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Sunshine and Sensibility

A well-thought-out floor plan gives real purpose to a New Canaan home

Written by Amy Elbert
  • Tria Giovan

    A California girl, Serena Crowley soaks up sunshine and radiates warmth like a sandy beach. Whether she’s making home for her family—husband Paul and their children Mckenna and Theo—in windy Chicago, rainy London, or their current residence in nippy New England, Serena floods spaces with sunshine. A good example is the Crowleys’ living room; walls of windows and French doors give the space the feel of a conservatory.

    But Serena isn’t just a bright-eyed optimist. She’s also a sensible interior design consultant and frugal space planner.

    “It was important to me to design a home with a well-thought-out floor plan that did not exude useless space and false grandeur but made every square foot have real purpose and reason,” she says of her family’s home in New Canaan, Connecticut. “It is a home of considerable size, yet each room is relatively small and comfortable with loads of windows for natural light and detailed millwork, giving the rooms an airiness and relaxed elegance.”

    Architectural design: Louise Brooks; project manager: Charles Loucks, Gullans & Brooks Assoc. Inc., 199 Elm St., New Canaan, CT 06840; 203/966-8440,
    Interior design consultant: Serena Crowley, Serena Crowley Design, 203/972-9122.
    Builder: Frank Tavolacci, Tavolacci Builders.

    Photography: Tria Giovan
    Produced by Bonnie Maharam

    Settee and chairs: Lee Industries, , 800/892-7150.
    Drop-leaf tables; carpet; pillows: owner’s collection.
    Coffee table: Serena Crowley Design, 203/972-9122.
    Grecian prints: Hamptons Antique Galleries, 203/325-4019.
    Tray: Severed Ties LLC, 203/972-0788.

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    The living room is on the south side of the house. “It’s a very welcoming room,” says Serena Crowley, shown here with Mckenna and Theo. “No matter what the lighting is outside, whether it’s a gray or sunny day, it always feels good in here.”  Walls are painted a soft gray and furnishings are in creams and white. Artwork and an antique Oriental rug add punches of color, and potted banana palm trees connect the room to the outdoors. French doors open to a bluestone patio softened with clumps of purple thyme.

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    The dining room is almost as sun-filled as the living room. China cupboards accent three corners of the room; a fireplace fills the fourth. French doors open onto a sunny terrace.

    Table (English Regency): ABC Carpet & Home, 212/473-3000,
    Chairs; chandelier; china: owner’s collection.
    Rug: Kaoud Oriental Rugs, 203/972-3478. 

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    The kitchen is large—about 18x24 feet, not including a bay window bump-out—but very practical. “It was [architectural designer] Louise Brooks’s idea to have two islands, and it works really well,” Serena says. The kitchen is organized into work zones to minimize steps for tasks such as food prep, cooking, and cleanup, she explains.

    Countertops are thick, honed marble, and a black-metal custom hood trimmed with nickel bands hangs above the range. For the range backsplash, Serena used a simple pressed-tin ceiling panel attached to the wall.

    Paint (#DK8): Donald Kaufman Color, 800/977-9198, 212/594-2608.
    Flooring: Fairfield Floorworks, 203/438-5117.
    Countertops: New England Stone, 203/876-8606.
    Dishwasher: Bosch Appliances, 800/866-2022.
    Dishwasher drawers: Fisher & Paykel Appliances Inc., 800/863-5394.
    Range and double oven (Wolf); refrigerator (Sub-Zero): Sub-Zero/Wolf, 800/222-7820.
    Fountain: Kohler Co., 800/456-4537.
    Light fixtures: Ann-Morris Antiques, 212/755-3308, trade only.
    Table and chairs; cabinetry; range hood (custom): Serena Crowley Design, 203/972-9122.
    Cabinetry color (“Caffe Cream’’): Restoration Hardware, 800/910-9836.

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    Serena’s collection of vintage cookie jars inspired the kitchen’s “classic, timeless style.” The jars are showcased in glass-front cabinets with hefty polished nickel hinges and pulls. Adding to the vintage look are a separate refrigerator and freezer that are finished with cabinet faces and nickel hardware to resemble old-fashioned iceboxes.

  • Tria Giovan

    To keep the kitchen’s dining nook from feeling too dressy, Serena furnished the space with an antique pine table and Swedish-style chairs.

    California girl Serena often leaves the French doors throughout the house open—even if it means risking the family’s two cats bringing in captured mice. “That’s the worst!” Serena exclaims, “but I can’t bring myself to close the doors. I don’t want to close off the world.”

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    An unexpected addition in the classic kitchen is a wall-mounted drinking fountain. “We had this little corner, and I said let’s stick a drinking fountain there,” Serena says. “It’s been such a hit with everyone who comes to the house.”

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    Serena arranges bouquets in the potting room, with its deep copper sink and open shelves for vases.

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    Coats and hats hang from hooks in an arched niche in the mudroom. The drawer below stores more gear. 

    With two kids and a menagerie of pets, the house had to be child- and pet-friendly. “You have to realize there’s a balance. You want the house to feel good and be clean, but you also are living a life. You can’t be too afraid of your possessions getting used,” Serena says. The Crowleys’ furnishings are a playful mix of “Target buys, garage sales, and select pieces from high-end antique stores,” she says. “Probably my biggest splurges are antique Oriental rugs.”

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    The library includes an office nook for Paul, separated from the main space by glass-paned pocket doors. The doors provide quiet without blocking natural light. “We can see his head and know he’s working without having to bother him,” Serena says.

    “I feel confident now about what I like,” Serena says about her designing. “Early on, I worried about making mistakes, but mistakes are OK—they’re what make a home real. You shouldn’t be afraid to take risks or do something a bit crazy, like putting in a drinking fountain.” Design choices should be based on what feels natural and comfortable for the homeowners, she explains. “A lot of people think beauty means luxury or high-end goods. But I think beauty is truly whatever feels right and is good for you.”

    Paint (#DK8): Donald Kaufman Color, 800/977-9198.

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