May 17, 2016
A painter’s Ridgefield home is a lot like the artist herself: colorful, lively, and unafraid to make a fiercely personal statement.
Text by Robert Kiener Photography by Michael Partenio Produced by Stacy Kunstel
Given that Rachel Volpone is a celebrated painter, it’s not surprising that her home reflects many of the same qualities that make her artwork so popular. Both employ bold uses of color, scale, and texture, and both show an artist’s keen eye for composition. Indeed, as the Ridgefield-based painter admits, “My house is a lot like my painting in that I’m constantly experimenting and adapting; it’s very much a work in progress.”
After she finishes a painting she will often display it on one of her own walls. “Buyers are often more comfortable seeing a painting in a home setting, as opposed to a gallery,” she explains. Adding a painting, or removing one in the case of a sale, may even trigger a redesign of a room. Fortunately for Volpone, she has great friends who are also interior designers, and they are always willing to advise about a redesign.
And, as Volpone admits with a smile, she owns plenty of furniture, design pieces, fabric, artwork, and more to work with. A self-confessed “maximalist,” Volpone has been a collector for years. Her cherished assortment of favorite things includes antiques and vintage finds as well as the artwork of many talented friends. “This is definitely not a less-is-more house,” she says. “More is always more for me! I need help with editing my things.”
Longtime friend and local designer Molly Hirsch describes Volpone’s home as “a design playground.”
“Rachel’s artwork is always changing, and so is the design of her home,” Hirsch says. “If she needs to solve a design problem, she’ll call me in and we will work out a solution together. I like to think of her house as her canvas.”
Take, for example, the family room. Volpone felt it just wasn’t working. As she explains, “There was something wrong with it, but I just couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I asked Molly for help.”
Hirsch saw immediately that the problem was one of proportion and scale. “The room had a lot going on and needed a strong anchor,” she says. “We replaced the smallish coffee table with a large, painted wood coffee table that establishes the room’s seating area, and had the couch re-covered.”
Later, while scouting furniture for another client, Hirsch found a pair of sculptural lamps. Placed on a console behind a sofa, they help define the sitting area in the spacious room.
Hirsch also helped Volpone sort out her master bedroom. “It was another composition and scale problem,” says the designer. “I advised Rachel to move her fantastic Venetian carved bed against the window and balance it with a set of dressers. It seemed counter-intuitive, but it worked.”
Says Volpone, “Often it’s hard to work out the scale of a room when you are living in it. A new pair of eyes can work wonders.”
Because Hirsch knows Volpone’s taste so well (“We are simpatico,” she says) she will often pick up an item for her when shopping. She discovered some red Diane James silk poppies and knew they would go perfectly in Volpone’s dramatic dining room. “I thought, ‘These are so Rachel’ when I saw them,” the designer says. Volpone agreed; they immediately became a much-admired accent point atop her dining room chest.
Another friend and local designer, Amanda Dranow, has also worked with Volpone in what they both term “a constant collaboration.” Says Dranow, “I don’t have any other clients like Rachel. She is fearless and has such a great eye for design. I don’t think she really needs a designer, but she is so much fun to work with.”
Like Hirsch, Dranow helped solve design problems. “Rachel wasn’t maximizing the living room,” the designer explains. She established a study area and added two cozy conversation areas to the side of the light-filled room. “Color is so much a part of Rachel’s art and design that I felt it was important to steer her to adding more neutral, restrained areas, so her dramatic pieces had the space they needed to be appreciated,” says Dranow.
The dining room may be the home’s most dramatic statement. Inspired by a painting of colorful Gypsies, it features aubergine walls with black trim, coral-hued drapes, and chairs upholstered in both floral and striped patterns. “I wanted the room to have just the right hue and contrast, like a painting,” says Volpone. “It is meant to be very atmospheric, making it a fun place to have dinner.”
She found an antique Argentine bar and asked Norwalk-based faux painter Stephen D’Louhy to paint it like a Tibetan chest for use as a sideboard. “He nailed it,” says Volpone. She instructed him to leave the original stains on the top of the bar for “character.”
Volpone also asked D’Louhy to paint the dining room ceiling in distressed, reflective silver and gold to resemble an antique mirror. “I’m intrigued with the magical, mysterious idea of antique mirrors and all the scenes that have been reflected in them throughout history,” she says. “It gives the dining room another layer of the dramatic.”
Inspired by her friend’s “brave” and “iconoclastic” approach to design, Dranow suggested using some old wooden garden trellises on a living room wall as a backdrop to a sort of artist’s bulletin board. “It added an interesting bit of texture and layering to the room,” much as Rachel’s paintings do, says Dranow. Volpone then added design items she had collected over the years.
Dranow, like Hirsch, admits that she has learned a lot from working with Volpone. “A lot of designers focus on what you shouldn’t—or cannot—do, but Rachel has always been about what you should do and can do. She is inclusive rather than exclusive,” says Dranow.
Volpone says her design philosophy is simple: “Surround yourself with objects that have meaning and give you joy.”
On a recent visit to Volpone’s home to preview her paintings for an interested client, Molly Hirsch was reminded once again that her friend’s home is both a work in progress and a work of art. “Rachel’s interior design may not be like your typical Fairfield County house, but it is full of warmth and interest,” she says. “Just like Rachel herself!” •
Interior design: Molly Hirsch, Molly Hirsch Interiors, and Amanda Dranow, Amanda Dranow Decoration and Design