Georgian, Just RightText by Stacy Kunstel Photography by John Bessler
When Bhinesh and Mina Patel moved from London to Darien, they let their imaginations run wild. “Unlike in England, we thought we were free to build any type of house we wanted,” says Bhinesh. “We had all kinds of crazy ideas in our heads. We looked at all kinds of fancy, very elaborate designs from Tuscan villas to French châteaux and from Georgian and Victorian to contemporary.”
Bhinesh combed the Internet for ideas, studying photographs of properties on real estate websites. The couple drove around Fairfield County taking pictures of houses and bought books on construction and design. Bhinesh had just come off fifteen stressful years working for a hedge fund, and now he wanted to pour his energies into designing a home for his family.
For all the online searching, it was by word of mouth that the Patels found their builder, Ed Zimmermann. Ed, who founded his building and design firm, Bradford Estates, twelve years ago, brought along architect Lance Zimmerman of Zimmerman Architecture to help the couple hone their vision.
By this time, Mina was set on having a brick house, while for Bhinesh it was important that the house appear symmetrical and have an easy flow among the rooms. With Ed and Lance they determined a colonial Georgian would be the perfect fit.
“Ed, along with Lance, helped us steer away from the crazy ideas toward more sensible ones that would be in keeping with the area,” says Bhinesh. This is, after all, Darien, where the tradition of building is exactly that—traditional.
Lance worked with the family on the exterior design and the layout of the rooms, helping them incorporate the ancient Indian doctrine of Vastu Shastra, a study of architecture that dictates certain alignments of spaces in the layout, such as the placement of the front door, the kitchen and bedrooms. The interior architecture was left to Ed. “It’s my favorite part of the house,” he says. “Most of it we do on site. Sometimes I draw on walls or nail up pieces to show clients exactly what I’d like to do.”
It was Ed who suggested the Patels work with Carey Karlan, of Last Detail Interior Design in Darien, on furnishings and fabrics, and it was Ed’s striking millwork and molding details that led Karlan to start the design process with the walls and floors.
“I felt the architectural details were fabulous, but strong,” says Karlan. “Plain vanilla walls would be lost between the crown molding and paneling, so my first impression was to do something exciting. I wanted to employ a rich, vigorous neutral that could stand up to the architectural detail.”
Once Karlan and the Patels settled on the rugs they wanted, the designer brought in decorative painter Heidi Holzer, who worked the rug colors into the wall finishes. The foyer’s painted paneling was given the subtlest shimmer with a mica-flecked strié, playing off the shiny silk rug that lies just inside the front door. The walls between the wainscoting and crown molding in the dining room were finished with herringbone plaster in a color reminiscent of milk chocolate that complements the geometric rug and full draperies.
In the living room, with its fireplace and facing sofas covered in a heavily textured Kravat Couture fabric, Heidi covered the walls in a buffed stormy gray Venetian plaster that makes the trim look as prim as a just-pressed shirt. “The color is so rich it makes the walls look thick,” says Karlan. “In this house it’s certainly not about faux finish as art. Here, the finishes just blend in and give the house a wonderful polished quality.”
As dramatic as the gray is, the living room feels serene. An overhead chandelier and rock-crystal sconces on the fireplace give off sparkle without being frou-frou and echo the glint of the mirrored coffee table and beaded pillows. A large architectural console lends the room its modern lines on a wall where art might have been lost.
All the downstairs rooms except the kitchen have some type of wall covering. In the family room, which can be seen from the foyer and is open to the kitchen, Karlan installed grasscloth backed in shimmery paper that keeps the earthy colors and industrial-inspired coffee table from looking too colorless. Shots of purple—Mina’s favorite color—appear in the pillows.
An archway connects the family room and kitchen, where Ed designed the cabinetry and custom hood. A breakfast area at one end overlooks the backyard.
Upstairs, the Patels got their own retreat in the form of a master suite just off the sweeping staircase. Here, the nailhead-trimmed headboard is covered in velvet reminiscent of the color on the living room walls. “The geometric, masculine rug and headboard contrast with the feminine curve of chairs and the delicate nightstand lamps,” says Karlan, who didn’t want the space to be too his or too hers. The bed faces a fireplace, which forms the wall between the bedroom and a small sitting room with a curved sofa, bookshelves and a fluffy lamb’s wool ottoman. The master bath, done in shades of white, sits at the end of a hallway just past the closets with their dressing areas.
Ed jokes that Bhinesh worked as the assistant general contractor during the entire process, asking tons of questions and getting a crash course in construction.
“We are glad that we built the house rather than buy a ready-made one,” says Bhinesh. “We learned a lot about home design. This was a very big project, much bigger than we had anticipated. It was a very steep learning curve. We had to make a million different decisions and, looking back on it, there were so many places where we could have messed up. We are glad that everything came together as it did. The end result is way beyond what we thought we were going to accomplish.”
It was the right team, it turns out, to design a house with the just right style, not only for a family from London, but for Darien as well. •
Architecture: Lance Zimmerman, Zimmerman Architecture
Builder and interior architecture: Ed Zimmermann, Bradford Estates
Interior design: Carey Karlan, Last Detail Interior Design
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