Natural Wonder

Text by Megan Fulweiler Photography by John Gruen Produced by Stacy Kunstel

Albert Einstein—a genius, certainly, and perhaps more of a design expert than we thought—once remarked that there are two ways to live: as though everything is a miracle or as though nothing is. Even a short conversation with interior designer Gina Eastman leaves no doubt into which camp she falls. Eastman sees beauty in everything, and her enthusiasm for the world around her infuses her designs with what can best be described as subtle joy.

The 1810 carriage house set on a pastoral stone-walled property she purchased several years ago is a prime example. Having been previously renovated, the dear Fairfield County building required only cosmetic changes. “It called for a different spin,” Eastman says. “I like to mix things up, so I envisioned a juxtaposition of old and new: a little Chippendale and a touch of edginess. Above all, I wanted to make it the kind of place people love to come to.”

The challenge, of course, was to marry these diverse elements and keep the intimately scaled rooms feeling clean and contemporary. Eastman, who has a custom furniture line, Eastman Designworks, was hardly intimidated. Since this was her own home, she simply let her personal aesthetic guide her. “When we’re in tune with our surroundings, it feeds us,” she says. “I’m always on the hunt for inspiration, and I find it everywhere. There’s so much beauty to take in—art, light, the landscape, forms, and shapes—everything plays into the design process.”

Because touches of nature make her happy, they pop up like wildflowers everywhere in her home. Animals, faux fur, horns, and hide mesh so easily with the furnishings, the carriage house feels almost magical. To accommodate her deft mixing and matching, Eastman wisely keeps her palette pale and uniform. Sharp contrasts of black and white interject modernity, while antique wide-plank floors and original black iron hardware speak to the history of the house.

Eastman, who admits to a penchant for white lacquer, uses it freely to showcase the silhouette of, say, a vintage mirror or claw-foot table. An understated entry vignette with a streamlined console, a reclaimed mirror, and porcelain greyhound—all in white (save for the flowering branches she regularly stages here)—is so soul-lifting that cares fall away just by crossing the threshold. And that’s exactly what the designer intends.

“It’s all about being comfortable and curling up wherever you want,” she says.

In the living room, Eastman eschews distractions such as television. Instead, she has created a setting for contemplation or, even better, conversation. Sheers at the windows soften the light falling on a cowhide rug. A cocktail table with a top upholstered in slick leopard print invites a tray of drinks or a stack of books. And twin antique chests flank the pillow-strewn sofa above which Eastman has mounted a metal steer’s head.

As skilled at mixing textures as she is at intermingling eras and styles, Eastman has intuitively made every corner inviting. The desk she uses for paperwork is actually an antique table. The designer swapped out the original top for one of Calacatta marble. A mercury-glass lamp with a cork shade perches to one side. Her chair is a favorite old find with a reupholstered hide seat. And should anyone doubt it, yes, those framed feathers prominently displayed on the easel are real. The throw, however, is faux fur, lined in appeal-enhancing cashmere.

The nearby dining room has all the requisites for hosting a festive dinner with friends. Eastman has lightened the mood with a glass-topped, white-lacquered Chinese Chippendale table and dark Hepplewhite-style chairs. A lacquered étagère holds vintage glasses at the ready. “The scale is a tiny bit kooky, but it’s all fun,” she says.

The clever designer never allows her kitchen to drift into the humdrum either. Because this room was a later addition to the original structure, it lacked the distinctive wide-board flooring found in the rest of the house. The floor here has its own particular  character, though, thanks to the coat of ink-black paint Eastman has given it. An oversize Buddha head replaces the ubiquitous fruit basket on her lacquered breakfast table, while linens and sundries find homes in a lacquered sideboard handed down from Eastman’s sister.

Eventually, Eastman reveals the origins of her affection for these graphic black/white combinations: “Audrey Hepburn’s iconic evening dress in the movie Sabrina! It made a lasting impression,” she admits with a laugh.

So chic on Hepburn and so stylish here, it’s the ideal mix for breathing life into the master bedroom and bath as well. “I grounded my bedroom with a really cozy white rug. Sleeping quarters, I think, should always be luxe,” Eastman explains.

Noir walls, ceiling, and floor catapult the petite master bath into the glamorous (but understated, à la Hepburn) realm, too. Eastman offsets the sultriness with snowy tile and a skirted sink. A trio of small stag horns adds a lighthearted touch of nature and helps tie the bath to the rest of the happy house.

For Eastman, home is a refuge. At the end of the day, these rooms—including the fashionable covered patio with its striped wicker—allow her to rest and recharge. Of course, not everyone finds solace in the same look, she says. “Some clients prefer bright colors, some long for neutrals; some like traditional scenes, others crave contemporary,” she notes. “There are so many possibilities. I listen closely and strive to give clients their own voice.”

It takes someone with finely tuned sensibilities to appreciate the many points to which people gravitate. Eastman’s talent for absorbing everyday things—the angle of a storm cloud on the horizon, the delicate intricacies of a bud on a vine—makes her more receptive to her clients’ dreams. And, if she senses they feel uncertain, she can always tell them about Sabrina (or maybe Einstein). That’s sure to ignite a creative spark. •

Interior design: Gina Eastman

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