marble, became the room’s centerpiece, with marble-topped custom cabinetry housing a 1,058 pound, five-oven AGA range, and a custom farmhouse soapstone double sink.
Throughout the rest of the home, the designers worked to create interior rooms that celebrated the beauty of the surrounding nature,mindful of how the foliage changes through the seasons. “We typically use ‘decorator’s white’ as a base for most of the homes we work on. It has a slight blue-grey hue to it, making it appear whiter than a true white,” Simonpietri says.
Not all of the rooms shout bright white; there are deeper, rusty orange tones of pumpkin in the dining room and shades of storm cloud blue in the library featuring a cozy fireplace, distressed leather armchairs, and industrial lights. For fabrics and floor coverings, the designers stuck to natural materials and textures in light and natural colors.
The house now reads much lighter: all the walls were painted a brighter, fresher color, unnecessary dividers were taken out, and a lot of the heavy carpeting and window treatments were removed, allowing more of the outdoors to come inside. “Once we did this, it was much easier for light to move through the home and give the spaces a lighter feeling,” Simonpietri says. A set of French doors open up to an expansive backyard deck, continuing the connection with the woodsy surroundings.
It was equally important to make sure the home, and each room in it, was a reflection of the family that would be living here. So in preparation, the design team met with the entire family (including the three children) to get a better understanding of their preferences, needs, likes, and dislikes so the design team could deliver a fully furnished turn-key home with thoroughly outfitted bathrooms, bedrooms, living, and dining quarters.
For the teenager’s room, the designers wanted to include his personal tastes in music, which doesn’t exactly jive with traditional. “So we decided to go with a strong black light fixture and a streamlined sofa,” says Susanna. “This mix of traditional interior architecture and very modern pieces give the space an edginess that isn’t seen elsewhere in the home and makes for a cool retreat for a music-loving teenager.”
They made an effort to mix old with new with flea-market finds, like turn-of-the-century wood shoe forms in the hallway and anassortment of wooden medicine cabinets and wood-framed mirrors in the powder rooms. The foyer also tastefully reflects that effort; large, antique glass wine vessels line the wall opposite a pair of contemporary benches in the shape of two cupped hands.
“A home comprised of 100 percent brand new things tends to feel sterile,” says Simonpietri. “In many of our homes, we like to create galleries of artwork or interesting items, to give the appearance of an art installation.” But this house, with its artful elements and antique touches, is neither an installation nor an historic monument; it’s a vibrant country retreat.