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A View From Above

A townhouse is transformed



For the past several years, Barbara Ulehla watched the Toll Brothers River Ridge development sprout, high above River Road, and wondered what the houses would look like. When a model finally opened for public scrutiny, many people lined up to have a peek. Ulehla was one of them.

“I had already put in an offer on a house on Millstone,” says Ulehla. “I was about to sign the papers but something stopped me. I’m a single mother with three kids who visits their dad every other weekend, so I didn’t want to be isolated. I lived at the Avalon for three years and loved it, but needed more space. I like being near town. I feel safer looking out my window and seeing my neighbor’s lights on, knowing that they’ll keep an eye on my place and look out for me.”

By the time she previewed the development, only four lots were left. “The view sold me. That was it,” she recalls with a smile. “Lot number seven had the most spectacular view but no backyard and no grass, so a lot of people didn’t want it. That was fine by me. I didn’t want any additional maintenance. I wanted space inside and a view. I loved the fact that there would be people on either side of me. And seven is my lucky number, so I put in an offer.”

Three hundred and ninety-nine other offers had been submitted for the development’s 19 homes. Ulehla’s bid was accepted, and this past February she closed on the brand-new 3,600-square-foot townhouse. Then she immediately started to make changes. Jesse Dell and Patricia Hogue of Scarborough Phillips Design in Rhode Island were enlisted to help Ulehla transform the cookie-cutter house into her own space. “We go back a very long way,” says interior designer Hogue. “One of the nice things about having already worked with someone is that you learn to channel their taste. We understand what she prefers, so we can work much more efficiently.”

Ulehla trusted her design team unreservedly. “They’ve done all my other homes. They know me, they know my style and what I like.”

And what exactly is her style? Think of it this way: If you were casting a hypothetical episode of Housewives of Fairfield County and looking for someone to be the pretty, chic, nice one, you’d be tempted to cast Barbara Ulehla. Blonde, fit, smart, and beautiful, with a mega-watt smile, her personal style is both casual and classic. No surprise, then, to see a pleasing mixture of contemporary and antique furnishings blended together for a classic yet casual effect. 

Contractor Tony Kaplanis of Western Connecticut Craftsmen was brought in to create custom millwork, including cabinetry, wainscoting, and decorative moldings throughout the house along with a substantial mantel for the living-room fireplace. These additional architectural elements add character and help provide a tailored look.

The kitchen, dining room, and living rooms all open onto one another and are unified by color, texture, and reflective surfaces. With a narrow color palette of grays as the base and an array of blues as the accent, the overall feel is peaceful and inviting. 

The dining room is anchored by a soft indigo Tibetan rug and a formal dining table surrounded by walnut chairs upholstered in rich, royal-blue velvet. A coffered ceiling covered with gold leaf draws the eye upward to a striking modern chandelier by Ochre made of dozens of pear-shaped glass pendants. 

The comfortable living room with ample seating is oriented toward a tall stone fireplace and the treetop view. Another show-stopping light fixture, incorporating 26 large glass pendants suspended on braided steel cables, enhances the 20-foot verticality of the space.

The kitchen feels feminine but not fussy. White cabinetry with white Carrera marble countertops and a pearlized marble-tile backsplash give a light airiness to the space. A pantry was converted into an attractive bar area that echoes the kitchen finishes. Chrome bar stools from Frontgate have been reupholstered in a dusty Caribbean-blue leather. 

The calming color palette continues upstairs. The master bedroom’s king-size bed features a headboard upholstered in beige silk that adds architectural interest. The bed is centered beneath a tray ceiling with an oversize chandelier. The bed linens are crisp, the fabrics are elegant but restrained.

Eight-year-old Brooke wanted a typical princess room, but her mother was determined to avoid a clichéd pink confection and opted to create a room her daughter could grow into. “The room’s footprint is small but the ceiling height is good, so floor-to-ceiling drapery panels add a clean visual sweep,” says Hogue. A half canopy is attached to the ceiling, with yards of Robert Allen ivory and lavender chintz panels hanging behind the bed. The fabric has pops of lime green to keep the look current and fresh without being too girly. Brothers Michael, 16, and Matthew, 13, have simple, tailored rooms in greiges and navy.

Another feature that attracted Ulehla to the house was the space on the lower level that would work as an area for the kids. It’s fitted out with a roomy sectional couch, a large flat-screen TV, and a stylish kitchenette.

Her favorite room? The main-floor library. “I dedicated that room to my parents,” says Ulehla. “They died 14 months apart. One wall is devoted to my father and another one to my mother. I come in here with a cup of coffee and enjoy just being with them.”

The homeowner not only got help with the interior design, but also with moving in. As well as being Hogue’s design partner, Jesse Dell is a professional organizer. “I encourage clients to purge their possessions before they move so they know exactly what they’ll need in terms of storage in their new house. Then I unpack every room and put everything away for them.”

When moving day arrived, all Barbara Ulehla had to do was show up, pour a glass of white wine, and enjoy the view. 

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