Step Inside Interior Designer Annie Kelly's Historic Connecticut Cottage

Interior designer Annie Kelly and her husband, photographer Tim Street-Porter, decorated their Litchfield County farmhouse in a manner that is both historic and surprisingly fresh.When interior designer and author Annie Kelly and her husband, photographer Tim Street-Porter, decided to buy a second home, they started their search in Paris. “We were looking for an eighteenth-century apartment that would offer a contrast to our house in Los Angeles,” says Kelly. But when a friend pointed out that there were plenty of eighteenth-century houses on the East Coast, they reset their sights on Connecticut. Before long, the couple acquired a farmhouse in Litchfield County with all the quirks of age: wide floorboards that creak a bit, old plaster walls that are slightly out of plumb, and original mantels that lean a little to one side. “It was the right size and the right period,” says Kelly, who liked the fact that the building predated the American Revolution and would have housed English or European settlers.

One of the designer’s credos is to furnish a house appropriately to its period and style. Then, she says, the interior will harmonize with its setting. “That’s not to say you can’t add pieces from different periods to contribute character and make things more interesting.”

Her Connecticut cottage is a perfect illustration of this philosophy. Although the first impression is one of stepping back in time, something slightly unexpected appears in almost every room. A Doric column topped with a bronze finial stands just inside the front door—a salvaged bit of classical architecture contrasting with the interior’s rustic simplicity. In a living room with hand-hewn ceiling beams and a primitive pine mantel, a black-and-white striped carpet provides an island of contemporary style. Slightly brighter than the pea-green shade popular in colonial America, chartreuse curtains add another up-to-date touch. While the English and European furniture is in sync with the house’s period, a giant, sun-bleached elk horn poised on a low stool interjects a modern, almost sculptural element. The couple’s penchant for unlikely pairings of the high and the low, the natural and the hand-crafted finds full expression in the bookcases framing the entrance to the dining room. On their shelves, books rub shoulders with antique children’s toys, coral branches and shells, porcelain bowls, wooden boxes and architectural fragments. Nearly all come from local antiques shows and flea markets. As a photographer, Street-Porter often finds inspiration in these places where, he says, “I’m always discovering compositions of things that are completely arresting because they are so unexpected and so unplanned.” The local antiques scene is equally inspiring to Kelly: “If you want to find something fresh, lively and individual, flea markets are the best places to look.”

For the dining room, Kelly bought chairs in different but related styles, one associated with Yorkshire County and the other with Lancashire. Framed prints depicting English cultural and political figures appear to be hung on ribbons matching the red trim, but in reality Kelly painted the faux-ribbons to add a touch of whimsy.

At first, Kelly resisted the blue-and-white china so readily and cheaply available in the local shops and flea markets. But finally she succumbed, amassing a mix-and-match collection of English and Chinese transferware to complement the pieces her husband inherited from his English family. She likes to introduce an element of surprise by using empty decanters like obelisks to add height and glitter to table settings or mixing tinted modern glassware with finer crystal. “You should never be afraid to use something that’s not ‘correct,’ especially if it captures your eye and your imagination,” Kelly explains. “Otherwise things become too serious.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 2016 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: The Element of Surprise.