Barn Raising

January 4, 2013

Text by Maria LaPiana    Photography by John Gould Bessler

The tired barn in Westport hardly seemed habitable when architect Kraig Kalashian saw it for the first time. “It looked worn down and aged,” he remembers. “It had been converted to a residence but only in a very basic sense. It was set up in a very dysfunctional way. It looked like someone had installed drywall and that was it.”

To the barn’s prospective buyers, however, the ancient structure felt venerable, authentic, European. “We looked for property for a day and half, then we found the barn and fell in love with it immediately,” says Rosemary Hallgarten. “It maybe reminded us a little of home, of our heritage.”

The British textile designer (with husband, Simon, one young son and another on the way) was moving from the West Coast to Connecticut to be closer to New York, where her custom rug business was flourishing. Having lived in smart, but cramped quarters in San Francisco, the couple was ready to spread out. The thirty-by-sixty-foot barn, built in 1789, had incredible add-on potential—plus that Old World sensibility that spoke to them.

“We wanted to keep the integrity of the actual barn and what it represented,” says Hallgarten. “We wanted to make as few changes as possible, and also mix a sense of history with a modern aesthetic.”

They trusted Kalashian, who is an old friend, implicitly, so with the straightforward directive that they didn’t want the new part to simply copy the old, the architect drew up plans for an integrated wing that allowed his clients to redefine the barn’s existing space while creating new rooms that suited the young family’s lifestyle.

Kalashian’s 4,000-square-foot addition puts old and new together in an L-shape, connected by a metal-sheathed silo that forms the entry. Inside the silo, a curvaceous staircase with a modern metal balustrade leads to the second floor. “It’s what I call the knuckle of the house, the thing that connects both the public and private spaces,” says Kalashian about the silo. “The stair hall works exceptionally well, organizing the way people walk through the house. And the skylight at the top of the silo brings light into a space that would otherwise be very dark.”

Anchoring the addition is the expansive kitchen. As a former chef, Simon brought his experience with restaurant kitchens to bear in conceiving the space with its modern, almost commercial aesthetic. “We’ve remodeled several places together, so the kitchen really is the sum of our experiences,” says Hallgarten. “Simon had a visual idea; he wanted it to have stainless steel, marble counters and be a good working space.”

In the original old barn, off to one side of the kitchen, Kalashian designed a spacious living room/dining area, beyond which sit two bedrooms. North, south and west of the kitchen, the addition holds a mudroom, playroom, three-car garage and a squash court.

The new/old home made an ideal canvas for the creative couple, whose design sense was manifested in materials, paint colors, finishes and furnishings. “We had a very active partnership,” says Kalashian. “Being a designer, Rosemary knew what she wanted.”

Hallgarten’s artistic bent goes back a long way. She was born in Beirut, Lebanon, to Gloria Finn, a well-known textile artist who had woven rugs in Italy. Although Hallgarten started out as a jewelry designer, she was inspired by her mother to switch to the more tactile art of textile design, and she never looked back.

Not surprisingly, texture figures prominently throughout the house. Kalashian and the couple reclaimed barn wood and original beams wherever they could, and laid finished concrete with radiant heat over the entire first floor. The honed floors look almost like leather, creating a powerful contrast for Hallgarten’s hand-woven rugs.

The living room is grounded by a big, gray Philippe Starck sofa that had previously dominated the couple’s small San Francisco home. Two chairs are upholstered in Hallgarten’s fabrics, one a leather shag and the other alpaca boucle. The mustard and white alpaca rug—measuring roughly twenty by twenty-five feet—is “probably as big as our old house,” says the artist.

In the adjacent dining area, a Roche Bobois glass table sits on another of Hallgarten’s rugs. Glassware lines the custom-designed shelves against the wall and fills an old glass-front army medicine chest, one of those lucky finds that comes from browsing antiques stores. “I do not believe in shopping for everything in one place,” says Hallgarten. “A house should be built up gradually, bringing in different things with different stories.”

Upstairs in the addition are a media room, game room and the generous master suite, which bridges the connection to the original barn. The master bedroom is a study in contrasts—dark casegoods and flooring against soft, off-white bedding, upholstery, throws, rugs and pillows. Twin chaises by Tom Verellen are covered in casual Belgian linen.

The old barn’s hayloft is now a second-floor library with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, a comfy chair for reading and a plush rug, another of Hallgarten’s creations. Two additional bedrooms, each with its own bath, fill out the rest of the original barn’s second floor.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of this project is how we were able to do something modern that melds with the old traditional barn,” says Kalashian. “But there’s nothing comparable to it. This is truly a historic structure with modern amenities. It’s one of a kind.”

The artist thinks of her home as “a place to try out ideas,” and see her rugs in situ. “I very much see rugs as pieces of art for the floor. I love color, but over time trends have called for more neutral rugs in different shades of gray,” she says. “My work is much more patterned and textural now, although I do try to have one or two fun rugs in my collection every year.”

Her new home has provided inspiration for her work, as well as room to grow. “It’s a fabulous space, and I love having so much room,” says Hallgarten. “I finally feel like I can show some of my things—and breathe.”

Architecture: Kraig Kalashian
Interior design: Rosemary Hallgarten