A Catalpa Home is finally ready for its Close Up
Walls were removed and entrances widened, opening the main floor for a fresh, modern feel. The main walls were all painted white to create a tabula rasa with color brought in through artwork and accessories.
“The day I first saw this house was the day we moved in,” explains Maria Vocke. “We were still living in Illinois with three little kids, and my husband, Damon, was traveling from our home there to his new job in Stamford.” The couple looked in Ridgefield, Wilton, Weston, and Westport during a three-day real estate blitz, but none of the houses the saw were suitable for their family.
Maria had returned to Wheaton, Illinois, to care for the couple’s three daughters Madeline, Elise, and Claire, leaving her husband behind, in charge of finding a new home for the family. All Maria asked was that the house not need any work and be move-in ready. The fact that she so completely trusted Damon’s judgment in a matter so important speaks volumes about the strength of the couple’s relationship. That they’ve now been happily married for 25 years and lived in their four-bedroom Catalpa Road home for 14 of them comes as no surprise. But back then the pressure was on.
One day Damon phoned and triumphantly announced that he’d found the perfect place. It was on two and a half acres, located close to town and school, and had a flat, useable yard. Best of all, the house didn’t need any work. The property was purchased and the family packed up and came to Wilton. When Maria finally laid eyes on their home, she took in the dated décor, smiled at her husband and said, “Great yard!” A dream location, yes. Definitely not a dream home.
Soon after the family settled in, Maria met interior designer Stephanie Mercado of Lefrere Mercado Designs. Their children were attending the same elementary school. Picking her daughter up from a play date, Maria was dazzled by Mercado’s home, and soon hired her to help redecorate three bathrooms, the master bedroom, and her daughter’s bedrooms.
Everything turned out beautifully but, says Maria, “The downstairs never really felt done.” So last year, the couple decided it was time to improve the functionality of the kitchen that was still tragically trapped in the 1990s.
It was only natural for Mercado to be brought on board again. “I pretty much gave her carte blanche because she’s so talented,” says Maria. And since structural changes were involved, architect Jackie Montgomery of the eponymous Jackie Montgomery Architectural Design was added to the team. The kitchen project snowballed, eventually leading to a renovation of the entire first floor.
“The Vockes wanted to modernize the feeling of the house and make the space more open and friendly for entertaining,” says Montgomery. “The renovation was a reimagining of the entire first level, as originally it consisted of five separate rooms, two of which were underused and the others were cut off from each other.”
The couple was an integral part of the planning process and Montgomery built a model to ensure they fully understood the basic restructuring. A 13-foot opening was created between the dining room and kitchen, and the opening between the kitchen and living room was also widened, creating improved flow between the areas and augmenting the natural light.
The kitchen was completely customized for the owners. “To keep the lines clean, and counters free of clutter, I designed a deep drawer next to the cooktop for oils and vinegars, along with multiple spice drawers,” says Montgomery. There are appliance garages, a microwave drawer, and custom knife, cooking utensil, and silverware storage. “I also added a pullout toe kick step so Maria can easily reach the upper corner shelves.”
There is a ten-foot island with Quartzite counters and seating for five with views of the backyard, white Shaker cabinetry, two sinks on either end, stainless steel appliances, and a pretty opalescent tile backsplash. Vintage Lion in Frost bar stools add an elegant touch [former Florida designer/manufacturer—1950 to 1979—pioneered the use of Lucite in furniture]. Lucite is catnip to Mercado; there are echoes of the material throughout the house.
The kitchen has become Maria’s favorite room in the house. “We love to eat and entertain, and everyone always gathers in here. Now that everything is so organized, it’s a pleasure to cook.”
The dining room, which flows seamlessly from the kitchen, is sumptuous, and the pearl grey upholstered chairs are inviting. The blend of silver and gold finishes and reflective surfaces—a striking gold sunburst chandelier, silver patterned wallpaper, a revamped wet bar with mirrored tile backsplash—evokes just the right amount of Hollywood glamor.
Flooring was changed to wide planks throughout the main level, and the curving balustrade with thin spindles was replaced with a flat casing giving it a more current feel. In the main living area, mullions were removed from a two-story block of windows facing the backyard, giving the space a modern, streamlined look.
For Mercado, the biggest design challenge was the living room. “Even though it’s a fairly big space it has traffic flow on three sides, which significantly reduces the footprint for furniture.” Damon worked with her to choose contemporary furnishings for the room. The fireplace was given a facelift with the addition of a floor-to-ceiling stone facade and honed-slate hearth. Alcoves for artwork, and a custom walnut television cabinet, were also added.
The Vockes, who have journeyed far and wide, bring memories of their travel adventures vividly alive with enlarged personal photos—giraffes, a water buffalo, a majestic lion—printed on glass and hung throughout the home.
In addition to a sleek baby grand piano, the music room features a low-slung pale blue leather couch with a papaya colored cashmere throw and round marble side tables with modern silver and navy lamps. The library, flowing directly off the music room, has been lacquered in a dark navy. Four cognac-colored leather wing chairs sit center stage, perfect for reading, quiet conversation, or an intimate gathering of friends.
A pool was never in the couple’s game plan, but a stay at a chateau with a pool in Bordeaux inspired the addition, complete with a low square boxwood trim.
The house has come a long way from the first day Maria first walked through the front door. With time, patience, and vision, this Catalpa beauty is now picture perfect.