A Home All Her Own
Written by Christy Marshall
Photography by Alise O’Brien
Sometimes life changes slowly, evolving over years as children grow up, go off to college and onto lives of their own. Or it flips in a minute. This homeowner has had both. Her husband of several decades died suddenly of a massive heart attack and her two children grew up and moved away. After her daughter went to college, the homeowner was left to rattle about in a 12,000 square foot house in West County.
It was time to move.
“I wanted a house that was smaller and more user-friendly,” the homeowner says. First she found the property, a corner lot in Frontenac, starring a 200-year-old oak tree that grabbed her heart. But the existing house didn’t, so she decided to replace it with a home all her own.
She interviewed a number of architects and picked Mitchell Wall Architecture and Design. “They were very specific about what they could handle, what they could control, what they could contribute and what would be outside the scope of their work, that wouldn’t be included in their fees,” the homeowner says. “The other architectural groups I interviewed were excellent and came highly recommended but I needed to know what was black and what was white.” She chose long-time friend Vince Mannino of RG Ross Construction as the builder, and the process began.
Her wants were clear: a Hamptons-style house with shingles, a gambrel roof, window boxes and the breezy feeling of the sea. She also determined she didn’t need a formal living room but did need a comfortable place to relax and watch television, a dining room, plenty of room to hang the art she and her late husband had collected over the years, a huge kitchen and outdoor living area with a pool and pool house. Susan Bower of Mitchell Wall went to work on the plans and the homeowner started clicking on Houzz and working with Rachael Dolan, also of Mitchell Wall, on the interior design.
Then the neighborhood trustees grabbed their red pens. They vetoed the house’s placement on the lot, the separate pool house, the exterior shingles, and the pitch of the roof.
“They had a lot of unwritten rules,” Bower says.
The first plan had to be pretty much scrapped. Tom Wall, owner of Mitchell Wall, revised the original to attach the pool house and art studio to the master bedroom wing. The shingles were replaced partially by bricks. But the placement on the lot proved to be the biggest bugaboo of all.
“We had to set it further back in the lot, which cut into how much backyard we were allowed to use,” Wall says. “Because it is a corner lot, they were unyielding in calling it two front yards so we had to have enormous setbacks. Then they wouldn’t call either remaining yard a back yard because they were side yards. So there were two sides and two fronts but no back. The setback took away a lot of the space. The trustees and the city were a difficult lot to work with.”
He adds, “The important thing is we wound up with a design the homeowner likes, the city likes and that the trustees like.”
Granted, the end result is a stunner. The architectural design is Dutch Colonial; the interior a mixture of traditional and contemporary giving it a transitional vibe. From the vast front porch through the foyer onto the rest of the house, the design is crisp, clean and cohesive.
The house is perfectly symmetrical. The front door view goes through the back where you see two wings on either side of the pool/patio area. “We respected the rules,” Bower says. “It lines up, it has a centerline, and you respect it.”
The color palette mirrored the homeowner’s love of the ocean. “With the East Coast feel, it had the blues involved but we wanted it to have that play off of the blue with all the grays and whites,” Dolan says. Throughout dashes of other shades—like the lacquered dark gray walls in the dining room, the black lacquered walls in the office—give the space additional pizazz.
“That attention to detail makes the house seem more substantial and older than it is,” Bower says. Those fine points run from the substantial (book- matched stone throughout, repeated patterns in the African mahogany floors, brass rolling ladders in the pantries) to the barely visible (such as the electrical and USB ports hidden in the lighting so there are no holes in the kitchen backsplashes, the pocket doors everywhere, even a secret passage into the homeowner’s office).
The homeowner wanted the house to be infused with as much natural light as possible. She also wanted to be able to pursue her favorite pastimes, such as cooking, baking, gardening and painting.
“I wanted to be able to do the things I used to love to do,” she says. “I retired my paintbrushes to have my family. Your life gets busy. I wanted the art studio off my bedroom. I wanted the floors to be concrete so it didn’t matter if I dripped paint on them. I wanted to hang up the things I love, that I love seeing, that I love using.” She wanted a home all her own.
The living room with its clerestory windows is Rachael Dolan’s favorite. “It is in the right in the center with that tall fireplace and the textured tiles on the fireplace,” she says. “It is so nice and open.”
The homeowner loves to cook so she knew she wanted a large kitchen and she wanted it white. The custom-designed La Cornue stove and hood are just two of its many fabulous features. “The kitchen is second to none,” Tom Wall says.
The homeowner wanted the Saarinen petal table from the start. “It was a modern element to incorporate into the space,” Dolan says. “It’s a quaint little space to have your coffee.”
Rachael Dolan designed the bed. The fireplace surround is classic marble.
The homeowner found the tub online. The floors throughout the first floor are heated. “You can leave your towel on the floor and when you get out of the tub, it’s warm,” she says.
“The whole room is like a cabinet, a piece of furniture,” Bower says. The book-matched marble pairs perfectly with the chevron pattern and the lighting fixture.
The architects made the entrance to the dining room as large as possible to give the sense of a room but not the feeling of being enclosed. The glass doors open up to the porch, for those diners who prefer an after-dinner cigar.
The homeowner loves to entertain so outside there is a complete kitchen, pool, spa and plenty of seating for guests coming over.
Beck/Allen created the cabinetry throughout the kitchen, pantries and bathrooms. The butler’s pantry “is a place to store linens and silver, and display china and crystal,” the homeowner says. “I wanted to have everything handy rather than running around all over the house, looking in every drawer.”
The built-in window seat has pullout trays built in, all ready for that cup of tea. “I love the little loft space in the daughter’s room,” Wall says. “I call it a light shelf so it allows light to come in and hit that area, to bounce back in and allow diffused light.”
Susan Bower says designing this was a lesson in “how to put a bathroom in a dormer.” The mirror is hung in front of the window and the storage is in open cabinetry below the stain-resistant counter.