Next Chapter: Tour a Family’s New Residence in Old Lyme
A love of books inspires this home’s tailored design.
Rodney Lawrence kept getting distracted during his work on this home in Old Lyme. Just as he was overseeing, arranging, and repositioning various elements during the project, he sometimes found himself lost in a passage about astronomy or the opening paragraphs of a classic novel. One of the chief directives Lawrence received from one of the homeowners upon securing the commission to design these rooms, was to make room for books. Whereas most dining rooms feature cabinets of china, here, both walls are lined with floor-to-ceiling bookcases. “From the start, I was told that every one of the client’s books had to fit into this new home,” Lawrence recalls. “He’s not only a voracious reader of an astounding breadth of subject matter, but he’s also read every book on these shelves.”
The plot thickens, though, regarding the story of this house. For generations, the family had owned an 18th-century farmhouse on the banks of the Connecticut River, but recognizing that those waters have increasingly lapped ever closer to the house, the homeowners took advantage of an opportunity. As Lawrence explains it, a parcel of land atop a bluff, just above the farmhouse, had become available for development. The homeowners purchased the land, whereupon they commissioned Lyme-based architect Brooke Girty to design a five-bedroom, cedar-shingled home whose form would reference that of the original house yet be something wholly new.
Lawrence is able to read his clients well, for he designed the couple’s spacious Central Park West apartment years earlier. “Having worked with them over a long time,” Lawrence explains, “I understood their taste, their aesthetic, and was able to launch into this right away, even though it was the tail end of the pandemic.” So difficult, though, was it to find certain furnishings, given the supply-chain slowdown, that Lawrence designed much of furniture. “We had no choice. But these are also clients who very much want to see everything in person before purchasing, so we went everywhere to see everything, sometimes having entire showrooms to ourselves.”
The empty-nester couple wanted this home to not only be comfortable, casual, able to accommodate guests and family, but also to have interiors that reflected the tailored look for which Lawrence is well known. Although Lawrence acknowledges that the interiors are neutral in tone, he’s quick to emphasize, “I do use color, in very specific ways.” While many walls are white, repeated echoes of the same cerulean-marine blue appear throughout. A look through the dining area, for instance, reveals the blue of the library, while in other directions, the same hue is used on a bar, kitchen cabinets, as pendant shades. “The blue is about establishing a bit of a pop—but not too much.”
Because the house has many windows, wall space for art is limited. The book spines themselves work as a kind of subtle multi-hued palette. Once the satin-finish paint had dried on the shelves Lawrence designed—and the owner had arranged the books by category— Lawrence couldn’t resist doing some further editing. “We made room on some shelves for objects and created breathing room, of sorts, all to make it look a bit less library-like.”
Meanwhile, while the books present a show of vertical lines, a network of beams—all reclaimed wood that Lawrence had lightly stained—course the ceilings. In an exercise of geometry, Lawrence spent considerable time making sure the decorative beams aligned perfectly with cabinets and windows. “It was a feat to lay them out, but once we did, up they went,” he notes.
As a counter to the rustic quality of the beams, the designer chose novel lighting fixtures as “a way to introduce something contemporary.” In the dining room, spacious enough for two tables, Lawrence selected fixtures made of stoneware that drape on chains, while another in the foyer is composed of plaster and iron. “When you play with lighting forms, you create ambience,” he says.
As happens with all projects he enjoys, Lawrence recognized that the plot of the story had to be resolved: “I became very attached to the project. Designers often develop a sense of ownership, but then there comes that point when you realize it belongs to the clients. Fortunately, there’s always the next project, the next story.”
The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Turn the Page.