A Light-Filled Renovation in Southport, Connecticut
July 17, 2020
Text by Tovah Martin Photography by Michael Partenio Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent
Nancy Monahan bought the house that really needed her. But then, she has a history of coming to the rescue. This is her sixth personal renovation—and that’s not counting all the fixes orchestrated for clients. A serial rehabilitator, she found the Southport harborside historic district cottage two years ago and didn’t balk at the updates necessary to bring a dated, drab domain into the present with panache. Where everyone else was spooked by the cramped half-acre lot on a busy street with no exterior remodeling permitted, she rolled up her sleeves and went to work.
The courtyard contained within privacy gates was the feature that spoke to Monahan upfront. She’d been working in design for thirty years “as a side hustle” beyond her real job in biotech before officially launching Greystone Statement Interiors and then totally transitioning into design/project management a year ago. Thanks to that training and experience, historic district restrictions forbidding exterior remodeling were no problem for Monahan. In fact, the courtyard served as inspiration to create an indoor/outdoor story line as it flows through a house redesigned to increase light without expanding windows. Sounds like a breeze, but it was actually quite the feat of magic. Hint: mirrors were involved.
The mirrors were a little trick that Monahan devised to give the illusion that a set of extant windows appear floor to ceiling in the living room. Plus, she knocked down some interior walls to let the sunshine in. The resulting living experience is luminous and exhilarating, starting with a generous dining table in the front courtyard, moving through a classical entry foyer and window-generous downstairs, to a comfy seating area and fire table in the backyard. Along the way, each room begs you to linger, sit, and admire collections of artwork and antiques mingled with samplings from nature. Textural elements are explored.
Eras from classical to modern are juggled with the greatest of ease. “I wanted a curated look in the house, but not a showroom,” Monahan explains. Of course, she relocated cherished items from past homes, “but 60 percent of the living room, for example, is unique to this house.” Clearly, this is the carefully studied work of a professional, however, the inclusion of nature keeps it light.
If there is a style, “layered serenity” pretty much sums it up. And it’s not just about the furnishings or what’s hanging on the walls. Art is inlaid into the ambience. Susan Harter, a Boston-turned-Washington-based muralist who Monahan found while resource gathering, adapted a series of bucolic panels for the dining room. And yet, the custom installation doesn’t call attention to itself because Monahan opted for a muted, ethereal grisaille version, letting her dark mahogany dining room table and chairs stand out. She also hired locally based Deux Femmes Decorative Art custom painters to create a raw silk finish on the ceiling—a trick she echoed for the bedroom walls.
No surprise, attention to detail just happens to be Monahan’s specialty. You feel it in the preserved hardware on the old wood doors and the pocket planting created to frame an urn. Asked what drew her to adopt the Southport project, Nancy Monahan points to the gate pillars. “See the weathered painted brick? That blend of old with new patinas is what I love.”
Interior design and architecture: Nancy Monahan, Greystone Statement Interiors
Builder: Tomasz Czaja, T&R Construction
Interior paint: Deux Femmes Decorative Art