Inside an Elegant Greek Revival in Essex

A Connecticut classic finds its way back.
Classic Greek Revival Exterior

This captain’s house has stood anchored along Essex’s main street since it was completed in 1845. While its original footprint, shape and floor plan were preserved, the house has been brought up to date. Photography by Peter Aaron/Otto

Catherine Olasky and Maximilian Sinsteden were invited to a metaphorical feast when the owners of a Greek Revival home in Essex commissioned the interior design duo to furnish all the rooms in the main house—a three-bedroom, circa-1845 structure on the town’s main street—as well as two small ancillary buildings. The homeowners, Charles Atwood and husband David Dedmon, were intimately involved in both the architectural and interior design work required to restore the house and grounds.

“This was a real soups-to-nuts assignment for us,” says Olasky. “Most clients who use that phrase invite you to the main course, to design the main elements of the main rooms, but to have a client like Mr. Atwood, who let us get to the nuts course, makes for a wonderful experience.” Her partner-in-design, Sinsteden, relates how they were allowed to equip the house with, as he says, “every single tiny detail—the hangers in the closets, forks in the utensil drawer, the stationery they’d write on, the coasters, the guest albums. Even though he was involved in every decision, Mr. Atwood trusted us to find the best of everything.”

Atwood says of the design team, as well as architect Robert Orr and landscape architect Carol Orr: “They all made the house a star. I could dream all I wanted about what I saw it becoming, but they made it reality.”

Upon purchase, the house lacked character. According to architect Orr, whose Robert Orr + Associates is based in New Haven, the house had gone through so many gut renovations over the decades that “no imagination” remained: “It was just a blank slate. For all intents and purposes, so much had been removed that this old house was a brand-new house.”

Orr, who has designed scores of traditional-style houses, began his task by reintroducing authentic Greek Revival elements. He positioned columns of all three orders at key points, designed egg-and-dart and dentil-shaped friezes for various rooms, and added a cupola to the carriage house/garage. He also fitted another small building, what Atwood refers to as the Summer House, with a latticed roof. Given that latter diminutive building’s location on the site, steps from what is known as the Middle Cove of the Connecticut River, Atwood and Dedmon installed a brass sculpture of Narcissus by Joseph Rivera. Although the site is tight, it comfortably holds the main house, the two ancillary buildings, and seven distinct gardens.

Classic Greek Revival Courtyard

A statue of Narcissus greets visitors at the foot of the property, steps away from the Summer House, which is used for entertaining. Photography by Peter Aaron/Otto.

So seamless was Orr’s work in bringing the house up to date while also retaining the structure’s origins that upon completion, the builder said to him, “‘It looks as if you were never here.”

“At first, that felt like an insult,” Orr notes with humor, “but, in fact, it was meant as a compliment, saying, in essence, that what I’ve done appears to have always been here, original to the house.”

The interior designers acknowledge that Atwood began the project with an already enviable collection of fine antique furniture, mostly English Georgian, early American, and Federal-style pieces. “The interesting thing about this project for us, though,” explains Olasky, “is that Mr. Atwood came to the table with lots of Oriental carpets. Usually, the rugs are something Max and I start with for color, but in this case, we already had the springboards for the palette.”

Although Atwood and Dedmon, who are both retired, maintain an apartment in Manhattan, they now consider this their main home. Despite the fine furnishings that occupy the rooms, the homeowners were always intent on the house being, as Atwood says, “comfortable and casual. Those were the two words I kept using about how I wanted it all to end up.”


Atwood, who had to be decisive in his former role as CFO of Harrah’s Casino, proved equally so for his home, signing off confidently on the many design schemes presented by the designers. “Every room has become as good as it can possibly be,” he says.

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Return to Form.
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