The Art of It
A painter finds her canvas by redesigning her house
Photographs by Tim Lee
Claire Melbourne has always been creative. She studied art in college and designed outerwear for 14 years, before leaving her job to care for her three boys. But it wasn’t until she met interior designers Susan Buzaid and Robin Curnan, owners of Ridgefield’s Olley Court, that she began to think of herself as an artist. “I went into Olley Court to buy pillows, and that is how the whole thing started,” says Melbourne with a laugh. “Now, I feel like I am working again.”
“Claire’s work caught on like wildfire,” says Curnan, who “discovered” Melbourne while dropping off pillows and other home furnishings at Melbourne’s Waccabuc house. “It’s very decorative,” Curnan says of Melbourne’s style. “She’ll paint with gold, blue or whatever color, depending on what our clients want. We had a successful show of her work this fall.” In fact, Melbourne’s work was hanging in the store on a recent visit.
Inspired by the collaboration, Melbourne turned to Olley Court’s Susan Buzaid to help finish the redesign of her house. “We bought an ugly house on a beautiful property. It was a scary house,” admits Melbourne, who moved out of Manhattan ten years ago and immediately began a three-step renovation. For years, renovating her house was her main creative outlet. Utterly transformed, both inside and out, the house is a testament to the owner’s eye and decorating flair. Her unusual, understated furniture and paint choices provide the perfect backdrop for her bright acrylic paintings and living spaces for her busy family.
The stunning ground-floor kitchen is the ultimate entertainment spot. It features an open floor plan with clean white cabinets and a giant island. There is a wet bar on the other side of a stained oak wall, as well as an ample kitchen sitting area, styled by Buzaid, which includes a cowhide custom table and gas fireplace.
In the full, finished basement, visitors will find a second kitchen, with convenient access to the pool. Melbourne’s oldest son had a dinner party for twenty of his local friends, where the guests cooked together in that kitchen and enjoyed their feast. The rest of the basement features a gym, a ping pong table, and enviable amounts of built in storage.
In the back of the house, overlooking the pool, is a sunroom that is Melbourne’s favorite room. “I call it my Sunday room because I can read, take a nap, watch a movie, and no one bothers me there,” she says. Her new studio over the garage is big enough for her to make large scale commissions and work with unusual compositions, focusing on color and texture.
“Her house is her pride and joy, and it’s beautiful,” comments friend and fellow artist Pamela Stoddart, who lives in Ridgefield. But when Melbourne’s renovation neared completion, Stoddart encouraged her friend to take an abstract painting class at the Ridgefield Guild of Artists. “She was always really good at representational art—portraits, especially—but she knew right away what she wanted to do on the canvas,” says Stoddart. “She wanted to go big. I’m happy for her that it’s taking off.”
Melbourne’s unusual, understated furniture and paint choices provide the perfect backdrop for her bright acrylic paintings. Her new studio over the garage is big enough for her to make large-scale commissions and work with unusual compositions, focusing on color and texture.
Melbourne is enjoying her newfound purpose, and is especially excited about her recent donation of a painting to a major New York City fundraiser for epilepsy. “It’s nice not to play tennis every day,” she jokes, referring to a problem faced by many stay-at-home moms when their children are no longer underfoot.
Melbourne says that her relationship with Olley Court, which often showcases local artists, has pushed her to take her art practice more seriously. “At first, it was hard for me to sell my work—I had to learn to separate,” she says, articulating a problem many artists would be happy to have. “My relationship with Olley Court means that I have a support team, which is great.”
With a little help from her friends, artist Claire Melbourne renovated her Waccabuc home. Mixing contemporary furniture and fabrics with antiques, she worked with designers at Olley Court to create a stylish haven for her family. Her rich acrylic paintings are about color, texture, and composition.
The scale of Melbourne’s kitchen means there are never too many cooks. In the attached sitting room, custom furniture with natural slipcovers is timeless, while bold pillows and paintings provide color and whimsy. The concrete kitchen table is an excellent vantage point to see the room’s dramatic lighting—a woven, organic chandelier hangs over the table; a minimalist pendant lights the bar; and three metal pendants are just right for the island.
There is nothing sterile about Melbourne’s white kitchen. Many windows, ample seating, and an open floor plan make this one of the most inviting spots in the house—be it for entertaining a crowd or intimate family dinners around the island. The natural wood wall divides the kitchen from the bar without interrupting the flow of the room.
The sunroom gives Melbourne her own space to put her feet up and restore. Designers from Olley Court commissioned a North Carolina artist to make the lamp from recycled telephone pole timber. New fabric, ikat pillows, and a Made Goods tray allowed Melbourne to repurpose furniture she already owned.