Jenny Wolf was tasked with adding a touch of Southern hospitality to this historic Connecticut country home. The contrast between the crisp blue and white decor and the stately accents gave this home a fresh update.
Julie Lasky: You’re known for your fresh take on traditional design. When a young couple asked you to update this 1822 Connecticut house, how did you keep it from feeling too formal?
Wolf: Textiles play a big role in traditional decor, but if you look at this living room, you’ll see that some of the fabrics are playful, like the Brunschwig & Fils Les Touches fabric on the slipper chairs. The skirted table is traditional, but the skirt is trimmed with fun, flirty little balls and tassels. Painting the room white instead of doing a heavy paper or color also keeps the space light and airy. So does using white lacquered furniture instead of mahogany. And you would not find sea-grass rugs in your grandmother’s home.
This family loves hosting friends—throughout the year, not just at holiday time — and their style is approachable. How did you adapt the house to suit their needs?
The dining room in its day would have been very formal, but we wanted it to feel much more comfortable and relaxed. So rather than a classic dining table, I opted for a more casual farm table, then dressed it up with a set of Chippendale chairs. The only light fixture we considered for this room was a lamp from Coleen & Company — it felt just perfect, with its whimsical flounce detail. A fussy crystal chandelier would have been too much.
Without being heavy-handed, you’ve created some spaces that have a distinctive atmosphere—some feel decidedly pretty, while others are more tailored. Why?
The wife’s one request was for a romantic blue-and-white room where she could sit and have her coffee. The moment my colleague Dakota Willimon—the project’s senior designer — and I saw the airy living room surrounded by windows, we knew this would be it. The palette was inspired by a blue-and-white Wedgwood urn we found while antiquing in Connecticut. The husband asked for a place where he could gather with his friends after dinner to drink bourbon and smoke cigars. I call it the “men’s den.” In this room, as elsewhere, I used colors — caramels, browns, ivory — that one doesn’t tire of. They’re easy on the eye and calming. The masculine details were brought in through leather upholstery, mahogany, and decorative objects.
You also designed dueling guest rooms of sorts!
It’s true. One is warm and cottage-like, with antique botanical prints and an original working sink that was used for washing up in the morning. We call it the “hers” guest room. The other one resembles a hunting lodge, with its plaid wool throw, antique antlers, and an oil painting of a fox. The room’s scheme started with monogrammed pillows from Leontine Linens. I strongly believe a space should feel personal, and monograms are a very easy way to do it, although the younger set sometimes thinks it’s too fussy, or like something their grandparents would have. But in this case, the oversize, graphic look of the block letters takes the bed to a whole new place.
The house has wonderful vintage pieces. Where did you find them?
A lot are Southern antiques collected from the couple’s families, like the map of North Carolina in the family room. But we also wanted to reflect the home’s period and place. The Brimfield flea market in Massachusetts is where I found the tortoise shells hanging above the mantel as well as the portrait in the men’s den. It’s hard to find 18th-century portraits of men at the right price—at least the handsome ones! You want a face that you don’t mind looking at.
You’re a native of New Orleans, and the homeowners are both Southerners. Did your shared background influence your approach?
I now live in New York, and most of my city clients prefer a contemporary look. It was definitely nice to work with a couple of Southerners who share my appreciation for the antique. This project almost felt like I was designing for myself.
This story originally appeared in the December/January 2018 issue of CQ.