A Greenwich Georgian Colonial Gets a Modern Update for the Holidays
Architect Susan Alisberg has memories of driving past a Georgian Colonial in a Greenwich neighborhood at holiday time and being struck by the sight of a trio of Christmas trees filled with white lights twinkling on the second-floor balcony. So when she and partner Ed Parker were called on to renovate that very same 1910 residence, she thought the trees were a tradition worth keeping. In fact, the duo determined there were many things associated with the stately but ailing building worth preserving. “Outside, the house was really quite charming, and we felt it was important to respect the local history,” says Alisberg, who, along with Parker, rebuilt the front porch, replicated existing wood moldings with a more durable composite material, and replaced all the windows.
Inside was another matter. Most recently renovated in the 1970s, the rooms were weighted down with heavy swags on the windows, a dated brown, rust and gold color scheme, a dark kitchen and no accommodation for modern technology. “The new owners were a young couple, and the house had to function for them,” says Alisberg. “We kept the bones, gutted most everything else and did a major addition as well.”
Keeping the location of the entry, living and dining rooms intact, the architects did more refreshing than redoing in those spaces. “The entry moldings are all new, but we kept the scale of the originals, and we preserved the staircase as is,” explains Alisberg. In the living room, an existing fireplace was removed, refurbished and reinstalled and new crown moldings were selected to coordinate with the era of the house.
When it came time to decorate, the architects (who also design interiors) utilized furnishings, light fixtures and artwork to make a break with the past. In lieu of the expected round antique wood table in the entry, for example, there’s a contemporary black lacquered version sitting on a hide rug and lit by a retro sputnik chandelier. In defense of the eclectic mash up Alisberg says, “All throughout time people have mixed things from different periods.”
Similarly in the living room, the linen/cotton blend sofa and wood armchairs with profiles that straddle classic and modern, face off across a Lucite, glass and brass coffee table that “gives the room a lift.” “When we select modern furnishings, they are still classics,” says Alisberg. “These are not trendy pieces but things that will stand the test of time.”
Part of an overall addition that topped 3,000 square feet, the family room and central gathering place adjacent to the new brighter, white kitchen features seating topped with durable fabrics in deference to the children who routinely occupy the space. Ottomans slide out from under the custom Japanese coffee table to provide overflow seating, and the television is embedded in a navy-blue paneled wall.
Throughout the house, contemporary artwork selected by Alisberg (“My mother owned a gallery, so I grew up with art,” she says) further signals this is not your grandmother’s Colonial. Most notably, a trio of portraits by Julian Opie on the staircase walls are an upbeat, whimsical version of the more typical somber family depictions that might have lined the stair in a time gone by.
When the homeowners opted to participate in the Greenwich Holiday Home Tour, the architects collaborated with events planner Meg Critchell to appoint the house with decorations that complemented the established ambience. In classic fashion, garlands cascade down the central staircase, but in this case they are a mix of artificial and real greens. “Meg used fake greens so the owners could use them year after year and mixed in fresh things to smell like Christmas,” says Alisberg.
In the family room, stockings line the fireplace mantel, and the tree is filled with the children’s handmade ornaments and others collected over the years. In contrast, in the living room a simpler palette of white ornaments and spiky gold balls fill the tree, while the entire house brims with paperwhites and white amaryllis. Back outside, in keeping with the home’s formal façade, the windows are decorated with traditional magnolia swags, and, not surprisingly, a trio of trees grace the balcony.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2016 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Building on the Past.