Step Inside a Vintage Litchfield County Farmhouse
Three separate structures come together to form a spacious, sophisticated residence.
What is the sum of 1+1+1? If you’re doing the math in Litchfield County, the answer is “one.” A vintage farmhouse, a schoolhouse and a tobacco barn have been combined into a single spacious residence in one of the last remaining agricultural sections of Washington Depot. Originally cobbled together as a multi-dwelling with separate doors and quarters for three related branches of a family, the hodgepodge languished on the market until a designer and artist recognized its potential and transformed it into a rambling, airy home that retains a farmhouse flavor.
Undaunted by a structure that defied blueprints, husbands artist Jack Rosenberg and designer John Michael Murphy—veterans of renovating several previous homes—brought their skills to the challenge. Rosenberg is Chair of the Connecticut Arts Council & Foundation, while Murphy has worked with John Saladino’s firm, designed room vignettes at Bloomingdale’s, created homes for Bette Midler and Nathan Lane, and devised dressing rooms for Matthew Broderick, and Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa.
Moving in just at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown called for special ingenuity. With construction firms restricted, the pair sought out individual carpenters and craftspeople who could work on the premises with social distance between them. Ultimately one carpenter, his helper and a single painter accomplished the preponderance of the work.
Murphy’s first step was to create a lofty multistory entrance hall straddling the original farmhouse and school. Blank walls were opened up with six-over-six windows revealing views of sprawling meadows and the double silo at a neighboring farm, whose 102-year-old owner stills harvests hay.
With shops and showrooms closed and off limits, Murray sourced supplies and fixtures online and had to wait several months for Armac Martin in England to reopen and manufacture the refrigerator handle, which was the 81st piece required for the kitchen hardware. Unable to purchase dentil molding, the carpenter cut out and attached each separate “tooth” to the mantel molding. Bedroom headboards were fashioned from wall sections extracted for the windows.
Meeting the challenge of integrating the quirks of three architectural styles, overhead beams were painted white to mask their irregularity and hollowed out to accommodate electric wires. Several different types of wood in the various floors were blended by staining all of them a single pine-like shade. Doors, which turned up at the oddest places (one leading to the schoolhouse belfry where chimes had called students to class), were retained where possible, along with their antique hardware.
Multiuse vignettes were created to ease awkward transitions between spaces. A custom sculptural table with pull-out chairs adds visual interest while passing between the living and dining rooms. Because the family room is accessed through the kitchen, cooking appliances are stored out of sight in built-in compartments, and Murphy custom-coated the microwave oven in high-gloss paint to make it “something worth looking at.”
In addition to featuring Rosenberg’s paintings and ceramic pieces, Murphy incorporated decorations from past homes that carry out the structure’s eclectic theme of pleasant surprises. “When I like things, I make them work,” he says. A mantel purchased at auction in London serves as an entryway console below Hollywood Regency milk glass lights. Camellia sconces from a Chanel boutique purchased at the Paris flea market light up the dining room, and a mirror from Jackie Kennedy Onassis’ childhood Bouvier home in East Hampton fits exactly on a wall in the kitchen.
Two outside barns add additional space, one converted into a pavilioned pool house and studio for Rosenberg, the other, a big red cow barn serves as a four-car garage and “rainy day space” for outdoor parties. Original inverted sea scroll molding was restored and re-created to unify the front façade of the home, uniting the original structures into a single residence that friends refer to as the “One-derful House.”
The print version of this article appears with the headline: Triple Play.