A Reclaimed Barn in Rowayton Offers a Fresh Start

Journalist/producer Terre Blair lives in a coastal barn home by the late Barbara Garfield.
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A fuss-free kitchen overlooks the living room filled with a mix of furniture styles. The Zebra chair is from Le Barn Antiques, the Burmese armchair is from the Antique and Artisan Gallery and the sofa is from RH. Shutters on the kitchen island hide a television. Photograph by Ellen McDermott.

When Terre Blair walked into her historic home in Rowayton for the first time, “It took my breath away—I knew it was going to be my house,” says Blair. The house, built in 2005 by late visionary designer Barbara Garfield, is an 1800s reclaimed barn from New Hampshire. Garfield—a famous fixture in town for her anti-McMansion movement to live simply—reassembled the old barn in her own voice and filled it with antique architectural elements from Germany and France. “One of the reasons this house is so special to me,” says Blair, “is that of the four she did here [in Rowayton], this was the last house she lived in. I am grateful and honored to live here.”

Blair, a journalist and producer, was married for 23 years before her husband, composer Marvin Hamlisch, died. Blair was living in Bedford and walking with a friend when she fell in love with the charm of Rowayton. As luck would have it, Garfield’s barn was on the market and the perfect spot to start fresh: “The ceilings are soaring, it has such a patina that you can almost feel the history,” she notes. “It doesn’t feel dated, bualso doesn’t feel new and soulless. It brought tears to my eyes.” She sold her Bedford house furnished and arrived in Rowayton empty-handed—save for an Argentinian mirror and a commissioned candelabra.

“I had to start over but was happy to,” says Blair. “I like to keep memories in my heart.” Blair’s former living space was contemporary, and she felt the need to carry on Garfield’s legacy. “I didn’t want it to look decorated, and I wanted it to seem that it has been there forever,” she says. On entering, a striking arched glass window that Garfield found at a French chateau serves as a room divider between the entrance and the living area. It gives the living room a feel of intimacy and sets the tone. The floors are intentionally left bare. “I tried the carpet thing,” says Blair, “But it felt so suburban, and the floors are like a work of art on their own.”

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A blue painted cabinet that was originally owned by Barbara Garfield sits in the hallway outside the bedroom. Photograph by Ellen McDermott.

While searching for authentic French antiques, Blair met Kathy Sachs, who owns Le Barn Antiques, and the house took on an entire new layer. “Anything that is fake, you feel it,” says Blair, “Authentic French pieces kept to Garfield’s vision.” In the entrance, a Swedish chair sits with a midcentury chair covered in a zebra print, and a Normandy table. The mix is tranquil and serene. Says Blair, “It is very healing. What you are noticing is me: mixing things of different styles but somehow keeping that same harmonious feeling.” That same vibe reverberates throughout. The living room houses a coffee table from Le Barn Antiques, a sofa covered in an unpretentious white denim and a Burmese chair. The kitchen, open to the living space, is decidedly simple. “Garfield wanted to truly live the European way, marketing for food and cooking what is in season. There is no storage room for processed food,” says Blair, who had to adjust to a lifestyle of eating more freshly (though she does confess to putting in an additional freezer).

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The outdoor teak table and bench, made in Belgium, are through Bloom; chairs are from RH. Photograph by Ellen McDermott.

Perhaps her biggest lifestyle change though, is her garden. Having never planted a garden before, Blair turned to Stone Barns Center and the Vegetable and Cut Flower Garden Kits it offers for home gardeners (proceeds benefit the center’s community garden initiatives and outreach). “They gave me so much confidence, and the garden worked!” says Blair. “I could pull things out of the ground and eat them, and it was through Jack [Jack Algiere Director of Agroecology at Stone Barns Center] that I was able to do this. If I can do this, anyone can!”

“I think the house enveloped me and gave me a warm hug,” Blair concludes. “I needed a house that was Terre, that represented me. It has been healing for me. No one escapes suffering in a lifetime, but suffering innately causes you to change—but it is growth if you accept it.”

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Starting Over.