July 12, 2013
The homeowner’s love of antiques and nostalgia for her native country inspired the evolution of a dream home in the Litchfield Hills.
Text by Maria LaPiana Photography by John Gruen Produced by Karin Lidbeck Brent
“Go on, close it. Give it a good push, and listen.” A visitor obliges, opening wide the front door to Regine Laverge-Schade’s home, and then slamming it shut. It swings easily and closes hard. It’s loud, but it doesn’t rattle the sturdy house. “I knew I had to have a real Dutch door, a heavy one,” says Laverge-Schade with a satisfied smile. She found the eighteenth-century antique in her native Holland and had it shipped here, because in building her dream home she was determined to replicate the look and feel of houses she’d known and loved.
Set in a postcard-worthy river valley in Litchfield County, the charming home was inspired by South African Dutch Colonial architecture. It started with a vision, and with the expert assistance of architect Ken Daniel and builder Walter Johnson, the woman who came to this country as a young bride in the 1960s made it real: a literal home away from home.
Laverge-Schade moved to Connecticut in 1977 with her then-husband, Hendrik Laverge. They lived for a time in what she calls a “white elephant” in the town of Washington before embarking on this labor of love, a three-story, 4,200-square-foot paean to all the things she loves (Dutch and otherwise).
European style infuses the country estate on forty-two acres. The house is stately, with its ivy-covered stucco facade showcasing an ornate gable in classic Cape Dutch style. The graveled courtyard offers glimpses of the sweeping stonework that forms patios and niches at the rear, sheltering the home in a close embrace. The home is pedigreed and tasteful but not ostentatious, its rusticity perfectly at home in the Litchfield Hills.
“The interiors have evolved over time,” says Laverge-Schade. In homage to her homeland, she has decorated the place with many pieces that have been in her family for years. Treasures large and small, including an outsize portrait of the great-grandmother for whom she was named, fill the rooms. As an erstwhile dealer and longtime collector of antiques and garden ornaments, she has added many incredible finds over the years.
Front-to-back, the house is quite narrow, designed to let the breezes flow freely through doors and windows. Enter the foyer through the famous Dutch door and the space has a formal feel, with sixteen-inch-square Carrara marble tiles from Holland and elegantly framed paintings hung high and low.
In the dining room, directly ahead, a distressed eighteenth-century mahogany table from an old monastery holds court, surrounded by high-back wicker chairs. Half sconces from Laverge-Schade’s father’s family home, backed by antique mirrors, illuminate the space with reflected light.
To the right of the foyer lies the living room, a space both grand and snug with its ornate marble fireplace surround, wide oak floors and an eclectic mix of chairs, sofas and settees from various periods. A low sofa and a plush armchair, both sporting cream-colored upholstery, cozy up to a coffee table with an iron frame and two glass shelves. The lower shelf holds a modern sculpture by a local artist that speaks to its owner’s love of contemporary art. Classical artwork has its place here, too, in a collection that adorns the walls above the sofa. With pride, Laverge-Schade opens the door to a seventeenth-century Flemish armoire that her father used as a liquor cabinet and points to a Bible verse he taped to the inside.
A corner den offers privacy and comfort with eclectic style; alongside fine furnishings and treasured antique paintings sits a chair Laverge-Schade unearthed at a local auction and purchased for $14.
In the pleasant country kitchen on the other side of the house, everything—from the floor-to-ceiling cabinets to the countertops to the iron-and-glass table—was made to last, by design. “When I went to look for my door,” remembers Laverge-Schade, “I went to a farm in Holland and discovered very talented woodworkers who designed kitchen cabinets.”
She was so enamored of their work that she had them design hers, but found the cost prohibitive once she priced them out in the States. Undaunted, she recruited the craftsmen to travel to Connecticut and outfit the entire kitchen and the baths as well as lay the home’s flooring. Among the treasures they imported and installed: the marble floor tiles, a Belgian bluestone countertop in the kitchen and pantry, the backsplash made of reproduction Dutch antique tiles and a range hood salvaged from an old canal house. Before leaving, the workmen bestowed a special gift, installing the entry’s inlaid brass compass rose.
Laverge-Schade decided to open her home to guests in 2009. She secured the necessary permits and reconfigured the bedrooms, took up residence in rooms over the garage and opened the Hidden Valley Bed & Breakfast. Guests can rent the cozily furnished Blue and Green rooms on the second floor or the Red Suite on the first floor, which has its own entrance, bath and kitchen, plus access to the terrace overlooking the nature preserve for which the B&B is named.
Several defined spaces surrounding the house are furnished with elegant (and heavy) vintage-style patio furniture. Laverge-Schade loves to tell the story behind the furniture. Some years ago, while visiting her brother who was living in Zimbabwe at the time, she discovered a foundry whose owner was delighted to cast copies of some antique furniture she loved. The commission was rather extensive, and thus was launched Jardins Paradis, her garden furnishings business.
Like the interiors of her home, the landscape has evolved over time, says Laverge-Schade. She relies largely on the arboreal expertise of Albert Piskura, of MP Property Management in Washington, and a good friend, Roeland Everwyn, who visits from Holland every two years or so, to help her prune trees.
Looking back, Laverge-Schade says that building her home was a wonderful experience. She’s happy to be able to share it with guests now, most of whom, she says, “treat it with respect and enjoyment.”
That pleases her, she adds, “because I just love it to pieces.” •
Architecture: Ken Daniel, Visual Terrain
Builder: Walter Johnson, West Mountain Builders