INTERVIEW WITH CALLA MCNAMARA, CALLA STUDIO
A Rowayton Victorian receives FRESH UPDATES while honoring its HISTORY
What was the starting point for this renovation? I met the clients through architect Bruce Beinfield, who had done a renovation for them in 1992, where he had bumped out over the garage and created additional rooms on the third floor. The clients had just moved back from Singapore, where they had been living for three years in a very modern apartment, and when they returned home, they felt like their house needed an update. They also have adult children and grandchildren living in the area, so the project was definitely oriented to having guests over.
How would you describe their house? It’s an 1800s Victorian, and it had William Morris wallpaper that had been installed twenty-five years ago. It looks like a traditional Victorian and was very well-maintained, with beautiful English gardens and water views. While the house was very charming, it didn’t have the clean, modern feel the clients had grown accustomed to. They had raised their kids here, so they were ready to spruce it up.
Did any requests top the list? While they were living in Singapore, the clients loved having a large closet and a large, modern master bathroom, and they were returning to this antique home with a tiny closet and tiny bathroom. With all of their children moved out of the house, the clients wanted their master suite to be a place they could truly enjoy. We took over an adjacent room they’d been using as a study and created an entire master suite that includes a walk-in closet and a much larger bathroom with a big vanity, shower and tub.
Did you end up keeping any existing elements of the house during the project? As in most Victorians, the floors had been updated and patched in different areas with different types of flooring, but there were original floorboards in some areas. On the second floor, we painted all of the floors white, which was the biggest game-changer in making the space fresher and brighter. We maintained the original bannister and its stain to pay tribute to what the house had originally looked like. The kitchen wasn’t authentic to the house, but we updated it.
What did that entail? The cabinetry was looking a little creamy, the countertops were grouted tile, and the backsplash was a green floral tile. We saw a lot of potential in not tearing everything out but rather making it look more current. Working with the terracotta floor, which definitely set the tone, we went with a dark color to minimize the floor. We took out the countertops, replaced the sinks and faucets, replaced the backsplash, repainted all of the cabinetry and swapped out a few appliances that were on their last legs. For the most part, the fireplace was left as is. I thought letting it be a piece of the old charm was sweet.
That breakfast nook definitely looks bright and fresh. How did that come together? The French doors were existing, as were the curtains and chairs, and the walls were previously a bright lime green that matched the curtains. It was an interesting challenge to edit out things that felt like they were from the past while keeping things the clients loved or that were interesting. When we renovated the kitchen, we weren’t sure we would reintroduce the curtains, but in the final stages, we temporarily put them back up because we hadn’t picked anything else yet. Then we all decided that we loved the curtains—they were a fresh start now that the entire palette had changed.
How did you tackle the master suite upgrade? Since the house was old and didn’t have up-to-date insulation, we took this room down to the studs and added insulation and lighting, but we left the floors and painted them white. The bed was originally facing out the other way, but since the clients had purchased the home, a few houses had gone up across the street. Moving their bed actually gave them a much better water view and also enabled us to create a better flow into the new walk-in closet and bathroom. We incorporated an existing chest of drawers and a bedside table, and other pieces are vintage ones we found.
Was is difficult configuring the new master bath and closet? You go through the closet to access the bathroom, and since we had limited space, it was a bit of a puzzle orienting those spaces in a way that made it functional to access the bathroom while also creating generous-feeling spaces. In terms of where things were laid out, they were the natural locations given the spaces we were working with. The clients had a clawfoot tub they wanted to repurpose, and while it was larger than I think we would have spec’d in the first place, it pushed us to create an alternative layout that ended up being a really great option.
You then created a new study in another room? Yes—since we took over the husband’s existing study for the new master bath, we moved his study across the hall into what was once a bedroom. He needed bookcases, and adding these built-ins worked out well because we could disguise some of the oddities in the wall while creating a nice workspace for him. Since the rest of the house is now light and bright, we wanted a contrast in here. He had a few dark frames and some more masculine wood furniture, so we highlighted those pieces with a dark backdrop. The high gloss we used on the trim and doors is very reflective, so it’s not a dark space—it has a lot of depth.
The study connects to a guest room with great wallpaper. How did you choose that? The client is a big fan of wallpaper, and we’d both seen that one used before. We waffled back and forth on it, but then we brought it into the space and found it worked really well with the colors and played off of some of her antiques. She has an antique chest and a few rattan pieces in there, and the paper was a playful way to refresh the room. We also lacquered the existing twin brass beds black. The room had one bed in it originally, but given the number of grandchildren coming to visit, we put two beds in there to accommodate more guests.
There’s another great wallpaper in the third-floor guest room. Tell me about that. This room was part of the renovation that was done by Bruce Beinfield. There was pink toile wallpaper in here, so our first instinct was to take it down and maybe paint the room. But there is something so charming about this space, and once we took the wallpaper down, we realized how much the pattern on the walls highlighted its quirkiness. We thought putting up another wallpaper would be fun, especially with the kids and grandchildren staying here. This one had a lot of movement, which helped with some of the lines in the room.
The bunkroom also looks ready to host plenty of small visitors. The clients had been trying to use this room as a bunkroom, but since the number of grandchildren has grown since the bedroom was first configured, they were running out of bed space. We struggled a lot with whether to build in bunks, but we realized it might be a short period of time where built-in bunks would be useful. So instead we got Ikea bunk beds and lacquered them white, and we put a crib in the back corner. We ultimately made the space more flexible for their family.
Did anything specifically inspire the home’s overall new look? I would say we had a little love affair with India Hicks [laughs] combined with some Moroccan influences. We had to find a balance between choosing things that were appropriate for the house and its time period and updating it. The clients are originally from England, and I think it speaks to English sensibility to have a mix of different cultures in one space. They also travel quite a bit, so they picked up inspiration along the way.
How did you edit the furnishings to achieve that balance? The challenge was updating the least amount of pieces as possible without making it feel like we were forcing things. A lot of extra furniture had been moved from room to room, and that made spaces feel cluttered. We were less focused on particular pieces and more focused on holding on to things that were sentimental to the clients and finding ways to implement them, whether that was moving them to a different room, giving them new life with paint or just editing the other pieces around them so they could stand out.
When you did introduce something new, was it brand-new or “new” to the clients? It varied. We found a few vintage bedside tables, like the bamboo one in the master bedroom that was layered in to match their existing tea table. There is a fair amount of Serena & Lily in here as well, and the client is a big fan of Brimfield, so we worked in pieces she found there. She really has an eye for that.
How have the clients been enjoying their updated home? They really love having a walk-in dressing room and a nice master suite to relax in. I also think it’s been really fun having grandchildren stay over in the bunkroom. It’s easy to accommodate all of their family.
Interior designer: Calla Studio, Rowayton; 203-810-4632; calla.studio
General contractor: PG Design & Carpentry; 203-918-1583