July 12, 2013
Text by Dan Shaw Photography by Michael Partenio Produced by Stacy Kunstel
Best friends and frequent collaborators join forces to give one of them a home that reflects both her vivacious aesthetic and the creative spark the two generate together.
“I am a modernist at heart, which makes it a challenge to live in a classic New England country house,” says interior designer Denise Davies as she welcomes a visitor to her 1929 home on three manicured yet rural acres in Weston. A native of Miami who grew up in a color-saturated Art Deco house, Davies has developed a sunny, effervescent aesthetic that seems entirely right for contemporary Connecticut, where former city folk like her want to combine the intimacy of small-town life with the intensity of urban style.
Davies, a former fashion executive, collaborates frequently with Kerri Rosenthal, an artist and color consultant. The two are a madcap pair—a latter-day version of TV’s Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz (who lived just down the road in Westport, in the final season of I Love Lucy). They are best friends whose manic energy informs every project they undertake together. “This house reminds me of the one Lucy lived in,” says Rosenthal, who is swiftly interrupted by Davies who notes: “It’s not one of those Fairfield McMansions!”
Indeed, the house has human-scaled rooms with lovely proportions, but it’s modest by today’s super-sized standards. Several times since the 1960s, the three-bedroom house was added onto in a higgledy-piggledy fashion, and the layout did not immediately make sense to Davies and her husband, who have ten- and eleven-year-old sons. “So we lived here for a while and we didn’t do anything,” she recalls.
They initially hired an architect to reorganize the space and design an addition, but realized that they’d be destroying the house’s quirky character and decided to leave well enough alone. “With Kerri’s help, we changed the flow,” says Davies. “The dining room became the living room, which we discovered had once been the garage! The living room became a studio. A room that was being used as Pilates studio became the dining room. We kept the family room as is and we enclosed an open porch and made it a mudroom.”
The mudroom entrance is the first indication that Davies and Rosenthal don’t play by the traditional preppy, Ralph Lauren–inspired rule book. It has lemon-hued grasscloth walls and gray lacquered cubbies for each member of the family; drawers with gleaming chrome hardware hide sneakers and muck boots. “It was Kerri’s idea to paint the door to the mudroom citron,” says Davies. “Kerri is a genius with color.”
The decorating respects the bucolic Connecticut landscape and harmonizes with the outdoors whether the trees are green, gold or covered in snow. “You’ll notice that there aren’t any window treatments in the living room. Why would we want to hide the view?” The first thing Davies did when she bought the house was to replace the “spindly deck” with a gracious stone patio that frames the view from the house to the swimming pool. She did all the landscaping, too, working with the existing stone walls and shrubs so that the backyard looks like a well-preserved park. “The property is what really sold us on the house,” says Davies, who lived in lofts in SoHo and Tribeca before moving to Weston.
Although her clients usually want all their upholstery to be brand new, Davies has a penchant for pieces with history and patina. In the living room she paired midcentury Italian armchairs in turquoise fabric with new cafe au lait-colored sofas. The ’70s-style chandelier, Lucite coffee table and chrome lamps are all vintage finds as well.
Decorating the dining room, which sits in the middle of the house, was especially challenging—and satisfying. “It had this wall of built-ins that I was ready to rip out, but then Kerri suggested painting them a custom vintage teal to work with the fabulous David Hicks wallpaper we found,” she says. “Now I keep my books and collection of midcentury ceramics on the shelves and I love them.”
Instead of a chandelier in the low-ceilinged room, Davies used a gigantic swing-arm standing lamp from Design Within Reach. “My husband always hated that lamp—he called it the hair dryer—but he loves how it looks here.”
The vintage wood-and-chrome table is surrounded by a mix of rattan and midcentury Italian schoolhouse chairs. On opposite ends of the room, a mirrored chest from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams and a Mylar disco mirror reflect each other, making the space sparkle.
The house pulses with energy, and Rosenthal’s large painting of a dripping yellow heart adds pizzazz to the pale gray foyer.
The friends’ high/low shtick is on display upstairs in the boys’ bedrooms where David Hicks carpet from Stark sets the tone along with accessories from Jonathan Adler. “We used my husband’s old album covers as art in one bedroom because my son Jesse loves classic rock and roll,” says Davies, who takes classes with him at the nearby Fairfield School of Rock, which explains the electric guitar propped in a corner of the master bedroom.
“My bedroom is the biggest room in the house, and it’s where I practice the guitar,” says Davies, who asked Rosenthal to paint an abstract mural behind the bed based on a piece of wallpaper they’d seen. She designed the blown-glass chandelier for the cathedral ceiling and added a vintage Art Deco dresser that she lacquered white, which reminds her of her Miami roots. “I wanted the room simple because the best part is the view of the pool and the backyard,” she says.
Back downstairs in the studio/office, Davies and Rosenthal are anxious to get back to work. “We collaborated on eleven projects last year and we have done seven already this year, and we want to break our own record!” Davies says. How do they manage to be so hyper-productive? “We drink a lot of coffee,” Davies says jokingly, and then goes onto explain that she’s developed close relationships with a variety of tradesmen who can keep pace with them. Most important, the pair only takes on clients who understand their shared vision. “We don’t do cookie-cutter interiors but color is essential to all our projects,” says Rosenthal. “We absolutely believe that color makes you happy.”
Certainly, Davies’s giddiness is testament to their design philosophy. “Every time I turn in our driveway,” she says, “I cannot believe that I am lucky enough to live here. It makes me so happy.” •