A Historic Farmhouse in Washington Shines After a Brightening Restoration
When Michael DePerno moved back to the East Coast after years in Los Angeles and, later, Sonoma, he went on what he calls a “two-year odyssey” to find the right house with the right history. “Sonoma’s beautiful, but Litchfield is just as beautiful, and it’s also far richer in history, with a more varied stock of houses and architectural styles,” says DePerno.
The broker he had been working with repeatedly told him about a simple farmhouse, with its subtle Arts & Crafts detailing, but DePerno was looking for a much older house, ideally from the eighteenth century. “I finally agreed to look at it,” he says, “and despite it being in terrible shape, there was a cheerfulness to it. It was filled with light. It beckoned. She, and I mean the house, was saying to me, ‘I need help.’”
It was obvious the house needed help. In fact, on DePerno’s first visit, when he walked into the foyer and found it stuffy, he opened a double-hung window—which fell completely out of the wall. “The panes of wavy glass were original, and even though the window crashed to the ground, only one of the panes broke,” he recalls. Indicative of DePerno’s intense connection to old houses, though, he adds, “The moment I heard it shatter, it broke my heart.” By the time DePerno acquired the house in 2013, he had found an extra wavy pane of glass elsewhere in the house to replace the broken one.
The dwelling spoke to the right owners. DePerno and his life and business partner, Andrew Fry, have thoroughly restored the three-bedroom house, situated a five-minute drive from their lifestyle/decorative accessories shop, Plain Goods, in New Preston. Because the couple shares a common aesthetic—clean, simple, pure, unadorned spaces—they did something for which they heard loud complaints, even from the contractors. The house was designed by Charles Prindle, a master carpenter, and his expertise is evident in the many trims, moldings and staircase elements he added throughout. “They were all lovely,” notes Fry, “but they made the interiors feel very choppy, too busy to the eye.”
DePerno and Fry decided to paint every one of those wood surfaces white. “Some people thought we were committing a crime covering up the oak,” says DePerno, “but the custom-white hue has actually resulted in a peaceful and harmonious backdrop for everything we’ve brought in.”
For their business, which carries everything from antiques to new clothing designs, the couple is used to making decisions about what to buy and what to live with. “For me, it wasn’t about starting from scratch to fill these rooms, but, rather, figuring out how to make what we already owned work in a new setting,” says DePerno. “The architecture of a house helps to inform the direction you should take.”
They have furnished the house exactly as they use it. Few dining rooms feature a sofa, but theirs includes one from the 1930s that occupies an arcing, windowed nook. If they have guests, they move the table closer to the sofa for extra seating. Elsewhere, an upstairs sitting room, actually part of an expansive dressing room for the master bedroom, is a space in which they—and one of their dogs, Fennie (short for Fenwick)—spend time. In the kitchen, an antique worktable serves as both a prep island and table at which four can dine. The living room features an elegant George Smith sofa and a well-proportioned 18th-century lolling chair that has been reinvented with a Rose Tarlow silk/linen fabric.
“The house has a very positive feeling,” DePerno stresses. “With so many windows and the way it’s positioned on the site, every room is bright, no matter what the weather. I love old houses and we feel lucky to be living in one and being able to take good care of it for as long as we’re here in it.”
A version of this article appeared in the September issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Lightening Round.