Historic Fairfield House Gets Fresh Face
Tucker Robbins and sister Claire Miner update historic Denemede
photographs by Mick Hales
Family homes are a bit like pine trees: Solid and long-lived, both provide a steadfast shelter no matter the weather. For Claire Miner’s family, Denemede has been home for decades—and the property’s history is as magnificent as the evergreens that grow on its grounds.
Denemede was part of the Fairfield estate created by George Brett, the founder of publishing giant Macmillan, in the early 20th century. Brett called the grand home “the house that Jack built” (Jack London, that is, whose Call of the Wild Brett had published). During the 1920s, Brett created what would become perhaps the nation’s finest pineum—or arboretum of conifers—on his 260 acres. Four decades later, Joan and Walter Robbins bought the house and eight acres overlooking Long Island Sound. They owned the property for 50 years until ceding it to their eldest daughter, Claire, and her husband, Charles Miner, who bought the property in 2003.
Claire Miner combined subtle references to the home’s past with modern, comfortable elements for 21st-century family living
How do you redecorate your childhood home? By focusing on your authentic identity—and that of your house—says Miner, the founder of design firm Spalding Brown; she uses the same approach in working with her clients. At Denemede, that meant combining subtle references to the home’s past—like the designer’s choice of paint colors from Benjamin Moore’s Historic Collection for the public rooms—with modern, comfortable elements for 21st-century family living. “It was an evolution from appreciating and experiencing our home’s history to incorporating my family’s original furnishings, paintings and floors with our new family style,” says Miner. “I wanted our home to reflect the multigenerational stories of the house, but mostly to reflect the narrative of who we are today.”
She focused on the children’s living area first: “I had to make a dramatic change right away so that my children would feel like the house was theirs and not their grandparents.’ ” Hanging Fireworks (the classic wallpaper by Albert Hadley, a family friend) in the common space throughout the upstairs hallways brought a sparkle and crackle to the house. Moving the laundry area upstairs freed up space that was transformed into a garden room with a deep sink for potting plants and arranging flowers. Walls upholstered in Weathervane Hill damask and lit softly with Design Solutions’ wrought-iron branch sconces updated the dining room.
Global accents invigorated the classic Connecticut farmhouse, many such pieces sourced from Tucker Robbins, Claire’s older brother. “Denemede is more than a family house and land, it’s a vision of life lived in harmony that continues to inspire me today,” says Robbins, whose eponymous furniture line is handmade by craftsmen worldwide. Robbins’ pieces and finds are woven through the house, from the Peruvian gold bangle table in the living room to a Philippine water buffalo cart wheel, now mounted in the library. The mix of northeastern classic style and international flavor, is, says Miner, “what makes the house distinctively ours today. I love the way all the pieces from different cultures and periods, old and new, co-exist harmoniously and happily in our home. They represent the past, the present and suggest our future.”
In that way, the design of the house is an analogy for its inhabitants. “There is a tremendous sense of continuity here,” says Miner, whose family is related to the original owners, the Bretts. And what of the more recent owners—her parents, that is? They still reside at Denemede, in a house built on an adjacent lot. “We live a shared life reflective of the history that has shaped us,” says Miner, “and we continue to grow and create many wonderful memories together every year!” That memory making might continue for some time. “Though I’ve never talked to my kids about it, I’ve heard through one of them that they’d all love to be able to buy this house and carry on sort of a similar tradition,” she says. That’s the thing about pine trees: Their branches are ever expanding.