A Historical Westport Home Undergoes an Idyllic Evolution
Tear down wasn’t even an option for designer Holly Jaffe and family.
When Holly Jaffe, principal of the boutique design firm Wowhaus, first saw the 1927 Dutch Colonial on a treelined street in Westport, she was drawn to its Norman Rockwell-esque charm, the “utterly delightful neighborhood,” and its proximity to the beach. Jaffe and her artist husband, David Stephen Johnson, had been looking to buy a house near the water. “It was the only house we could move into and live in as it was,” she says. “It was not a tear down, but it wasn’t ‘done’ and therefore, it made sense for our family.”
The 2,000-square-foot house is in a national historic district and is named the Von Castelberg Cottage for its original owner. Jaffe and her family lived in it for more than a year before starting the interior renovation in 2021. “That allowed us the time to figure out the smartest way to move forward,” she says. “The entire renovation was driven by what we could do to make this the magical place we knew it could be.” Working with Greenwich-based architect Jon Halper and Westport builder Alan Dreher, Jaffe conceived a plan that would maximize the existing space without changing the footprint.
That meant taking down walls to the left and right of the living room fireplace to open up the space and improve the flow. They added a new side entrance and mudroom, expanded the kitchen by moving the laundry room upstairs, created a second-floor landing, converted a walk-through bedroom into a snug den/guestroom and fashioned a proper office from the upstairs porch. Jaffe also transformed the front porch into Johnson’s studio by removing the brown shingles and replacing all the windows.
“When your husband is an abstract painter of large-scale works, as an interior designer you have a huge challenge in a very modest home,” she says. “To make it work, we turned the front porch into the studio—complete with a viewing hammock—and crafted double front half doors that remain open into the house all year long.”
When it came time for the interior decor, Jaffe had a lot to choose from. “I had David’s pieces and my pieces from two different houses. I’m a big believer in working with what you have that you love. To me it’s all in the mix. That’s where the drama and artistry come from.” That, and a monochromatic palette. “I’ve always been drawn to an absence of color,” she says.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the living room, where a Baltic crystal chandelier seems to float above a white cowhide. “It’s a classic piece that you’d expect to find hanging over a dining table,” she says. “The fact that it drips glass in mid-air is what makes it modern and a bit louche.” A midcentury armchair is topped with a python pillow; a hammered brass coffee table picks up the brass fretwork in a vintage stool. A resin-coated, goatskin coffee table anchors a linen-covered sofa from RH and a pair of black butterfly chairs. All is a textured neutral backdrop for Johnson’s paintings, “whose language is color,” Jaffe says.
For the kitchen, the designer layered multiple coats of Farrow & Ball Pitch Black paint on the cabinets and island. Instead of a tile backsplash, she used a slab of black marble. “The veining is very delicate but just spectacularly beautiful,” Jaffe notes.
Outside, Jaffe had the shingles stained with Benjamin Moore’s Swiss Coffee, and the shutters and trim painted in a satin gloss of the same color. “By the time we were finished, the house felt like it could be on Martha’s Vineyard or one of those lovely streets in Nantucket Town,” she says. “It’s just an idyllic spot.”
The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Idyllic Evolution.