Tour a Colorfully Updated Greenfield Hill Farmhouse
When it came time to move out of their starter home in Chappaqua, Tom and Michele Whelan assumed they’d stay in Westchester. After a year of fruitless searching, they found the home of their dreams in a place they never thought to look: Fairfield. From the moment their Realtor ushered them into an antique farmhouse in Greenfield Hill, they knew the wait had been worth it. “The minute I walked in, I felt this amazing energy,” Michele Whelan recalls. “It was clearly a house that had been loved by each of its previous owners.” They made an offer the next day.
Positive energy is important to this yoga devotee and mother of three. She has fond memories of growing up in New Hampshire, where her childhood home was the central hub for the neighborhood. “I wanted my house to be like that, too. Someplace where my kids could feel happy and relaxed,” she says.
Built in 1832 as a servant’s home for one of Greenfield Hill’s large estates, the house has undergone many changes over the years. One owner built a master suite with his and hers bathrooms. Another added a room for arts and crafts. There is even the remnant of a garden planted by two of the home’s more illustrious occupants—renowned residential architect Cameron Clark and his landscape designer wife, Agnes. But many of the original details remain: wide-planked pine floors, wood beams, the fireplace library, the root cellar. “I thought it was amazing that all these different owners had done things to make it their own, but it still had the integrity of the American farmhouse,” Whelan notes. “I couldn’t wait to add our footprint, too.”
The Whelans agreed to live in the house for at least a year before making any decorating decisions. “I felt like I had a responsibility to the house,” Whelan says. “I wanted to get a sense of what it needed and do right by it.” Her patience paid off. Whereas the last owners had favored a subdued, monochromatic palette, Whelan envisioned lots of color. Because they entertain frequently, she needed rooms that were welcoming and fuss-free. Most of all, she wanted to preserve the home’s historic charm, while adding a fresh, youthful spin. “I love the old,” she says. “But we’re a young family living a modern life, looking to the future.”
When she was ready, friends introduced her to Darien-based designer Annie Mahoney. “Annie’s gift for layering patterns and textures is something you can’t be taught in school,” Whelan says. “She has the most amazing eye.”
“Michele wanted something that was bright and lively. I love throwing things into the mix and making it feel unexpected. She was open to that, so we really went for it,” Mahoney says.
That meant incorporating multiple patterns and textures—stripes, checks, dots, splashy florals and tasteful toiles—playing with colors and tones, and introducing pieces from different periods. “It’s not a big house,” says Mahoney. “With three children under ten, the family utilizes every room.” Scale was critical, and she designed most of the upholstered pieces herself. “Versatility is key. Every piece has to count.”
In the dining room, where French doors open onto the backyard patio, antique Swedish chairs covered in vinyl faux snakeskin and narrow Acrylic chairs surround a David Iatesta table. The pink silk taffeta drapes pick up the hint of pink in the gray wallpaper, and the chinoiserie finish on the Jansen chandelier adds another colorful touch. “We didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously,” explains Mahoney. “We wanted to have fun.”
In the green-hued library, the bookshelves and ceiling are papered with little green dots, the walls are done in an apple-green toile and the silk strie window treatment has hints of olive. Pink velvet bolsters and orange vases add a youthful pop. Upstairs, orange bedside tables (circa 1970s Palm Beach) flank a blue-zebra print headboard, in the blue-walled master.
One of Whelan’s favorite pieces is a mid-1800s English campaign table that sits near the fireplace in the living room. “If we’re not doing a puzzle, we’re playing Scrabble,” she says. “It brings the whole family together.” Just like she imagined.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2012 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: True American Farmhouse.