A Historic Connecticut Colonial Gets a Fresh Look
October 23, 2018
Turning tragedy into triumph, a design team reconvenes and brings a Bloomfield home to a new level of perfection.
Text by Maria LaPiana Photography by Michael Partenio Produced by Stacy Kunstel
In home renovation, as in life, you don’t often get the chance for a do-over. But that’s exactly what happened in the case of this Bloomfield home. In February 2014, a large-scale add-on transformed the charming but outdated saltbox into a comfortable family home. The redo was thoughtfully designed and expertly executed by a dream team of Connecticut design and building pros, and the homeowners couldn’t have been happier with the result.
A year and a half later, a devastating summer storm caused a power surge that started a fire. The flames engulfed the great room, making their way into the walls and through the roof. Nearly every inch of the 5,000-square-foot home sustained fire or smoke damage. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the renovation—and much of what came before—was fundamentally undone.
It was time to get the band back together.
But first, the backstory. In 2013, the couple purchased the circa-1727 farmhouse from the husband’s parents, who had lived there for thirty-two years. “The house was always perfect for family gatherings,” says Ashley, about her in-laws’ home. “When they put it on the market, we were so sad at the thought of our family not having this magical place to come to. But once we started thinking of the possibilities, we were giddy with excitement.”
Ashley says she “saw a home that allowed us to have our own space and plenty of storage. I saw sleeping and living areas that were very modest in size but clutter-free.” She imagined that the family’s belongings would live in oversized closets. The three teenaged children would have their own rooms in a separate wing, with a shared common space. And there’d be a large mudroom.
That vision was translated into viable plans by architect Jack Kemper of Farmington. Builder Brian Soraghan of Barkhamsted brought the plans to life. And it was interior designer Kellie Burke of West Hartford who gave the home its livability and good looks.
Burke remembers the challenge of working with low ceilings and small rooms: “We needed to be particularly careful in blending today’s modern needs without sticking out like a sore thumb.” She gives Kemper credit for “creatively adjusting to both the home’s style and the wishes of the client.”
“We did our best to be true to the historical details, both inside and out,” says the architect. The new second-floor wing, accessible via a newly added stair, was built over an existing bedroom. The addition meant bumping out the footprint of the house, resulting in a larger first-floor space, which boasts a new entry, laundry room, and spacious mudroom.
The farmhouse interiors took some surprising turns. Burke introduced a few unexpected materials like stone, Lucite, and leather, “glamming it up here and there,” says Ashley.
“We cheerfully designed the existing great room in transitional style, with a brightly colored palette to lighten the dark-paneled architecture of the room,” says Burke. “We washed the floors in a light gray to playfully contradict the heavy stain. The billiard table was painted lacquer white and felted in gray, and we hung giant brass-and-leather Ralph Lauren chandeliers in the rafters.”
They widened the opening to the master bedroom and blew out the ceiling, showcasing vintage beams and great light from a window in what was the attic. A small bedroom was turned into a dressing room, a stairwell landing into a walkthrough study.
The fire changed everything.
“The air was thick with the smell of burnt wood during the initial walkthrough of the charred rooms,” Burke says. “The place was layered in black soot.” And yet, she remembers feeling a sense of hope—and opportunity.
The furnishings would all be reordered, no problem.
“After the fire we had to open walls and ceilings to bring things up to code,” remembers Ashley. “It allowed us to bring in modern amenities like upgraded lighting, heating, cooling, and a sound system.”
And all the little quirky things they’d skipped to preserve the historical integrity of the home? They could change them now—guilt-free. Kemper and Soraghan were on board. The builder kept Ashley’s vision intact after the fire, she says. He recreated all the details she loved—including the windows and paneling in the great room. “People who know the house cannot believe it,” she says.
The floor plan was opened up and the footprint extended into the courtyard, vastly improving the flow between the kitchen and great room. “It all became so much more inviting and accessible,” says Ashley.
They put a few extra touches on the master suite: the stairway and narrow hallway were enlarged, and the tiny hall bath that Ashley had appropriated was elegantly enlarged.
Energy-efficient windows were installed throughout; a deck was added off one upstairs bedroom, and new French doors enhanced the connection between the great room and the charming courtyard.
The kitchen was seriously made over. Her mission, says Burke, was “to create an open layout loaded with practical hidden storage that was so desperately lacking in an older home.” She describes the vibe as “farmhouse meets industrial chic.” Ashley found the vintage barn lighting that inspired the palette. Reclaimed wood was mixed with lacquered gray cabinetry and brass hardware. Burke added a coffee bar, cupboards, and sliding barn doors with chalkboard fronts. “I wanted the room to be intriguing yet feel cozy,” she says.
A “comfortable disposition” is one of the nicest aspects of the house, says Kemper. Despite its add-ons and back-to-back renovations, “it never feels imposing.”
More than that, it’s purposeful. The melding of modern creature comforts with an authentic farmhouse feel was carefully orchestrated. The juxtaposition of playful and sophisticated spaces was deliberate. The mix of old and new was by design. At the end of the day, Burke says that every room in the home does what it should: “It beckons you to come in and feel why it’s there.”