Step Inside a Designer’s Charming Connecticut Cottage

Joyful color abounds in Carey Karlan's Darien home with a Nantucket vibe.

The entry foyer sets the stage with its scenic Newport mural wallpaper from the Mural Source and reclaimed beams from New England Antique Lumber. Photography by Paul Johnson

The stars aligned the day Darien-based designer Carey Karlan and a friend walked past Rose Cottage, and her friend mentioned it was about to come on the market. Karlan had long admired the house and its setting on half an acre near town. “I loved the Tudor on Mansfield Street where I’d lived for more than 15 years,” she recalls. “But it’s a very vertical house. And with nine—soon to be 10— grandchildren, I had a vague longing for something with a better allocation of space and a flat, open yard. And, of course, oozing with charm.” The 1826 antique had all that and more, including a pool, a large family room and a Nantucket vibe. “I love Nantucket,” she adds. “I can’t wait to get some roses going on the garage.”


The sunny kitchen and breakfast room sport a cheerful Alan Campbell grasscloth through Quadrille Fabrics, while a salt-washed oak dining table anchors six rattan chairs through Serena & Lily, and a pair of bistro chairs from Lloyd Flanders. Photography by Paul Johnson

At just under 2,000-square feet, the house was in good shape though much of its historical interest had been renovated away. “I wanted to put some of that back in,” she says. “But I wasn’t trying to make a museum piece.” The designer added painted paneling to the living room, took out a non-working chimney casing in the kitchen, and enlarged the opening of the door from the foyer to the living room by 18 inches. “Now, when you come in the French door to the family room, you can see straight through the foyer into the living room. It’s amazing what 18 inches can do for you.” In the process, she discovered some of the cottage’s original wooden beams behind the sheet rock.


A Lee Industries sofa and concrete Made Goods outdoor coffee table top the handpainted checkerboard floor by Shelly Denning. The vintage chartreuse lamp is from the Fairfield County Antique & Design Center, and the white side table is by Nina Campbell for Oomph. Photography by Paul Johnson

When it came time for the interiors, the designer let each room take the lead. Having a variety of moods makes a small house seem bigger, Karlan says. Furnishings and accessories throughout are eclectic—a mix of modern and antique, high and low. “Part of my mission was to inject some of the charm that had been scrubbed away.” To that end, the foyer with its Newport-themed wallpaper sets the stage for the rest of the house. “I thought this was the mood and the colors, and it has the Nantucket seaside  vibe,” the designer says. Here, she put antique reclaimed beams around the doorways to “make it a little more of a room and give it more of a moment.”

The mood turns bright and breezy in the light-filled kitchen and breakfast room with its pine and rattan furniture and Kennebunkport green island. An Alan Campbell grasscloth with a green zigzag pattern is both modern and fun. “I really stewed over that wallcovering, but I decided to just go for it. It’s really happy,” she notes. For the family room, Karlan envisioned more of a summer-porch vibe. The floors are painted a blue and white check pattern, the lamps are blue and chartreuse, and the sofa is covered in a nubby performance fabric that can hold up to the rigors of grandchildren. “I really love color,” Karlan says. “And green is my favorite color, and there’s a lot of that.”


In the primary bedroom, the headboard wears a Lee Jofa linen, bedside lamps are through Wakefield Design Center, and the velvet throw pillows are through the Linen Shop. Photography by Paul Johnson

Upstairs, the mood changes again in the primary bedroom, with its rose-patterned linen headboard, embroidered bed linens and inviting window seats. “It’s a very luxurious bedroom in a simple way,” she says. As is the primary bathroom, with its lyrical chinoiserie wallpaper, handpainted floor and Venetian-style mirrors. “You feel like you’re in a beautiful bower.”


Interior designer Carey Karlan enjoying her new digs. Photography by Paul Johnson

For the front door, Karlan selected another beloved color, pink. It wasn’t until a neighbor stopped by to question her choice of hue, that she realized she might have gone a little too far. “It caused a lot of distracted driving in the neighborhood,” she says with a laugh. She has since toned the pink down, slightly. “Hey, even designers make mistakes,” she adds.

The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Rose Cottage.