An Impressive Art Collection Stuns Inside This Connecticut Home
The eclectic array of art includes big names like Chagall, Calder, Picasso and Chihuly.
When a New York couple inherited a weekend house in Litchfield County a few years ago, they turned to their friend and designer Denise Balassi of South Salem–based Spaces of Distinction for advice. Initially, they planned to renovate the modest 1950s house, but after showing Balassi some early architectural drawings and their wish list for the property, the designer recommended a different approach.
“Perhaps it would be more cost effective to tear the house down,” she suggested. After some thought, the couple agreed. “The house needed so many modifications and improvements that it made more sense to start from scratch,” notes the husband. Though their wish list was quite short, the most challenging item seemed to be space to properly display his parents’ vast and varied art collection.
“My parents, primarily my father, bought whatever they liked,” he explains. “My father built a huge diverse collection of American Indian art and African art.” The eclectic collection also includes some big-name artists like Chagall, Calder, Christo, Picasso, Motherwell and Chihuly.
Balassi began by assembling a team of builders, architects and landscape designers, including James T. Best Architect + Associates and Louis Fusco Landscape Architects. Then, once the house was built, Neal McDonough, a New Jersey–based art handler was brought on board.
The architect re-sited the house on the 11-acre wooded property to capture sunlight throughout the day—the bedrooms getting the morning light, the screened-in porch receiving the afternoon light, and the kitchen and living room bathing in light throughout the day.
“The house itself was designed to showcase the art collection,” says Balassi. More than 100 works of art needed to find a home. “We didn’t see the art in person until the installation,” she adds. “It was all held in storage.” Armed with only a catalog detailing sizes, values and some imagery, Balassi needed to figure out what should go where. Her clients wanted the most valuable works hung in the gallery, so she ensured it had maximum wall space with lighting specially designed to highlight the art. Also in Balassi’s remit were several sculptures, including two life-size bronze horses, an antique carousel and a wooden coyote.
Instead of a formal living room, the couple preferred a more casual great room—something fun, not too serious. “I knew the house would be large,” says the wife, “but I wanted it to be cozy. Denise is such a fantastic designer. She ended up giving us exactly what we wanted.” When visitors enter the house, they look directly into the great room with its 20-foot cathedral ceilings, and then through to the swimming pool and gardens beyond. Every room on the first floor, except the kitchen, has doors leading out onto the terrace.
To achieve the elegant-but-cozy look her clients desired, Balassi used natural finishes to create warmth, especially in the great room with its towering proportions. For the fireplace, a limestone mantel surround is complemented by ash-wood shelves. “The furnishings are appropriately scaled so that the furniture isn’t overbearing or underwhelming,” says Balassi.
Textured wallpaper softens the walls of the gallery and the dining room, while millwork on the dining room ceiling delineates it from the gallery. The color scheme of the house is a palette of warm blues, grays and taupes with pops of color.
At the project’s big reveal, the wife walked through the door and burst into tears of joy; the husband was similarly impressed. “When we first started, I wanted a one-room log cabin,” he jokes. “We ended up with a large home that’s like a resort. Our friends and family come up every weekend. It’s just a wonderful place for people to gather and have a nice time. And we were friends with Denise when we started—we’re even better friends now.”
The print version of this article appears with the headline: Above+Beyond.
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