A dramatic Greenwich home built early in the last century is as glamorous as ever, thanks to the nips and tucks of a talented design team.
Like great actresses, houses also have to continually reinvent themselves. Born early in the last century, this grande dame on a peninsula within the confines of the famed Belle Haven enclave of Greenwich has gracefully repositioned herself from budding starlet to glamorous icon. But she isn’t ready to be pushed into the role of dowager just yet.
Nearly fifteen years ago, as a new family took over this waterfront manse with sweeping Long Island Sound views, her Gilded Age looks began to take on a new shine under the talented eye of interior designer Cindy Rinfret. Over the years since, Rinfret and her clients have brought the house to its current state of perfection. “A house is really never done,” says Rinfret. “This house has such a long history to consider. I remember seeing it on a house tour before my clients purchased it. It’s just a timeless and dreamy place.”
Rinfret has swathed the house in details that would make Daisy Buchanan swoon: Gracie paper in the large foyer, a black-lacquered powder room layered with silver brushes and cups, and a mirrored bar hidden under the stairs were mere finishing touches on a massive makeover. “Everything in the house was transformed,” says Rinfret. “This is a gorgeous client who loves her home and decorating and collecting. It’s not a quiet and understated house. It isn’t a blue and beige house.”
Her client, says Rinfret, “is a world traveler with a terrific eye. The house is a showcase for her collections.”
Case in point is a black dressing table with elaborate gold-painted Chinese scenes that Rinfret used as the inspiration for the black and chinoiserie powder room on the first floor. The dresser was cut to accommodate a gold sink, and Rinfret designed a black cabinet to accompany it, adding intricate bamboo details to the walls of the space.
A new Clive Christian kitchen was installed, to which the designer added a wrought-iron lighting fixture and accessories. It bears all the hallmarks of a timeless cooking space, complete with corbels and fretwork details, cubbies for serving pieces, and a butcher block extension to the island supported by turned wood legs. A fireplace with a raised hearth, one of five in the house, sits opposite the range.
Just through the butler’s pantry, pine walls and built-ins give the dining room its cozy feel, while intricately carved woodwork surrounds the room. Rinfret kept the original finish, balancing it with a gold-painted ceiling above and a large Aubusson rug below, then adding a stunning piece of jewelry in the form of a Charles Winston chandelier that seems to levitate in the middle of the room. Piles of coral and painted china fill the open shelves, along with polished silver at the ready for entertaining at any moment.
These spaces, along with the large living room, the clubby family room, and children’s bedrooms have aged just as well as any Oscar winner with the help of nips and tucks—coming in the form of new pillows, a little paint, and some occasional fine-tuning. Things that have given out under dogs and children (there are two of each) are replaced with little fanfare. It’s just life.
Locked in the past, houses can become museums. Changing with the times keeps them from becoming relics. With the help of architect Joseph Matto, the dwelling was given a large addition. Much of the house had originally been built to turn inward, but the family wanted to embrace their Gatsby-esque setting, including the sweeping lawn with sailboat-studded views, the stone walls, the hillside terrace creating a private spot for the pool, and the gazebo with its latticework details.
Rinfret and Matto went about planning a new double-height great room with an office under the eaves on one end. Tracery-filled windows Rinfret designed fill the entire water view end of the room and overlook the garden, while pine beams soar overhead. A bamboo-framed television over the fireplace and a sectional sofa and oversize leather-topped ottoman make this the obvious choice for family gatherings.
Stone-topped tables, giant lanterns, and statuary add a garden element to the space, as do an iron table and the wrought iron balcony above that holds the wife’s office.
Recalling the black powder room in the original makeover from previous years, Rinfret designed a complementary bamboo wainscoting for the addition. “It was really about bringing inside and outside together,” she says, “putting the wrought iron on the inside to reflect the outside. It’s about the rough and the smooth, the shiny with the matte.”
Keeping the decorative elements neutral allows the architecture to stand out as well. Linen drapery panels and chairs covered in raw linen lend a casual air. Cut velvet Greek key pillows add elegance.
Besides the lawn and water views, the addition also yielded space for a cozy breakfast area, with walls upholstered in a botanical linen and bordered with the tiniest rivulet of Greek key tape. Rinfret designed the window cornices, which she had custom built and painted to hide the tops of the bamboo blinds, and added a built-in seat covered in caramel-colored leather. A sturdy walnut-topped pedestal table sits below a Charles Edwards chandelier. “It’s just classic with a twist, not stuffy,” the designer explains. “It’s touchable, livable, and cozy.”
Outside stand perfectly manicured boxwoods and white blooms that bob in the breeze. From the two main porches that overlook the pool, there’s a flurry of boats ripping through the water, darting about the small islands that separate Connecticut from Long Island. The porch near the front door is covered, while the other, along the more private back of the house, is exposed to the sun. Both are filled with plenty of chairs, settees, and tables from which to enjoy the view.
“Designing this house is almost like creating a glamorous backdrop for an experience,” says Rinfret.
Or, perhaps, for a movie. In this case, the gorgeous home plays the starring role. •
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