Easy Home Cooking and Fuss-Free holiday Entertaining
Photos by Jane Beiles // Floral Design by Lemon Dahlia
“It started with the windows,” says homeowner Pam Lillis, recalling how the inspiration for a full-on kitchen renovation began. “We had a small bay window facing the backyard and I was always leaning over the sink to see the trees and the beautiful birds. I really wanted it to be all windows.”
Pam and her husband Gerry, consulted with Louise Brooks of New Canaan–based architectural design firm Brooks & Falotico. Brooks was able to help Lillis realize her dream—and then some. The entire back wall was pushed out five feet and industrial windows and doors now showcase the backyard, which was once part of a Christmas tree farm.
The kitchen is massive: 26 feet by 36 feet, with 12-foot ceilings, and it is very much the heartbeat of this home. An integrative health coach, cooking instructor, and master preserver, Lillis spends a lot of time in her kitchen. Every summer she preserves enough fresh tomato purée passata to last the year, and she is legendary in Wilton circles for her award-winning jams and preserves. The pantry is well-stocked with an array of “Pam’s Jams,” including mouth-watering apricot cardamom, chai spiced plum, strawberry balsamic, and lemon fig.
In short, the kitchen is where everything happens—cooking, canning, preserving, family dinners, cooking classes, casual get-togethers, and holiday meals. It is also Lillis’s refuge, a quiet place to sit by the fire with her morning coffee and read a book, knit, or contemplate the view of the tranquil backyard.
“The original kitchen had one huge island,” says Lillis, “but it was so big that at just five feet tall I couldn’t wipe down the entire counter surface. I had to walk all the way around the island and reach far into the center to get it clean. I didn’t need that!” The new design incorporates two functional islands—one in front of the stove for food prep with an extra sink, and another, surrounded by stools and utilized as a place to gather for meals or for baking.
The current kitchen is über stylish and highly functional. “I guess you could say that the story of this kitchen is both warm and cool,” says Lillis. The “cool” comes from the two blue-gray islands accessorized by modern hammered nickel drawer pulls, the clean lines of the industrial windows and doors, and the sleek gas fireplace recessed in a brick wall.
The “warm” is reflected in the French country touches: massive hand-hewn reclaimed wood beams, unhoned biscuit-colored marble countertops, and an eye-catching antique kitchen table made of Parisian oak parquet floor tiles. The traditional Shaker-style floor-to-ceiling custom cabinetry is a warm white, and the stove backsplash features complementary oversized ivory subway tiles. The kitchen space is bookended by two rustic brick walls that vary in hue from pale apricot to a robust terracotta. There is a pleasing tension between the modern and traditional features which combine to create an airy, welcoming space.
Lillis comes naturally to cooking healthfully and inventively. While growing up, her family subscribed to Gourmet Magazine; her father was an enthusiastic cook, and her mother was a lifelong vegetarian. The tradition continues with her four children, Maegan, Casey, and twins Colin and Dan who are all accomplished cooks.
“I love to entertain and I will always host a book group, knitting group, or any kind of a get-together,” says Lillis. People shouldn’t put so much pressure on themselves when it comes to entertaining. I don’t think most people care about things being perfect. If you make it easy to do, you’ll do it more.
“For instance, this year we’re expecting 35 for Christmas dinner. It will be an easy French farmhouse meal with grilled salmon and steak frites—the frites will be healthy oven-baked fries—butternut squash and spinach gratin, a large green salad, and sourdough bread. Our daughter Maegan will make her beautiful bûche de noel. It’s all easy, which is always the goal. The kitchen really helps with that, too, because the double islands create a great flow for culinary traffic.”
Lillis’s philosophy of simplicity also extends to her seasonal décor. “We don’t decorate a lot for the holidays. My husband and I are at a stage where we’ve been able to simplify and enjoy our favorite things, which include Glitterworks ornaments by my friend, Laurie Davis, fresh flowers from Lemon Dahlia, and a traditional Christmas tree adorned with a Waterford ornament collection from my mother.”
For the past 14 years, Lillis has belonged to a knitting group, wittily named, The Knit Wits. It’s a fun social group of nine members who engage in serious knitting. “Everyone is affiliated with a different non-profit in town. We support each other by using our best yarns to knit special pieces that can be sold at silent auctions for service organizations.”
The group often knits in front of the fireplace in the home’s serene, casually elegant living room. The décor is transitional and has clearlybeen chosen for comfort, with the furniture positioned to encourage conversation. Two identical flax sofas face each other across a large square glass coffee table. A rectangular ottoman upholstered in aquamarine linen provides additional seating along with two wing chairs covered in textured ivory linen that flank a console table featuring a holiday tree adorned with handmade ornaments.
Celadon encaustic walls created by Spanish artisans glow with warmth and are accessorized by antique French wall sconces and beautiful Japanese scrolls acquired during the family’s two years in Tokyo.
“When people walk away from our home, I want them to feel like they’ve had a good time. I believe if we provide a great setting, great food, and great drinks that it’s up to the guests to have a good time.”