A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi: A Designer’s Home in Sharon, Connecticut
January 17, 2014
A knack for spotting perfect objects in unlikely places, a talent for mixing and matching, and a touch of magic result in a Sharon designer’s eclectic, deeply personal home.
Text by Megan Fulweiler Photography by Michael Partenio Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent
Had it been an igloo,a yurt, or a cave it still would have ended up looking like a million dollars. It seems that anything the multifaceted interior designer Amy Beth Cupp Dragoo touches becomes immediately infused with style. As it happens, though, it was a 2003 Shaker-inspired house behind a prim picket fence in Sharon that captivated Dragoo and her husband. After years of searching, they had seen every kind of home, or so they thought. This one, however, was different.
The seller, Rafe Churchill, was a local contractor who had built the house for himself, incorporating a stunning commercial storefront door in the main living area. It might have been a touch quirky that the fireplace was upstairs, and it could be seen as a drawback that there was only one closet in the whole house. In the end, though, what did those things matter when everything else was terrific and the location—a lovely rural road—looked like it belonged on a New England postcard? If the fireplace or closet situation gave the couple reason to hesitate, you’d never know it today. The fireplace warms a welcoming study, and myriad storage solutions ranging from antique trunks to vintage cupboards make closets seem superfluous.
With her usual exuberance, the designer, who has offices in Sharon and Manhattan, swept through the house, leaving her mark on every surface and in every corner. Take the chic library, where Dragoo replaced the floor tiles with a coating of pale, commercial-grade, epoxy enamel. For contrast she covered the wall in Benjamin Moore’s Chalkboard gray.
Out went the existing kitchen, too, and in came creamy, two-inch-thick Carrara marble countertops, sophisticated black-maple cabinets crafted by Hunt Country Furniture, and a shiny Aga range. “It has six burners and four ovens,” says the designer, who adores baking (she stages an annual cookie and champagne party) almost as much as good design.
Her design philosophy, she proclaims, is “Happy Chances” or “Accidentism,” terms coined by the Swedish artist Estrid Ericson and Austrian architect and designer Josef Frank. Ericson founded an interior design firm in Stockholm in 1924, and Frank later joined her. The firm, Svenskt Tenn, continues to thrive, and its credo—basically, follow your heart—seems as fresh as ever. Writing in Form magazine in 1958, Frank summarized it this way: “There’s nothing wrong with mixing old and new, with combining different furniture styles, colors and patterns. Anything that’s in your taste will automatically fuse to form an entire relaxing environment.” Don’t worry about planning every detail, Frank wrote. A home shouldn’t be contrived, but “an amalgamation of the things that the owner loves and feels at home with.”
In Dragoo’s case, that’s a great many interesting items indeed. Among her many skills is spotting treasures, often in unlikely places. Her transfer station, for instance, has yielded a number of worthwhile discoveries, including the fabulous bar cart that now sits gleaming in her library.
Once, she arrived with her trash to find a man toting a midcentury daybed, which she nabbed as well. “I was so excited to get to him before he tossed it, I accidentally locked myself out of my car and had to hire a locksmith,” she recalls with a level of joy that’s contagious. The stunning refinished and upholstered daybed rests alongside the library’s oversize window.
If she hadn’t let on, one would take the art that hangs on the dining room wall to be a priceless collection rather than an amazing trove of mostly vintage, antique, and thrift-store beauties. The thoughtful grouping couldn’t be a better backdrop for the reproduction French dining table. Guests sit down to Versace china and Baccarat crystal sparkling in candlelight.
There’s no doubt Dragoo’s collections are in great measure responsible for boosting the home’s appealing personal vibe. A cache of miniature Bulova clocks—a collection begun for her by her late father—is a dazzling sight beneath a glass cake dome. And her Statue of Liberty army continues to grow. “I buy lots of them on eBay. Sometimes I pay more for the shipping than the actual item costs,” she says with a laugh. Amassed together—Dragoo’s favorite way of displaying things—the famous ladies create a memorable vignette, as do beloved teacups stashed in a glass case.
In winter, when the snow flies, the second-level study is the kind of idyllic retreat most of us dream about. True to her philosophy, Dragoo blends a host of disparate elements into one delicious whole. A drop-dead gorgeous leather Natuzzi sofa scattered with vintage crewel pillows, a see-through Aero coffee table, and a grid of treasured antique lithographs that once belonged to her mother-in-law happily co-exist. The nearby marriage of a vintage partner’s desk with vintage Hepplewhite-style chairs upholstered in an ikat fabric by Mally Skok seems equally harmonious. Antique glass canisters, vintage lamps, and heirloom rugs—all meld without missing a beat.
Dragoo painted all the doors and window sashes black, cleverly providing a unifying thread that pulls you from one space to the next. Also creating cohesion are her jaunty splashes of orange in lamps, flowers, even cocktail napkins.
The couple’s private quarters and the adjacent sitting room are so in step they read like a single, gorgeous room. To gain additional space, the couple knocked down a wall and borrowed the room next door. Their regal bed, with its dramatic, linen-dressed headboard rests beneath a cool, handcrafted O’Lampia Studio chandelier.
That Dragoo makes it all—choosing the right objects, the mixing and the matching—look so effortless only adds to the charm. But the truth is, behind her seemingly effortless style lurks a heap of talent and the eye of a born designer. •