Designing a welcoming, well-lived in home
Photographs by Jane Beiles, Portrait by Pam Rouleau
"Our house is not intended to be a showplace,” says Karen Legan, about her family’s large, stately, white colonial in South Wilton, where she and her husband Bruce live with their four daughters and dog Hans. “It’s a place to be lived in, a welcoming, happy space. And we use every room.” Her philosophy guided the renovation project they have just completed and the way she has decorated. Despite the formal exterior, the interior exudes an exuberance and joie de vivre. With the help of interior designer Kathy Cragan, Legan has filled every room with furnishings and accessories that tell a story about her family.
The Legans bought the house eight years ago, after a friend suggested they see it; the listing, on a stunning piece of property, had just come on the market. ”We had finished renovating the home we were in, and had no plans to move. But we fell in love immediately with the grounds,” explains Legan. The 1965 colonial was gracious, but it was the landscape and location that captivated them—four-plus acres of sweeping views, gorgeous gardens and specimen trees, a pool and barn, located within walking distance of Middlebrook, Cider Mill and Wilton High Schools. “The property is like a secret, because it is hidden behind fencing and trees,” she adds.
While the grounds were spectacular, the house had not been touched in 20 years. The interior was dated. The first floor didn’t flow well. The kitchen was cramped, and to get to it from the garage, required walking through the family room. They did not renovate immediately because as Legan explains, “I think it is better to live in a house before you do any work, so you know what you need and want.” When they were ready, they hired architect Louise Brooks, founding partner of Brooks & Falotico. “I’d been following Louise since I moved to Wilton from Minneapolis 16 years ago. It seemed like every time I opened a magazine and saw a house I liked, it was her design,” she says.
The Legans’ goal was to open up the first floor, create a more spacious flow, and bring the interior up to the aesthetic level of the grounds. They reconfigured the kitchen for Legan, who loves to cook and entertain. Outfitted with a six-burner stove, stainless steel appliances, white inset cabinetry, two sinks and islands, it now provides ample work and storage space. The white color scheme is punctuated by blue accents—an intense blue Moroccan tile backsplash, 1650s Delft blue tiles above the windows, Legan’s collection of Spode Fitzhugh-Blue, and a Delft blue tile fireplace surround. The tile, custom-designed for the project, portray children and adults playing, blueberry plants, and animals; the scenes have personal meaning for Legan and her family, down to the bunny that represents the one who annoys Bruce in his vegetable garden.
What was the original 1965 kitchen is now a butler’s pantry and bar, with blue lacquered cabinetry, a stainless steel tile backsplash and sink. The original eating area was redesigned to create an entertainment pantry so Legan has easy access to the platters and serving pieces she collects, her cookbooks, linens and other items she uses for entertaining. They added a space for informal dining by bumping out at the back of the house; two walls of windows flood this new room with natural light. “Louise wanted to bring the outside in, and take advantage of the views,” says Legan. The chandelier has sentimental value; it also happens to be blue and white, one of the recurring color themes throughout the house. “I love color, particularly blues, greens, and pinks.”
The family room, with its cathedral ceiling, brick rear wall and fireplace, used to be the garage. Legan found the color-saturated painting that hangs above the fireplace on one of her trips home to Scranton. “It reminds me of the rural roads we used to drive to Elk Mountain Ski Resort,” she explains. “All of our art is either painted by someone we know or has personal meaning.” The English ceramic keg lamps that flank a sofa come from her family. The weather vanes above the windows are from the Legans’ previous homes. And the colorful patchwork rug, like so many other accessories in their home, tells a story about the family. Custom-made by Stark from a design Legan and Kathy Cragan created, it has a center square with the initials K and B, and the date Legan and her husband were married, four squares with the initials of each of their daughters, and squares depicting activities their family enjoys.
As part of the renovation, the Legans expanded the mudroom, and renovated the two bedrooms and full bathroom above the garage. As with many other details of the project, these spaces reveal personal stories. Hans has his own bedroom, a recessed area in the mudroom, complete with wallpaper depicting dogs riding in cars, because Legan explains, “He loves to ride in the car with me.” Storage cubbies are several feet off the ground; shoes left on the ground become Hans’s chew toys. Instead of hooks for hanging coats, Legan chose doorknobs, which are gentler on clothes. She found the vibrant hand-painted ceramic sink in the mudroom half-bathroom on a trip to Mexico, and had it set into an antique dry sink she and Bruce bought after they were married. The brick floors are low-maintenance, but have an antique vibe and complement their collection of antique furnishings and accessories. The large laundry room is wallpapered in a Brunschwig & Fils design called—tongue in cheek--“Ironing Bored.”
The Legans’ home is one of the six distinctive Wilton homes featured on the first annual ABC House Tour, to be held on May 31. Karen, who serves on the organization’s Board, and Bruce, who is involved in its fundraising efforts, have hosted an ABC scholar. They are thrilled to “open up their hearts and home” to benefit the ABC program by opening up their home for the ABC House Tour