Step Inside an 1896 Farmhouse With New and Neutral Interiors
In Westport, Leonard + Leess Design flips a fixer-upper in six short months.
Older homes have an undeniable charm, but renovating them often brings unexpected challenges. Maintaining the historic character while creating spaces for a modern homeowner can be difficult—even more so when you don’t know exactly who that homeowner will be. Such was the case for designers Amy Leonard and Ingrid Leess of Leonard + Leess Design, who did a top-to-bottom renovation of this 1896 farmhouse in Westport. Their client, a real estate investor with a fondness for older homes, bought it with the intention to save it, renovate it and get it back on the market in just six months—a short timeline for such a big undertaking.
The house had seen better days in its 125 years, but “we have a real appreciation for charming, quirky, older homes, and this was definitely in that category,” says Leonard. They started by stripping it down to the studs to get everything structurally sound, then building it back up in a way that embraces both the old and the new. Patched-up floors, weathered windows and mismatched doors were all replaced, in a style that felt in keeping with the home’s original character. A low railing on the staircase was raised to bring it up to code, but they saved the beautiful newel post and the original fireplace. And “any beams we could expose, we did,” says Leonard.
They imagined a young family living there as they reworked the spaces, but kept things adaptable to appeal to a variety of potential buyers. A bedroom could become an office; the sunroom could become a playroom or reading room.
Often the house—and the timeline—dictated decisions. “There was a lot of design on the fly,” says Leess. “We were on a tight schedule and had to make the right choice, fast.” Smaller rooms are a cozy holdover from another era, but they can also feel dark and closed off by modern standards. The designers initially planned to open up the TV room and adjacent sunroom completely, but discovered that the new layout would require extensive structural work. “The house kind of told us, nope,” says Leess. Instead, they widened the entryways between the rooms on the first floor to bring in more light and capitalize on a view to the backyard. Says Leess: “It worked out even better.”
As in many older homes, closet space was lacking, so they found places to create more storage, including adding a large closet to the sunroom in the rear of the house, which now flows into a mudroom/laundry space. The kitchen was opened up significantly and reconfigured to fit more counter space and a new kitchen island where one can imagine a happy homeowner sitting down to a casual family meal.
Upstairs, the layout of the primary bedroom was configured to create the kind of walk-in closet and luxurious bathroom that make today’s home buyers swoon. The cramped upstairs landing got more breathing room by ripping out the attic stairs and then installing a fold-down staircase instead.
All-white interiors gave prospective buyers a blank canvas to customize— but it’s also a bit of a Leonard + Leess trademark. “We love a white background,” says Leess. A few walls of vertical paneling add texture to the monochromatic space, as does the furniture. Though the decor was temporary for staging purposes, the designers took great care in pulling together a lived-in look that’s warm and inviting. They sourced pieces from everywhere—antiques shops, modern retail stores, and even their own homes—to give the rooms some depth, color and a personal touch.
Though the project posed many challenges for the designers, perhaps the biggest one of all was saying goodbye to a home they’d grown to love. Happily, prospective buyers felt the same: The house sold just days after it was put on the market. After its modern makeover, this old charmer is ready to be a part of a new family history.
The print version of this article appeared with the headline: Old Charmer, New Life.