Step Inside a Stone and Shingle Connecticut Cottage
April 1, 2020
Designer Alice Black’s quirky cottage exudes charm but never feels fusty.
Text by Marni Elyse Katz Photography by Emily Gilbert
It was a storybook romance. Alice and Dirk Black fell hard for the stone-and-shingle cottage at the end of a shady lane in Redding. The couple entertained visions of not-so-lazy weekends with paintbrushes and hammers in hand. “The property was overgrown, and the house was in bad shape, but it had tons of charm,” the designer says. “It was exactly the project we were looking for.”
At the time, Black, who now heads Alice Black Interiors in Westport, was working at an architectural firm devoted to classic design principles. “Everything we produced was based on historical precedents,” she says. “This house was the exact opposite; nothing really made sense architecturally, but it was worthy of creating a new history.”
Undaunted, the pair chipped away at improvements, attentive to preserving the cottage’s magical essence. For inspiration, Black referenced the book Storybook Style: America’s Whimsical Homes of the Twenties by Arrol Gellner, as well as the architecture of Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House, a historical stone-and-shingle summer home in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She points to Beauport’s complex rooflines and quirky windows as particularly influential when it came to reworking the back addition. “It has the sense of having been added onto in different time periods, yet feels seamless and intentional,” Black says.
Interior renovations further enhanced the cottage’s quaint character. The Blacks salvaged the floors in the part of the house built in the 1940s (entry, dining room, kitchen), installed moldings copied from a brownstone in New York City that Black had worked on, and replicated the cottage’s original clapboard doors when needed, like in the entry hall. That door closes off a powder room that the Blacks were able to squeeze in. The revision also happened to square off the space. “We were almost creating an architecture that didn’t really exist by embellishing and repeating the positives,” Black says.
The couple played up unexpected moments in the living room, which occupies the circa-1810 stone portion of the cottage. They tucked a banquette into the turret, where their teenage daughter likes to study, and exposed the underside of the loft. “The raw wood beams bring intimacy,” Black notes. The dining room’s eggplant walls do the same. “People don’t want to leave the table after dinner,” she says.
Furnishings infuse a cozy familiarity. In the living room, the sheepskin rug beckons one to stretch out like the reclining woman in the drawing the couple found in the attic. The carved lion’s head entry table, a hand-me-down from a client, has the feel of an old-time family piece, and the hammered-copper farm sink in the kitchen channels country comfort.
Mixing modern with traditional is a guiding principle for the designer. Light-colored upholstery and abstract artwork, from the Harry Bertoia sculpture in the entry to the colorful, oversize canvas in the sunroom that the couple painted à deux when first dating, keep the rooms fresh. The airy white bedrooms are downright serene. “Mixing things makes a home feel relaxed,” Black says. “That’s what the design is all about.”