November 13, 2011
Text by Erin Marvin Photography by Bruce Buck
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what better compliment could a new homeowner pay his designers than asking them to copy a scheme that they themselves had created once before—and in the same house, no less?
Ron Marks was newly divorced and looking to start over with a clean slate when he found a lovely Shingle-style house in the picturesque town of New Canaan. Built by architect Louise Brooks of Brooks & Falotico Associates, it boasted a gambrel roof, bay windows, a screened porch and a fieldstone terrace overlooking a cultivated landscape of just under an acre, yet it was smaller and less traditional than the house he’d shared with his ex-wife. It spoke to his need for a cozy home that was manageable for a single person, though still roomy enough for his daughters when they visited from college.
“Right away I knew this was a special house,” says Marks. “The quality was high. The crown moldings, the hardware, the light fixtures—it was all done first-class. It had everything I wanted in a home—the right number of bedrooms, the right finishes—and I didn’t have to change anything structurally.”
Inside, the house was just what he was searching for aesthetically, and since he planned to move in with little more than a few suitcases, some tennis rackets, and a large number of books and artworks (furnishings had been left with his ex-wife), he asked the original owners to sell it fully furnished.
They declined but gave him the next best thing: the names of their decorators, Petra and Whitney Roberts of Boxwood Home & Interiors.
Marks was so taken with the house’s comfy-but-chic style, he asked the mother-daughter design team to reconstruct the look and feel of the interiors that they had created for the original owners. The overall design scheme wouldn’t be an exact replica—Marks didn’t share the previous owners’ love of antiques, so a few pieces were replaced with more contemporary versions—but it would certainly be a quality reproduction. “It was a really fun project both times around,” says Whitney Roberts.
The home’s blushing pink exterior leads to a neutral-toned interior, where subtle shades of soft gray, blue and sea-mist green on the walls set a calming palette. Beige strié wallpaper envelops the spacious first-floor great room, which is bookended by handsome fireplaces bedecked in decorative diamond and oval moldings designed by Brooks. The open, informal layout leaves plenty of room for a comfortable seating area of plump brown couches and cream-colored linen chairs, as well as a large X-base dining table that seats eight. Green in the toss pillows, cashmere throw and artwork above the mantel adds a pop of color. Texture is provided by the sisal carpet, and the zebra-print window treatments offer unexpected pattern play. Light flows freely through multiple sets of French doors that open onto the terrace and, in one corner, the screened porch. The great room gives way to the large kitchen, where Brooks custom designed white kitchen cabinetry and a marble-topped island.
Thanks to large-paned windows that bring in outside views, light floods the stairway leading to the top two floors, which hold the master suite as well as bedrooms for Marks’s daughters and guests.
Swedish elements—the soft gray wash on foyer walls, the chairs gathered around the dining table, barstools in the kitchen—are intermixed with the occasional animal print and a nod or two to old Palm Beach, such as the blue pagoda-like light fixture in the master bathroom, the iron lanterns painted to look like bamboo that hang over the dining room table and wicker seating on the screened porch. The house is “casual but still elegant, sophisticated but livable,” says Petra Roberts.
The home’s neutral palette, plentiful wall space and abundant natural light make it the perfect backdrop to showcase Marks’s extensive art collection. “I’ve been passionate about art since I was in college,” he says. “My roommate, luck of the draw, was the son of a very prominent art-collecting family in Beverly Hills.” So while their fellow students hung posters of Farrah Fawcett or Led Zeppelin, they decorated their wall with an original drawing by Matisse. “I was very fortunate to be exposed to that,” Marks adds. “It awoke a sleeping giant within me.”
His collection is impressive, to say the least. Drawn to abstract expressionist, postmodern and contemporary art, he owns about seventy significant works by artists such as Mel Bochner, Robert Kelly, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, David Shapiro, Louise Bourgeois, Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Burri (a famed Italian painter and sculptor who was also Marks’s uncle). Other than sunlight, most of the home’s lighting had previously come from lamps, so Marks brought in a specialist to add sixty-five spots around the house to better highlight his collection.
A large Frank Stella painting in the entrance hall is a favorite of Marks’s; it once hung in his office at Goldman Sachs, and he used his first Wall Street bonus check to buy it. A Thomas Nozkowski hangs over one of the fireplaces in the great room, and one of Marks’s newest acquisitions, a colored-pencil drawing by Mark Grotjahn, graces the far right corner. A work by Sam Francis adorns the stairway leading to the media room, which doubles as a gallery and includes works by such prominent artists as Ross Bleckner, Jasper Johns, Peter Reginato, Joseph McDonnell and Nancy Graves. The mudroom serves as a second mini gallery. In fact, not a room in the house is without art; even the backyard is home to large sculptures by Bernar Venet and Reginato.
Bookshelves in the downstairs library are lined with monographs of all the artists Marks has ever collected (or wanted to). “I’ve amassed a pretty good collection,” he says. “But it’s never complete because you never have all the art you want.”
Though the house may have started as a reproduction, each eclectic element, personal touch and beloved painting makes it a unique work of art entirely its own.
Architecture: Louise Brooks, Brooks & Falotico Associates
Interior design: Petra and Whitney Roberts, Boxwood Home & Interiors
Builder: Thayer West, West Construction Corporation