Tour an Art-Filled Historic Home Where Neutrals Rule
Every house has its rules. Guests are always heartily welcomed at the Washington, CT, house shared by Simon Kneen, his spouse, Paolo Secchia, and their work associate Brandon Ferreira, but there’s one unwritten rule the invited are required to follow. “They must wear neutrals,” says Kneen, former creative director and executive vice president of design at Banana Republic and one of the triumvirate of creators and visionaries of Grey New York Grey New England, a maker of fine Italian leather goods. Kneen laughs as he states his household rule, but a glance into a closet filled with neutral-colored sweaters in varying sizes points to a domestic law he enforces.
“If a guest shows up wearing too many bright colors, we might loan them one of the sweaters just to tone it down a bit,” he notes. “Even the towels we use around the pool are muted, no stripes or bright colors, and no Hawaiian-print shirts allowed.” For Kneen, a guest donning shades too vivid not only dominates the conversation but also the décor.
Such exacting design standards resulted, in part, from Kneen’s years in retail, where he was responsible for displaying merchandise to full advantage. “Our décor, throughout the home, is all about textures,” he emphasizes. “Less color means a greater emphasis on texture. Plus, the quality of the furnishings and artwork stands out.” Even their three dachshunds—Max, Phoenix and Henry—remain stylish, sleeping on a vintage Le Corbusier sofa positioned at the foot of the bed in the master suite.
In 2012, after years in Manhattan, Kneen and Secchia moved full-time to the three-bedroom, circa-1900 home. An attached red barn serves as their main gathering area, both among themselves in the evening and with their guests. Life in the vaulted two-toned timbered room revolves around a stone fireplace, while other areas of the main house are where they conduct business and eat dinners as a family group, gathered at the dining room table. For a man as aesthetically exacting as Kneen, surprisingly little was done to the interiors, apart from painting walls and filling rooms with their furnishings and ever-growing collection of artwork. Indeed, the greatest moments of color result from the covers of stacked coffee-table books and the hues of their figurative paintings.
“When we moved in, we realized that we didn’t have a lot of wall space for artwork,” explains Kneen. “There were so many windows. One solution was to erect easels and put paintings on those. It’s a creative way to show art.”
While the move-in plan for the rooms of the house and the barn was chiefly one about decorating, a landscaping design, however, involved bulldozers and dump trucks. Kneen commissioned New Milford landscape architect Dirk Sabin to install a large rectangular in-ground swimming pool, along with terraces, sinuous stone walls that mimicked the undulating topography and a field of lavender. “Simon had very clear ideas of what he was looking to achieve,” says Sabin, “which made the process much simpler. We took care of the proper ways to install drainage and other practical aspects. With someone like Simon, who’s very much in the design world, it’s not like you submit preliminary design options. He knew from the start what he wanted.”
Apart from the geometrically rigorous presence of the pool, other elements Kneen insisted on were decidedly understated plantings positioned strategically to demarcate spaces on the land. “Simon wished to keep to a white-flower palette, along with selective shrubs and perennials, and we were there to help him achieve that vision,” says Sabin. As for that colorful infusion of lavender, Kneen says, “I forgive its muted purple flower due to the lovely gray foliage year round.”
Like all designers, Kneen is never really done buying things for the house, but he does emphasize that the interior design is finished. “We’ve worked very hard for a large part of our lives, and at this point,” he notes, “it’s about smelling the roses and making sure you live your life to the best that you can.”
A version of this article appeared in the April 2018 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: House Rules.