Contemporary Connecticut Farmhouse
Text by Megan Fulweiler Photography by Michael Partenio Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent
It’s a classic happy-ending story. Nancy Monahan lived just a mile down the road from this pretty farmhouse. She drove by almost every day, wishing it could be hers. When a for-sale sign suddenly popped up on the home’s sun-dappled lawn, she wasted no time in recruiting her husband to take a look. Fairfield County, and in particular this posh neighborhood, is loaded with antique houses—many with historic markers highlighting their pedigrees. Much to the couple’s surprise, however, the farmhouse turned out to have been built in 2008. “We had assumed it was old. But we saw it as the best of both worlds,” Monahan says. “The charm was there, but the systems were all new.”
Less than a week later, the bucolic property—bright red barn included—was theirs.
Monahan, who with her daughter, Sara, launched her own booming design firm several years ago, has also long been involved in pharmaceutical sales. Her two successful careers let her exercise both the analytical and creative sides of her brain. The farmhouse provided an opportunity to fire up the latter and let her imagination soar. The existing rooms were dark and way too fussy for Monahan, who favors a casual approach that better fits the twenty-first century. Her decision to do away with a traditional living room is a perfect example.
“We had a living room in our last house, and we never used it,” the designer explains. Instead, the revamped kitchen with adjoining great room is the heart of the house and the hub for entertaining. Monahan swapped out the existing French doors for simplified models with fewer panes, reworked the fireplace mantel for a more rustic look, and repainted the cabinetry. Out went a large pot rack that blocked the sight line from the front door through the kitchen window to the barn, and in came a slew of comfortable furniture. An iron-legged table with a weathered wood top provides an ideal destination for breakfast or dinner. And a custom sectional with a versatile ottoman allows any number of people to perch by the hearth.
To ensure the mood remains relaxed and serene, Monahan chose a palette of soft grays with bits of color scattered here and there. “Gray is so flexible,” she says. “Rather than make its own statement, gray allows a room’s other elements to speak.”
In the kitchen/great room, that translates to a contemporary rug in an appealing pattern chock full of movement, a straightforward glass-topped coffee table selected for its airy demeanor, and striking art from Lillian August. Since the one-acre property is private, window treatments appear only in the bedrooms. Elsewhere, the tall windows stand unadorned so the mature trees spied through the glass become, as Monahan explains, “part of the decor.”
Vetoing a stuffy living room is one thing, but losing a dedicated dining room would have been a different story, especially come the holidays. The existing red walls and bright white trim, though, didn’t fit with Monahan’s fresh and more modern tempo. Taking the setting from cozy to sophisticated, she clad the walls in a metallic grasscloth by Phillip Jeffries and covered the floor with a sisal rug that adds texture. The plank table and straight-backed chairs—newly slipcovered in linen—hail from the family’s previous home. Mercury-glass pendants dressed in chainmail replace yesterday’s crystal chandeliers. At night, the twin fixtures glow like stars.
But if the dining room is all about gathering together, the refurbished library is where people head to read their novels or watch a movie. Velvet armchairs with snowy piping exude comfort. In its former life, the book-filled space was a somber, cherry-paneled study. “We painted the walls, shelves, and coffered ceiling to lighten it up,” says Monahan.
Although she frequently uses the library for work, Monahan has also devised a mini-office on the second floor. “I like that the spot is open to the downstairs and I can hear what’s going on,” she says. A lean desk on X-legs affords just the right amount of parking space for necessary accoutrements.
On their frequent visits, the couple’s two grown daughters claim bedrooms on this level as well. “Given a choice of rooms, they both ask for the one with a view of the barn,” Monahan says. Still, as appealing as those vistas are, this favorite room also entices with a heavenly bed upholstered in a hue reminiscent of spring-blooming iris. Drexel Heritage mirrored nightstands lend some girly glamour.
The parents have their own sanctuary on the first floor. Inspired by a Kelly Wearstler showhouse design, Monahan beefed up the room’s character by adding an appealing arrangement of wood trim to the wall behind the bed. Gray flannel curtains frame doors to the patio. Weather permitting, Monahan and her husband, Chris, drift outside in the morning to watch the birds at the feeders and admire the flowers.
As she did with the interiors, Monahan—with help from garden designer Angelo Maldonado—edited the grounds. “We took out a lot of plants that had lost their shape and replaced them with ones that would provide more interest,” says Maldonado. A once-busy bed at the base of the front porch now contains a blend of crisp boxwood and blue hydrangea. The last speaks to the color of the welcoming front door. Perennials mingle along the stone path to the barn. And rising amid the heady blooms are three arbors patinated with lichen. “They were here when we arrived, and they’re getting ever more fragile. But, I love how weathered they look,” says Monahan.
Of course, passersby meandering down the road never guess at the contemporary air that’s recently wafted through the farmhouse. And that’s just how the Monahans want to keep it. After all, it was the old-time vibe that drew them in. Monahan’s skillful alterations have made the house more functional and stylish but—to everyone’s great joy—preserved the age-defying magic.
Interior design: Nancy Monahan, Greystone Statement Interiors
Builder: Tomasz Czaja, T&R Construction
Garden design: Angelo Maldonado, Maldonado Landscapes