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Sitting on private acreage with mature trees and rolling lawns, this 1886 Victorian in Greenwich, Connecticut, has storybook looks and a location to match: the ocean is just a short stroll away.

Kirsten Francis

Divergent Tastes Merge Seamlessly in a Belle Haven Grand Victorian

Georgia Tapert Howe turned one couple’s desire for design compromise into a gracious home without any half measures.

July 8, 2024

The house had it all: architectural details befitting a grand 1886 Victorian, intimately scaled rooms yet ample square footage, graceful seclusion, and a prized location on Belle Haven, one of Greenwich, Connecticut’s, prettiest peninsulas. These were facts that the house’s new owners, recent transplants from New York City, could both agree on. But when it came time to plan the interior decor, their divergent tastes—his more traditional, hers more modernist—became more apparent. Concessions would have to be made.

  • In the entryway, artwork by Donald Sultan satisfied the wife’s desire for modern color, while the antique oak table from RT Facts appeals to the husband’s more traditional side. The couple’s tastes aligned in their desire to honor the old house—and in the clean curves of the stools from BK Antiques and the Art Deco chair from Amy Meier. Pendant light, Hector Finch.

    Kirsten Francis
  • The dining room’s capacious table is topped with a two-toned coffered ceiling: Benjamin Moore’s Philipsburg Blue picks out the pattern, while the same shade cut by 50 percent is slicked on the wainscotting and doors. A lamp from KRB Home reflects the reds in the abstract canvas by Caio Fonseca. Urban Electric chandelier; custom china by Zoë de Givenchy.

    Kirsten Francis

“It’s a grand house, but we didn’t want the living room to feel too fancy,” says Howe, who trimmed the linen curtains with burlap fringe from Samuel & Sons. A collection of contemporary English furniture and lighting—the chair in the bay window from Pinch, the coffee table and lamps from Collier Webb, the soft chandelier from Howe London—perfectly embodies the livable elegance the homeowners wanted. Paintings by Gideon Rubin (left) and Melanie Parke (right) carry the warm hues of the Robert Kime print on the sofa.

Kirsten Francis

Admittedly, a house full of compromises is not often a formula for greatness—and potentially a recipe for a characterless void. Enter designer Georgia Tapert Howe: A master at plucking pieces from this period and that, effortlessly blending them into rooms that look as if they evolved over time (rather than the single year she was given to complete this project), Howe was perfectly matched for the job. She and her clients were aligned in their desire to honor the age of the house, which had been skillfully renovated and outfitted with custom millwork—but then filled with modern light fixtures. “We took all of that away,” says Howe, “and replaced them with classic pieces like the Hector Finch alabaster pendant light in the entryway.” Paired with an antique rug and center table, it manages to feel at once young and fresh yet entirely traditional. “The table is a lighter oak with clean lines, and then there’s the surprise of that Deco armchair in the corner. It really sets the tone for the rest of the house.”

“The kitchen is highly trafficked, and the kids are all little, so durability was top of mind,” says Howe. The client didn’t want any high-maintenance surfaces, so the oak herringbone floor was left unadorned and the spareness takes on a from-any-era prettiness. William Lamen chairs, upholstered in a wipeable, vinylized fabric, surround the Nickey Kehoe table. A Hollywood at Home pendant light adds a country house vibe.

Kirsten Francis
  • Honest materials mix with bucolic views in the kitchen, which features a trio of glass pendant lights from Visual Comfort, soapstone counters, a Wolf range and hood, and Waterworks faucets. “The room needed a texture,” says Howe, so in came a trio of leather barstools from McGee and Co. that will develop a patina with time.

    Kirsten Francis
  • As the only bathroom on the first floor, this tiny powder room gets a lot of use. A durable coat of Acadia White from Benjamin Moore keeps things light and bright, while the confetti-like explosion of Jennifer Shorto’s Mirror wallcovering adds a playful twist. Mirror, sink, and hardware from Waterworks; wall sconces from Urban Electric.

    Kirsten Francis

Bathed in Acadia White by Benjamin Moore, the airy hall offers a quiet pause before leading into the living room. Modest in size, it’s one of the loveliest rooms in the house; the elegant yellow-and-burlap scene feels sunny and warm by day, and takes on a glowing radiance in the evening lamplight. “We wanted it to feel more formal than other parts of the house but not stuffy,” says Howe. “It’s meant to be used.” When the couple fell in love with the Robert Kime Oxus fabric on the sofa, the rest fell into place, including the collection of English furniture and lighting that embodies the spirit of the decor: unfussy, inviting, supremely comfortable, and impeccably designed without feeling it’s of a specific time.

Just off the kitchen, a small sitting area flows out to the screened-in porch and doubles as a play space for the children and a gathering spot for entertaining. Howe bleached the simple wooden coffee table to kick off a casual summery vibe, which is amplified by the petite linen-upholstered Nickey Kehoe sofa, wicker stools from Panoplie, a floral John Robshaw fabric on the vintage chair, and views of glorious foliage through prettily paned Dynamic Fenestration windows. Swedish rug from Mark Phillips; Hector Finch lamps.

Kirsten Francis

Blessed with three children (the youngest of which was born just as the final installation was taking place) and a large extended family, the couple approached the dining room with an eye toward entertaining and hosting big holiday dinners. The first order of business was finding a table that comfortably fit everyone: a custom 14-seater from Dos Gallos with a bit of heft in the legs, which Howe paired with more delicate chairs. An impactful wallcovering was also in order, although finding a pattern that both husband and wife embraced required more than a few tries: A paper-backed floral from Fermoie in an unexpected periwinkle blue hue was the eventual winner. The color is picked up and repeated with varying intensity in the rug, mohair-upholstered chairs, and millwork.

The primary bedroom had cavernous proportions, “so it was important to make it feel cozy with texture and warm wood,” says Howe. The custom bed upholstered in Penny Morrison’s Yasmina print was the starting point, along with a “not your standard, run-of-the-mill blue and white” color scheme. The antique mirror was found at McGrath II in Greenwich, while the 19th-century Swedish chest of drawers was a 1stDibs score. Chandelier by RT Facts; Pinch sofa; Corbin Cruise coffee table.

Kirsten Francis
  • A custom chaise upholstered in a Claremont stripe picks up on the blue-and-white-with-a-hint-of-pink palette, which feels like a natural extension of the rest of the house. It’s flanked by artwork from Hugo Guinness and an RT Facts side table.

    Kirsten Francis
  • The couple “really appreciated the details” in this primary bathroom, a space where spa-like comfort quietly prevails with a deep soaking tub, huge steam shower with nickel framing, and a delicate mosaic tiled floor, all from Waterworks.

    Kirsten Francis

Throughout the house, loudly showstopping moments were eschewed in favor of a quieter, sum-of-all-parts beauty. “It’s about the quality of the furniture, the quality of the fabrics, things they can love and touch every day,” says Howe. “They have other houses, but this is the place they really want to live in and relax in.” The kitchen and adjoining dining area and family room, for example, are designed for practicality. The humble farmhouse table and rush chairs feel timeless and unpretentious, and the floor is bare while the windows are similarly unadorned, letting the lines of the millwork shine. The soapstone counters and leather-backed barstools, which are meant to get a little beat up and age gracefully, embrace a similar aesthetic.

  • With a pitched ceiling and quirky angles, this guest room is full of charm—maximized with a floral Penny Morrison wallpaper. “Hands down, this was the wife’s favorite room—she wasn’t afraid to go for it,” says Howe. Beds and bedding, Serena & Lily; Patterson Flynn rug.

    Kirsten Francis
  • A window seat in the guest room turns up the charm with a soft cushion upholstered in a woven fabric from Pat McGann, Roman shades in a coordinating Penny Morrison fabric, and pillows from Hollywood at Home. Visual Comfort wall sconce.

    Kirsten Francis

Although the kids are still little, Howe designed this third-floor playroom with the future in mind: Today, it’s a place where they can sit and color at the Hay table, but sophisticated custom seating, a retro Selamat wicker chair, and mod chandelier from Bone Simple ensure that the space will be equally appealing as a teenage hangout. The Nickey Kehoe ottoman is covered in a Zak+Fox fabric; table lamp by Hollywood at Home; Roman shades in a Katie Leede fabric.

Kirsten Francis

A similar philosophy reigns upstairs. The house’s few bolder statements were saved for the guest rooms, like the one covered top to bottom in an exuberant overscale floral. “It’s a good place to have some fun because you don’t live in it every day,” says Howe. The family spaces, meanwhile, are all about gorgeous details and sparingly used patterns that feel like beloved friends you always look forward to seeing, whether it’s the Penny Morrison fabric on the custom upholstered bed in the primary bedroom or the pop-arty Zak+Fox stripe on the ottoman in the children’s playroom. In the end, it was the couple’s uncompromising commitment to compromise that produced a true dream house.

Ceiling fans, heat lamps, and a custom 14-foot Wicker Works sofa covered in Penny Morrison’s Zanzibar pattern help make the screened-in porch a three-season hang. “It looks out to the pool, so it’s a dreamy spot for dinners,” says Howe, who painted the ceiling in Yarmouth Blue and the floorboards in Coventry Gray, both from Benjamin Moore. Ceiling fans from Minka Aire; Serena & Lily coffee tables.

Kirsten Francis