Ellen Hamilton sums up the vivid contemporary art that fills the five-bedroom stone house in rural Connecticut in one word: Gutsy. But the New York-based decorator who designed the interiors might have been talking about herself.
For one room, Hamilton ordered the oak-paneled walls slathered in blue milk paint, nearly bringing the woodworkers to tears. For another, she smudged the walls with graphite. And there’s just no other word for suspending—over a two-story stairwell—a chandelier composed of miniature shaded lamps, like a spiraling procession of black mushrooms, by Frederik Molenschot of Studio Molen in Amsterdam, Holland, which was so big that it had to be hacksawed into three pieces for shipping from Europe and reconstructed on site with a welding torch.
So what is the outcome of so much boldness? Serenity. Inspired by antique Flemish and Dutch farmhouses, Hamilton and her clients—philanthropists and art enthusiasts, but, above all, supporters of living artists—many of whom are from Brooklyn, New York—designed rooms warmed by rustic nuances. Draperies are delicately woven, carpets distressed, furniture occasionally rough or gnarly. The materiality of the scheme—plaster walls, Belgian tiles, old beams, and blackened steel—underpins the rich, inviting atmosphere. The strong, bedazzling art pieces rest comfortably in this environment, and so does everyone else.
“It’s a very authentic place,” Hamilton said. “The miracle is that it’s new.” Built on the site of a former dairy farm, the house was assembled from local schist and reclaimed oak, so in many details it is legitimately old. “A broad objective was to let this thing be as neutral and real feeling as we could,” explained Reese Owens, the architect whose office is in Washington Depot, Connecticut. “There’s very little finish on most of the interior surfaces. We really valued natural, uncovered materials.”
Once Hamilton and her clients settled on historical models, they flew to Belgium and the Netherlands to shop for antiques. Among other objects, they picked up a Flemish money-changing table and a handsome 17th-century commode built into a chair. “Everyone needs a latrine in their very glammy living room,” Hamilton quipped. In the same multifunctional Renaissance spirit, they furnished a foyer so it could be converted into a formal dining room with an expandable antique Flemish mahogany table.