The Scott-Kearney family definitely needed more elbowroom, but they wanted to avoid anything pretentious. After living in a 1,500-square-foot bungalow, Sally Scott and her husband, Kevin Kearney, looked forward to a bigger family house. However, they also wanted their new 6,000-square-foot home to have an understated, timeless design.
Interior designer Eric Mandil helped the couple create a home he likens to a well-worn pair of blue jeans—a look you can dress up or down but that always feels comfortable. “It doesn’t feel like it’s wearing a lot of makeup,” says Mandil of the Scott-Kearney house. “It doesn’t feel phony-baloney.”
This is also true of the home’s Christmas decorations, which are as natural and traditional as the backgrounds they embellish. Sally fondly remembers her childhood on a California cattle ranch, where holiday décor was simple: nothing flocked, nothing matchy, nothing blinking. She and floral designer Susan Teal have repeated this aesthetic in the new home by using cedar and Douglas fir arrangements that are combined with pinecones and accented by pomegranates in a slightly unusual use, by apples, or by ilex berries.
To achieve the understated interiors, Sally worked hand in hand with Mandil, who is also an architect. They had met several years ago, when Mandil worked on her bungalow. The two were so simpatico in taste that Sally now occasionally works for Mandil. When she described her goals for the new home to him, Sally talked less about how she wanted it to look and more about how she wanted it to feel. “A lot of what was driving her was emotion,” says Mandil.
The couple have two young daughters, plus Kevin has two college-age children from a previous marriage. With their family’s needs in mind, Sally and Kevin bought a four-acre site that provided beautiful, commanding views of the Rocky Mountains. “We decided to build what we specifically wanted,” says Sally. “Even though it’s larger than our previous home, we wanted it to feel warm and welcoming.”
Allocation of space in the new home had to accommodate everyone. The family needed kid places and grown-up places, private rooms and gathering rooms. The formal living and dining rooms are meant to host more grown-up events, and Sally and Kevin can each get downtime in their offices off the master suite. For the kids, “We had to take into consideration that we had both teenagers and toddlers, because they do very different things,” says Sally.
The teenagers have their bedrooms off the beaten path, so that when they’re not at home, the remaining family members need not pass by empty rooms. The little ones simply have more space. “There’s room for the children to leave a jigsaw puzzle out all the time,” Sally says with satisfaction. When it’s time for everyone to come together, the warm French country kitchen and English-country family room embrace them.
The family room, which is smaller than the living room, is where the Christmas tree is displayed. The usual holiday celebration is intimate, including immediate family members and a few close friends who may have no other place to go. “We both believe that Christmas is a family-tradition time,” says Sally of herself and Kevin. Some of those traditions take a culinary turn, as in the smoked and barbecued turkey that’s always served as the main holiday meal along with the standard mashed and sweet potatoes. Two kinds of stuffing can be found on their table—one a Kearney family recipe, the other a Scott family favorite. Luckily, the kitchen is large enough to accommodate two cooks, as well as some little tasters.
Sally and Mandil describe the home’s overall style as Americana-meets-French, with a twist of English and some quirkiness thrown in. “It’s a weird combination of a lot of things, because it’s an East Coast-West Coast-European mix,” notes the designer, who believes that the relaxed blend gives the rooms authenticity. A lot of the furniture shapes and chinoiserie influences are classic French (not “gooey” or “country” French, he emphasizes), but historically sensitive color palettes and fairly square surfaces are fresh interpretations on the theme.
“The Americana aspect is that it feels very well-scrubbed and honest,” says Mandil, who thinks the mix is a great backdrop for living. “People look good in this house. The rooms don’t seem to overpower them.”
Making the interiors approachable for all ages meant that every time Sally and Mandil considered a decision, they usually went with the more modest or older-looking option. For example, the original architectural plan called for cove lighting, which Mandil eventually nixed as being too flashy. The foyer floor was supposed to be stone, but Sally thought painted wood had a homier feel. In fact, wood floors throughout the house were supposed to be 3-inch-wide planks, which the design duo changed to 5 inches wide and, in the family room, 7 inches wide. “That was to give it the feel of an older house,” says Sally. She and Kevin also invested in European antique bricks for the kitchen floor, because reproductions didn’t have the same patina. “When you walk in, you can see money has been spent, and there’s a great attention to detail,” says Mandil. “There’s also a lot of subtlety and sophistication to it.”
That’s not to say there isn’t a little froufrou here and there, especially in the adult-oriented living and dining rooms. But consciously juxtaposing these few flourishes with more laidback elements means that the rooms aren’t alienating to the younger set. “Even though they’re big rooms, they both feel intimate,” says Sally. In the living room, couture draperies provide drama at night when the gold underdrapery is closed. They blend in tone with an antique tapestry and a Chinese rug, both inherited from Sally’s uncle. The new upholstery, however, is a simple cream fabric trimmed with ruffled skirts, not unlike what you’d find in a Nantucket or California beach house.
In the dining room, painted gold highlights on the molding and corner cabinets and a true “window dressing” heighten the room’s formality. Yet the dark gray-green walls and woodwork make the space feel close and familiar. To keep the formal dining room from looking staid when not in use, Mandil surrounded the plank table with a combination of antique Chippendale-style chairs, and other reproductions in a different fabric. Even when it’s empty, “it’s like there’s a party going on in the room,” he says.
Last Christmas was the family’s first in their new home, but as in previous years, low-key social activities centered around kids. Sally and Kevin eschewed all-adult entertaining in favor of an afternoon open house for entire families. “We probably had 40 kids here,” says Sally. She served hors d’oeuvres and sandwiches along with wine, coffee, and a punch concocted from ginger ale, lime sherbet, and dry ice. Plates of homemade cookies were set out near a kids’ activity table in the family room. “I think Christmas shows how well this house works as a family place where everyone can get together,” says Sally.
Just how successful they were at creating a comfortable home that doesn’t scream “new” is illustrated by the number of people who stopped by during the building process to ask about the “renovation.” Both Sally and Mandil take this misperception as a great compliment, an affirmation of their design restraint. “The house is like someone who gives you a firm handshake instead of putting on airs and name-dropping,” says Mandil. “We chose certain things because they were appropriate, not because of how much they cost or because of status.” And, he adds, what’s deemed appropriate is anything that will create an idyllic childhood and family life for Sally and Kevin’s children. “We all deserve that nurturing.”
Photography: Emily Minton-Redfield
Produced by Mindy Pantiel
Architect: Don Ruggles, D.H. Ruggles & Assoc., 123 Madison St., Suite 103, Denver, CO 80206; 303/355-2460.
Interior design: Eric Mandil, Mandil Assoc., 846 Elati St., Denver, CO 80204-4540; 303/892-5805.
Kitchen design: Bev Adams, CKD, CBD, Interior Intuitions, 288 Clayton St., Suite 100, Denver, CO 80206; 303/355-2772.
Contractor: Jeff Barnett, J.K. Barnett Ltd., 10173 Flagstone Way, Parker, CO 80134; 303/619-5230.