It usually happens right after I've watched some fabulous home design TV show; I find myself thinking, I don't live in California or the Southwest, where many of these shows are shot. Some of these great design ideas I've just seen don't apply to the New England lifestyle.
But recently, I had a glimpse of what's going on behind closed doors and garden gates in our own state at the Newtown Historical Society's home and garden tour, From the Past Into the Present. My sister came with me to check out the six houses featured.
The properties were an interesting mix of antique and new. Four homes were originally built in the 18th or 19th centuries, with additions and updates being included in the 20th or 21st centuries; two of the homes were built within the last 10 years.
Starting on the homes' exteriors, we noticed that millstones were used as outdoor accents at both antique and contemporary homes on the tour. Millstones are heavy granite disks several inches thick that were used in pairs to grind grains in mills. They give a nice solid circle as a garden focal point. I'll keep this in mind for future garden planning at my home.
William Royall of Maine Millstones confirmed using millstones in the garden has become popular in southwestern Connecticut.
"It is sort of a trend," Royall said. "We send a lot of millstones to Greenwich, Fairfield, Darien, Westport and Newtown. There's been a wave of Americana, if you will. If you have an old house, you want that antique character to carry across into the outside hardscaping."
His company is one of the few providers of millstones. But with the demand for them outpacing the availability of antique millstones, their carvers are making new ones.
"They end up in upscale places. The best ones are made of granite, although in the 1800s millstones made from limestone were shipped over from France," Royall said.
One antique home we saw started with an early 1800s house with a large kitchen addition. The owners worked with Academy Design and Construction LLC, of Newtown.
Ben Pilchard, the founder of Academy Design, shared some insight into adding modern amenities without destroying antique charms.
"How do you transition from old to new without feeling that's what you're doing? You have to understand scale," he said. "Scale on the exterior and scale in the interior, you need to keep the scale. Keep the addition within certain dimensions so the house will accept the addition and still feel like the same house.
"In that case, the owners wanted cathedral ceilings in the kitchen. From the outside you can't tell because the gable works with the architecture. From the inside, you try to carry materials into the new room. We used wide-plank flooring, beams, trim that exists from around the windows. Floors were key," he said.
Flow from indoors to outdoors was something my sister and I noticed at another home on the tour, an amazing modern structure on the shore of Lake Zoar.
The wall separating the family room from the lakeside patio consisted of glass doors that folded back to completely open up the lower level to the outdoors. The family room's floor continued that indoor/outdoor flow by changing from a darker material to a lighter stone as you crossed the room toward the outdoors. By the time you reach the doorway, the indoor floor is the same stone as the patio floor.
My sister is rethinking her plan for adding a new patio to her home. Adding some sparkle with her choice of stone, or combining more than one type of stone is something she said she might consider after seeing this house.
Several of the antique homes used a red, white and blue color scheme in bedrooms and TV rooms. Picking one of these three colors as the main hue and using the other two as accents is the way to go, advised Dina Ragona-Pistouris, a designer at Ethan Allen in Danbury, "It's a classic, all-American look. The colors make people feel good," she said. "It's always going to be around, especially in the New England area."
But for those looking to update their decor, she recommends the current trend toward greys and light blues paired with mushroom-colored walls. "These are soothing colors," Ragona-Pistouris said.
My sister and I saw that trend in a circa-1700s home, whose muted gray-blue interior colors suited the original sections of the building and connected through to more recent additions.
Color can tie otherwise disparate things together, In one antique house the owner combined inherited yellow glass ornaments with antique shop finds in the same color glass to tie in with her living room and dining room decor. The items visually balanced the yellow throughout the two rooms.
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