a house that evolves as the owner's life evoles
Having moved several times, interior decorator Jane Melani, owner of Jane Schapiro Interiors, wanted a house she could grow old in. Recently divorced, with two young boys in tow, she also wanted a house she could manage and put her mark on. When her real-estate broker took her to see a Cape Cod style home in South Wilton, across from Ambler Farm, she knew she’d found what she was looking for. “The house felt so friendly and welcoming. It was flooded with sunlight. I loved the quality of the light and the sweeping views. It hadn’t been updated, but it had good bones and had been well-maintained.” So 18 minutes after walking through the front door, she put in a bid and the house was hers.
Since that day 11 years ago, she has not only put her mark on her home, but discovered happily that it continues to work for her as her life evolves. When she moved in, her sons were in grade school, and she loved the fact that she could keep an eye on them as they waited at the end of the driveway for the bus. The expansive front yard provided a buffer from the street and ample room for the boys to play and for a vegetable and flower garden. The walk-out basement functioned as light-filled indoor play space. And with three bedrooms upstairs, and a master bedroom suite on the first floor, her sons each had their own room while she had some privacy.
Before moving in, Melani gave her home what she refers to as a facelift. “I didn’t move walls, or add square footage. But I redid the kitchen and all the bathrooms, refinished the floors, and repainted the interior and exterior,” she explains. She naturally gravitated toward a color palette of whites, creams, and sands, accented with fresh, but soft, blues and greens. “I work with color all day for my clients, so I like to come home to a serene environment. I find this palette very soothing.” It also reminds her of her childhood. “I grew up in Babylon, Long Island; we had a summer house in Southampton. The colors in my home are the colors of the beach. You just can’t take it out of me,” she laughs. In fact, Melani has designed the quintessential beach cottage in land-locked Wilton. One could be excused for expecting to look out her windows upon ocean waves gently lapping the shore.
When renovating the kitchen, Melani replaced the original dark cabinetry with white cabinets, and installed a white farm sink, white marble counters, stainless steel appliances, and a pearlescent grey glass tile backsplash to make the space feel larger. She also painted the walls white. In her living room, a white slip-covered sofa sits against a white wall, across from the white painted bookshelves and fireplace mantel. However, in a gutsy move, she selected a chartreuse green patterned wall paper for the dining room. “I just fell in love with this wallpaper. There are not a lot of other colors in the room; I kept the furnishings and accessories simple, so the feeling is still serene,” she explains.
The foyer, master bedroom suite, an adjacent small office that serves double duty as a guest room, and a small guest bathroom complete the first floor. Both the master bedroom and guest room open onto a cozy sun porch. Upstairs, her sons’ rooms, a guest room with four twin beds tucked into each eave, and a full bathroom, are reached by a staircase in the foyer. Although just over 2,700 square feet, the house feels more expansive than its square footage suggests. “People are always amazed at how large the space feels once they enter,” Melani says. “The layout is so open, and the rooms flow into each other. Using a consistent color palette throughout also creates an illusion of more space.”
Melani has furnished her family’s home with antiques, punctuated with an occasional new piece. “My father is a recently retired antique dealer, and my grandmother and mother had beautiful taste. I love old pieces—they add character—but I’m not afraid to mix in something new, or inexpensive, if it works,” she says. The 1760s mahogany highboy in her dining room came from her father’s shop. Her parents bought the grandfather clock, standing tall in the corner, in England; it previously occupied the landing in her childhood home. On the antique pine table in the foyer, Melani has arranged items from her creamware collection with a white pitcher from Home Goods and shells she has found on the beach in Southampton. Original oil paintings, many by Connecticut plein air painter Laureen Hylka, and antique ship dioramas, hang in almost every room.
Now remarried, with a son in college and the other in high school, her home fits this new stage of her life. She and her husband Frank Melani have reclaimed the basement, each setting up a home office there. “We have always used every room in this house. But when my younger son goes off to college, Frank and I have everything we need on one floor,” she says. “The house is so easy to manage. We can do almost everything ourselves.” This includes maintaining the many perennial gardens she has planted over the years. “I became a gardener when I bought my first house,” admits Melani. “I love flowers. I planted snowball viburnum, weigela, lilacs, lady’s mantel and Russian sage. This color palette extends the serene, sanctuary feeling I’ve created inside, to the outdoors.”
With three bedrooms upstairs, and the convertible guest room on the first floor, Jane and Frank can accommodate more overnight guests than Melani could in her previous homes, which were much larger. “During the holidays, between our combined families, we often entertain up to 25 people, but the house never feels cramped. It has all of the amenities of a larger home, without any of the burdens.” After making it their own, they plan to stay put.