A Storybook Cottage in Connecticut
Interiors photographer Jane Beiles turns a hundred-year-old dwelling into a luminous home for her modern family
When your work takes you into a hundred publication-worthy homes a year, you’re bound to become particular about your own place of residence. Such was the case for interiors photographer Jane Beiles, who has shot everything from Italianate-style manors to remodeled barns for the likes of House Beautiful, Dwell, and The New York Times. After she and her husband, Paul, had raised their three children for years in a large colonial with a rambling yard on the outskirts of New Canaan, Connecticut, the couple began to dream about living closer to town in a home with a smaller lot and considerable character. The job “gave me an appreciation for the charm of an old house,” says Beiles.
As luck would have it, such a property soon arrived on the market. The 1916 residence was built in the Storybook style popularized during that period, with a steeply pitched roof and a serene sense of whimsy. “There’s no other house in town like it—it’s so unique-looking,” says Beiles. Like any photographer, she responded to the abundant natural light and high ceilings, a welcome change from most houses built in that era. But the floor plan was typical of a hundred-year-old dwelling: a series of intimately scaled rooms. For a family with three active middle-school-age children and a two-year-old Vizsla, the home clearly required a creative rethink.
That’s where Beiles’s career again came into play, supplying her with an A-team of collaborators she’d known for years. Architect Louise Brooks of Brooks & Falotico had been one of her first photography clients. So was Melissa Lindsay of Pimlico, who had commissioned Beiles early on to shoot her New Canaan–based boutique. With builder Rich Rosano—yet another long-term client—rounding out the design roster, the renovation began in May 2014.
The flow of the first floor required the most dramatic revision. “Louise is a visionary in terms of interpreting space. She respects traditional lines but isn’t afraid of pushing boundaries,” says Beiles. The architect did away with two walls in the kitchen, opening up the all-important room to the living area and its triple exposures. For symmetry within the new layout, Brooks centered the two kitchen windows on either side of the range hood and installed simple white open shelving for airy displays. (One shelf houses a row of old apothecary bottles unearthed by the construction crew during the demolition.) Because the renovated oak floors in the kitchen and adjoining mudroom were of a different wood species than those in the rest of the house, Lindsay designed an oversize geometric pattern in a beige-and-gray palette to subtly set them apart.
“Jane and I both cared a great deal about introducing the right amount of modern elements, but not so much that they overshadowed the home’s traditional characteristics,” says Lindsay. Sleek reflective finishes, including white Glassos countertops and a Saarinen oval table, were juxtaposed with a mix of metals (industrial-style pendant lights, fixtures in oil-rubbed brass) and woods in various tones. The home’s original hundred-year-old fir floors could no longer be sanded and restained, so instead of removing them, she and Beiles decided to paint them white—a happy development that informed the rest of the decor. “The floors set the tone for the interior; when you enter, you forget where you are. You could almost be on a Caribbean island,” says Brooks.
The mood above all is clean and uncluttered, punctuated by an interplay of neutrals and carefully calibrated features that allow well-chosen possessions to shine. “The walls and furnishings are a soothing background to our collections,” says Beiles. “Every book on the shelf has meaning to us; all our accessories are things we love rather than trendy objets.” A floating shelf by the entry displays a volume on Oona O’Neill, for whom the family’s late dog was named. A series of artworks passed down by Paul’s parents takes pride of place in the dining room. The custom table in Beiles’s office, created by Brooks’s home furnishings company, Oomph, was designed specifically for the photographer’s day-to-day interactions. “Since Louise is a client, she knows that my business meetings are very collaborative. So she had the idea to give me a round table as my desk,” Beiles explains.
A strong connection to the outdoors is of primary importance. The covered patio that the family half-jokingly calls “the lanai” is furnished like a true room—and served as their primary living, dining, and cooking space during the renovation. One of the home’s greatest gifts is a continuous-bloom perennial landscape planted by the previous owner, a garden designer. “It’s a neverending stream of beautiful things to cut and bring inside,” says Beiles, who worked with local floral studio Birch Designs for the wonderfully loose seasonal arrangements seen here, composed exclusively of flowers from her yard.
In fact, local is a mantra for this house as a whole. “My mother liked to quote a saying [by Bob Goddard]: ‘Happiness is making a bouquet of the flowers within reach.’ I always thought of that as the theme of this project,” says Beiles. “The architect, builder, and designer are all from New Canaan and were people I already had relationships with. We chose things from what was close to us. You don’t have to go far to find beauty; you don’t have to get in a car when you can walk. That was the context of our home and how we shot this project. It’s about appreciating what you have in front of you.”