Photographs: Amy Vischio
“Oh, say it was a piece of cake,” is how Amy suggested I begin the story about her renovation project. “I met with the crew and reviewed their plans by 7 a.m. every day, and still got to work on time.” This sarcasm occurred on a particularly stressful day of the process, and was perhaps also a reaction to my fortieth gentle suggestion that we begin thinking about how to approach this story. But now that it’s complete, the addition and renovation of her Fairfield home has given her the new office, studio, and storage she needed to get her most personal space back in balance.
In the September/October 2013 issue of athome Magazine, we show you the finished project—with linens pressed, kitchen scrubbed and fresh flowers on the bedside table. Nonetheless, even on the most seamless of projects, there’s always something that doesn’t go according to plan. On many—ultimately successful—projects, it’s several things. Creating a home that looks effortlessly elegant takes a whole lot of time and energy. Though Amy’s project was comparatively small in scale, there were a hundred decisions to be made and the possibility for all the same issues to arise.
I have never undertaken a renovation myself (and in fact, when I start to decorate my first apartment this month, it will be with a ton of notes from Amy, my creative director in work and often in life), but when Amy started this project, I was sure that with her design background and her definitive taste, the process would go pretty smoothly. She’d been thinking about this addition for years, and when I came to work for Moffly in 2011, she had already roughed out some plans for what the exterior should look like.
In my first months of working on athome, I quickly learned that although she fervently claims to “love” color and pattern, Amy’s favorite type of house is all white with nothing in it. So I wasn’t surprised when she told me that when she originally drew the plans for her (allwhite) home in Fairfield, she purposefully didn’t include much storage space, in order to “live minimally.” Editorial work is madness, and tons of images and text cross her desk every day, so it’s understandable that she’d want to come home to a clean, organized space.
It seems that the plan worked for a while. Then, slowly, her papers and iMac migrated to her kitchen counter, her painting studio ended up in the guest bedroom, and her photography equipment ended up everywhere else. So much for living minimally—she needed more space. Amy’s thoughts turned to renovation, and when she got serious about it, she called Neil Hauck of Neil Hauck Architects. He could handle all the challenging details—getting the scale correct, connecting the old structure to the new one, dealing with zoning restrictions, and making sure it would actually be functional in the end.
When we started our athomefc.com web series, “Creative Thinking,” in May, in which we chronicled the progress of the renovation, things seemed pretty buttoned up at Amy’s house. Working with Neil was a joy; Amy was excited about the “Scandinavian” look the new, lighter stain on her floors would give the house; she even made time to play Cupid and attempted to set me up with not one, but two guys involved with the project (maybe third time’s the charm).
But the more components there are—wiring the place (low voltage or line voltage?), getting the stain for the floors just right, choosing the tile and hardware—the more chances for something to go wrong. Things moved along pretty quickly, which was great for staying on schedule with our web coverage, but not so great for making little changes along the way—something Amy is very fond of, both at work and at home. She loves to make tiny improvements to every issue of athome until the very end, and she can’t be stopped until things are just right. But since all the work on her house was done while she was at the office, she didn’t have the same ability to tweak her own project.
So there were some mishaps that kept her up at night. There were days when dust from the renovation covered everything in her house. There was the one week that turned into three weeks when she and her husband and their dog Sadie moved in with Amy’s parents while the floors were being redone. There were days when she was just “over it”, and even the Moffly editorial staff’s favorite indulgence, dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s, couldn’t stop the moments of second-guessing if this had been worth the time, stress, and hemorrhage of money required.
In the midst of all this—the realities of a renovation—there was the excitement of seeing it all coming together. Fortunately, Amy had assembled a great team that helped her reach the finish line and realize her vision. While many people complain that the builders are dragging their feet, Shawn Mauro and his crew worked so fast that Amy joked that one day she’d come home to a finished project. Shawn embraced the challenges of the space, and encouraged Amy to follow through with her plan for James Hardie board-and-batten siding, a product and style she felt was perfect for the house, even though it created more work for him. Architect Neil Hauck was the calm, informed partner Amy relied on to create a seamless, appropriate design for the addition.
Amy also enlisted the help of John Eigo of Hemingway Custom Cabinetry and Architectural Millwork for her wet bar, office and storage design, and the Hemingway team exceeded her expectations on all fronts. “Nothing was ever too much trouble, and John was the ultimate problem-solver,” she says. Hemingway worked with Aitoro to find the one and only set of refrigerator drawers that would fit into her small-scale wet bar from Sub-Zero. When Amy was losing sleep over the flooring transition from hardwood to limestone, John delivered three custom-made options for her to choose from—all of them so perfect, it was hard to pick one. It was clear that John’s commitment to doing things right was especially appreciated by a woman of particular taste and near-obsessive attention to detail.
Matt Almy and Jim Gerrity of Oliver Nurseries tackled the .18 acres of outdoor space, and Amy was amazed at what they were able to do with her small lot. Building on a master plan that Jim created four years ago, the team took the original drawings to the next level. They created a courtyard in front of the garage with large stone steps and a boxwood hedge border and lined the driveway with a row of hornbeams. A stone path runs around the house and leads to a future outdoor shower. It was their idea to break up the expanse of the oil-and-stone driveway with a row of oversized rocks. Matt and Jim’s work transformed Amy’s space beyond what she thought was possible on her postage-stamp-sized lot; it should serve as a reminder not to underestimate the power of landscaping and a well-thought-out design plan.
Though she’s taking her time with the finishing touches—“I ordered swatches of avocado green velvet for pillows, but haven’t been able to pull the trigger,” she says—Amy now has a new office that lives larger than its 5×5 dimensions would suggest, under-stair storage that maximizes every square inch of available space, and a new studio where she can paint and conduct Moffly Media photo shoots. In other parts of the house, old is new again: the kitchen counter is clear for food prep and party spreads, and the guest bedroom is ready for visitors, who no longer have to go to sleep surrounded by easels, drop cloths and the fear of paint inhalation. Her home is back to the tranquil, clean, uncluttered space it once was. Now that the work is done, the team cleared out, and the dust is swept away, it seems that those few challenging times are starting to recede from Amy’s mind. That prolonged stay with Mom and Dad has become “a blessing of quality time,” she doesn’t even look twice at those dreamy dark chocolate peanut butter cups anymore; it was “all worth it,” she says—and just yesterday she announced she’d found the perfect bed for my apartment in New York. Here we go again.
Architect: Neil Hauck, Neil Hauck Architects, Darien, 203-655-9340, neilhauckarchitects.com
Builder: Shawn Mauro, Mauro Builders, LLC, Easton, 203-373-7808, maurobuildersllc.com
Cabinetry, custom art pedestals: Hemingway Custom Cabinetry & Architectural Millwork, Black Rock, 203-382-0300, hemingwaycustom.com
Landscape design: Oliver Nurseries, Fairfield, 203-259-5609, olivernurseries.com
Garage doors: The Garage Door Center, Fairfield, 203-255-3033, thegaragedoorcenter.com
Sub-Zero refrigerator drawers, Frigidaire microwave: Aitoro, Norwalk, 203-847-2471, aitoro.com
Driveway: O’Hara’s Paving & Excavating, LLC, Fairfield, 203-255-3414, ohara-paving-excavating.com
Stone flooring, shower floor tile: Greenwich Tile and Marble, Greenwich, 203-220-6176
Stainless countertop: Surface Techniques, Milford, 203-874-7841
Bath faucet, shower tile, vanity, toilet: Porcelanosa, Greenwich, 203-698-7618, porcelanosa.com
Bath lights and accessories: Waterworks, Greenwich, 203-869-7766, waterworks.com
Staircase: Quality Stairs, Inc., Bridgeport, 800-852-6744, qualitystairsinc.com
Shower door: Fairfield Glass Service, Inc., Southport, 203-259-8183, fairfieldglassfairfieldct.com
Flooring: MBB Hardwood, 203-526-0996
Painting: Bruce Benway Quality Wallcoverings, Fairfield, 203-521-8882
Electric: Salvioli Electric, Fairfield, 203-259-0077
Spotlights in mudroom: Circa Antiques, Westport, 203-222-8642, circaantiques.com
Family room sculpture by Kevin Kelly: Amy Simon Fine Art, Westport, 203-259-1500, amysimonfineart.com
Upholstery and pillows: Artistic Upholstery, Norwalk, 203-849-8907
Vintage furnishings, Lighting, Art: MIXIT, Inc., 203-610-3544, mixitdesign.com
Living room bookcase and chairs: Dovecote, Westport, 203-222-7500, dovecote-westport.com
Accessories: The Antique & Artisan Center, Stamford, 203-327-6022, stamfordantiques.com
Dining room table: New Canaan Home and Antiques, New Canaan, 203-594-9910
Irrigation: Greenwave Irrigation, Trumbull, 203-365-5000
Stone: Gault, Westport, 203-227-5181, gaultstone.com