Behind the all-American facade of Hannah Storm's home lurks 1920s French sophistication.
Hannah Storm: SportsCenter anchor, former heavy-metal disc jockey, Art Deco fan. Sometimes the most innocent of questions can lead to the most spectacular answers. In the case of Hannah Storm, what made all the difference in her domestic life was a simple question that she posed to Karen Miller, a Houston decorator she met through a friend: “Can you come look at my bookshelves?”
Since that fateful meeting a couple of years ago, the house that Hannah shares with her husband, NBC sportscaster Dan Hicks, and their three daughters in suburban Connecticut has been utterly but discreetly transformed. Though its exterior has the same humble good looks it has maintained for more than a hundred years—the clapboard former farmhouse was built in 1850 and has had only a few alterations in the intervening century—the interiors are sexy, sophisticated rooms whose Art Deco furnishings and modern paintings and sculpture come as a bit of a surprise when visitors step through the paneled front door.
“We looked at huge modern homes with big rooms and all sorts of conveniences, but they all felt impersonal,” says Hannah, who began her career as a heavy-metal disc jockey in Texas and eventually became a major presence at NBC and ESPN as a pioneering woman sports reporter (as well as a host of CBS’s Early Show for five years). “But when I walked into this house, it had an emotional pull. It was charming and welcoming.”
Her visceral reaction shocked her as much as her husband; she likes sleek modern furniture while Dan, who was raised in Arizona, leans toward the lively rusticity of the American Southwest and Latin America. “We are more funky in our tastes rather than super-traditional,” Hannah explains, adding that she and her husband have amassed a wide-ranging array of art that includes a cache of crosses and Madonnas that Hannah, who is Catholic, has picked up on visits to Mexico and Greece, where she covered the Olympics. The couple also came equipped with an eclectic array of furniture, much of it generously overscaled. The Connecticut farmhouse, however, is cozy, with small rooms, eight-foot ceilings, and a long, narrow footprint. And the smallest of the already small bedrooms, which is used as a nursery, is little more than a glorified closet.
“Obviously, nothing we had worked,” Hannah explains. When Karen Miller entered the picture, though, a decorative focus was quickly found. Though the rooms of the house provided a challenge of scale, Miller suggested that the simple, straightforward architecture would work beautifully with simple-in-silhouette but rich-in-finishes treasures made in France during the 1920s and 1930s. A surprising choice, it was a style that addressed Hannah’s interest in giving the rooms an unfussy formality and an elegant rigor that would hold their own in the company of the couple’s growing collection of modern art, such as a pair of paintings in the living room by the American master Robert Motherwell. “This is the kind of stuff that’s totally in line with our personalities,” Hannah says, “and Art Deco totally flies with an old country house, believe it or not.”
Contributing to the sense of grandeur as much as the Art Deco furniture (some of it antique pieces, others custom-made) is the house’s surprisingly luxurious color scheme: taupe walls, cream ceilings, woodwork subtly supercharged with dashes of shining black lacquer, and upholstery whose tones range from bronze to mulberry. The floors, once farm-style golden, are now ebony dark, as are the staircase’s treads, balusters, and railing. And there are touches of glam glitter, too, like the extravagant 1930s Venetian-style French mirror that hangs in one corner of the living room. The mirror is paired with a custom-made black lacquer cabinet.
Especially eye-catching is the big chunk of pyrite, a mineral more commonly known as fool’s gold, which sits in splendor above the new stone fireplace. “It’s supposed to be the biggest piece of pyrite to come out of Peru in years,” says Miller, noting that similarly sparkling minerals—geodes, rock crystal, quartz—were often incorporated into Art Deco interiors by designers like Jean-Michel Frank and tastemakers like Coco Chanel. More important to Miller was the pyrite’s site-perfect scale. “There isn’t much clearance between the fireplace and the ceiling,” she says, “so a standard painting wouldn’t fit.”
Small-scale houses often present space challenges, and the Storm-Hicks place is no exception. Upstairs, for instance, the ceiling of the master bedroom has a steep angle that corresponds to the contours of the roof. The result, Miller says, is that the second-floor “windows are squatty, practically dormer size.” Her solution to a problem another designer might have solved through demolition? Make the master bedroom window seem larger by mounting the valance onto the ceiling and installing floor-length curtains to give it a bit of fool-the-eye height.
It’s a house that’s glamorous, yes, but surprisingly unstuffy. “We entertain a lot, and I wanted people not to feel afraid of sitting down to eat with a plate of food in their laps,” Hannah says, adding that a usual weekend involves cocktails on the veranda and watching kids go crazy in the yard before sitting down to dinner. “We really use every room in the house.”
Photography: Jeff McNamara
Interior designer: Karen Miller, Karen J. Miller Interiors, 14019 Southwest Freeway, Suite 301-345, Sugar Land, TX 77478; 281/494-4901.
The home’s living room has modern appeal, its graphic sofa soothed by “Wheeling Neutral” wall paint from Benjamin Moore. A pair of paintings by the American master Robert Motherwell hang above the living room sofa.
A modern metal sculpture and Veronese-style glass vases nestle in the crook of the staircase, whose balusters have been stained to match the ebony-colored floors.
Hannah and her husband, NBC sportscaster Dan Hicks.
Living Room Picture Window
Silver-leafed chairs sparkle in front of a picture window.
The clapboard house dates from the 1850s.
Since the new fireplace was too tall to allow a conventional over-mantel painting, interior designer Karen Miller gave a massive chunk of Peruvian pyrite pride of place.
Black-lacquer side chairs and curvaceous upholstered armchairs are gathered around a custom-made dining table.
See details on the following slides.
Dining Room Details
A 1930s Venetian-style French mirror provides baroque counterpoint to a custom-made chest of drawers in the dining room.
Dining Room Details
Graphic artwork delights in the dining room. A modern bar table provides an additional surface for serving.
Dining Room Buffet
Glass, Lucite, and silver details around the dining room lend sparkle and shine to this sophisticated space. A chandelier hanging above adds to the glamorous vibe.
Sunlight floods the white kitchen, creating a cheerful space for cooking and dining. Wicker barstools line the spacious center island; green and yellow tiles on the backsplash compliment the warm woods throughout the rest of the main floor.
A corner banquette makes room for a cozy breakfast area. The paneled mirror above the buffet and a row of hanging pendant lights help to brighten the space.
A tall hotel-style headboard upholstered with mohair adds the illusion of height to the bedroom.
Mulberry-colored fabric skirts Hannah’s dressing table. A gilt-accented mirror and satin fabrics inject glamour.
Master Bedroom Details
An ingenious angled valance fools the eye into thinking the master bedroom ceiling is higher than it actually is.