An Artist’s Residence on Long Island Sound
Mary Morant's paintings and home have a story to tell.
Mary Morant likes not only to speak Dutch but also to live like the Dutch. When the noted landscape and portrait painter was living in Holland with her children and then-husband years ago, she learned a new word she still intones: gezellig. “In Holland, the term refers to a home that’s cozy or inviting, lived in,” she says. “I wanted my home here, in Westport, to feel gezellig. Being surrounded by all the things you love creates that feeling.” She refers to her two dwellings that occupy the same uncannily narrow waterfront lot (the main house is a mere 20 feet wide). Her one-bedroom cottage, which embodies a gezellig feeling for its Connecticut fisherman’s cottage-like look, fronts Sherwood Mill Pond, while the larger, new house at the opposite end of the lot faces Long Island Sound. A grassy lawn area fills a middle ground between the dwellings.
Westport architect Peter Cadoux was commissioned by Morant to gut the existing 1940s-era cottage and reinvent it as a new vernacular-style dwelling, while simultaneously building a brand-new larger house to replace a decrepit one that had occupied its site for decades. Cadoux, who has designed numerous houses along the Connecticut shoreline, recognized— and welcomed—the dynamic at hand: “It’s always more challenging to design a smaller house that has to live bigger.” By that, he means that he needed to find a way to design a new house with three bedrooms, a cottage with one, and accommodate both on a lot so narrow that one side allows for a seven-and-a-half-foot breezeway and the other a six-inch one.
“Peter and the builder did such a great job,” says Morant. “They were able to restore the cottage so that it still feels and looks old, while making a new house that is more midcentury modern, with its open plan and airiness.”
Even though Morant had lived in Darien for 30 years, she has yet to forget her Southern roots, having done much of her growing up in Alabama. “The moment I saw this property, I was reminded instantly of Lake Martin—a still, quiet body of water where I spent a lot of time as a girl,” she says. “Just like there, Westport, this spot, is magical. It’s another world.”
One tactical element of her past that she insisted on including was “tabby,” a distinctly Southern building material, whose recipe of ingredients requires a mixture of burned oyster shells, sand, water, ash and concrete. Ironically, just behind her Westport property, on Hummock Island, is an oyster farm, and while those shells were not allowed to be used to make tabby (reserved instead to reseed Long Island Sound waters), the relationship between Morant’s land and those of her girlhood struck her. Cadoux and his team cooked up a version of the material, using it to skin portions of the façade of the main house. “No one had seen that material up here,” says Morant, “and just having it in place now reminds me of the South. Even though this material is new and fresh, it looks old. We love old, decrepit things in the South and anything with a story. This material tells a story to me.”
Working in close consort with her aunt, Carolyn Malone, a practicing interior designer in Atlanta, Morant created the interiors of both dwellings. “My aunt and I spent a whole day picking out different whites to use in the main house,” she recalls, the two of them skewing toward warmer whites on the two upstairs levels, including an attic area that features an outdoor deck, and darker hues on the lower level. “When you have this many windows and this much water on both sides, the light changes and the rooms take on different characters,” she says.
While much of the prevailing color schemes inside harken to those of the nature outside—sand, water, sky—Morant has accessorized her rooms with her own paintings, as well as objects collected by her late mother, including first-edition books, sculptural Moulthrop bowls, and pewter. “Everything on the built-in bookshelves in the living room are things that mean the most to me. Houses are portraits of the people who create them,” says Morant. “My house tells lot of stories.”
The print version of this article appears with the headline: Painterly Effect.