Sometimes it's hard to let a beautiful house go, even if life throws you curves that make keeping it wildly impractical. That's how strong its hold is on you. The 1840 farmhouse up a winding lane in the fairy-tale colonial town of Washington, Connecticut, is just such a place for designer Philip Gorrivan.
The Washington, Connecticut, home of designer Philip Gorrivan; his wife, Lisa Rossi, and their two children. The house, which was built in 1840, was moved to its current location in 1955.
He and his wife, Lisa Rossi, an investment-bank managing director, bought the 3,800-square-foot home six years ago to retreat from the intensity of Manhattan with their two children on the weekends. The bones and backstory were irresistible: The house had originally been sited on a small lot in the town center, on a main road by the bank of the Shepaug River, but was hauled up to its current seven acres in the 1950s after narrowly avoiding a flood that wiped out many other homes nearby. Thus, unlike most houses of its vintage, it embodied the elusive trifecta of country living: historic charm, a gracious setback on plenty of land, and a full basement.
In the master bedroom, an acrylic sculpture by Michael Laube hangs above a Savoir bed, the headboard is upholstered in a Philip Gorrivan fabric by Duralee, the linens are by Matouk, the sconce is by Remains Lighting, and the 19th-century nightstand is American; a chaise by Jean Pascaud is paired with a bench by Valentin Loellmann, the walls are painted in Benjamin Moore's Light Pewter, the shades are of an Albert Hadley fabric, and the kilim is from the early 20th century.
As soon as he was given the keys, Gorrivan joyfully fussed over every detail, from the rampageous wallcoverings (including some of his own designs for Holland & Sherry) to the finely wrought furnishings to the vast gardens flush with hydrangea and rare varieties of boxwood. "There is nothing missing," says Gorrivan with an enraptured sigh.
The dining room features chairs designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, a custom-made table, and an 18th-century pine commode from Vermont; the hand-painted wall covering is by Gracie, and the rug is by Holland & Sherry.
Alas, in 2012, the family's weekend idyll ended—Rossi was transferred to London for an indefinite stint, which entailed a family move from the Upper East Side to South Kensington. Gorrivan is able to work from anywhere, and he had no compunction about renting out their New York apartment; though it is large, gracious, and prewar, it never had much emotional resonance for him. But the high-maintenance Connecticut spread—across the ocean and two hours from the closest airport, in a climate that is notoriously harsh on houses, even those without absentee landlords? That he could not part with. "It would be like tearing out my heart," he says.
The porch ceiling is painted in Benjamin Moore's Glacier Blue, and a Dash & Albert rug tops a floor painted in California Paints' Bauhaus.
So, like all prisoners of beauty, he steals whatever time he can with his beloved. That can mean a couple of golden weeks in the summer, when the family gathers in Connecticut after his son's school term ends in England and his daughter is back from prep school in New Hampshire. Or the occasional winter weekend when he can manage to fly in solo, pick up his BMW from the long-term parking lot at Kennedy airport, and hightail it north to sit by the fire, nurse a Barolo, and marvel at the serenely stylish environment he created. "To me," Gorrivan says, on a recent stolen afternoon as the sun sets through a window behind him, casting orange-tinged shadows on the velvety lawn, "this is always home."
The living room's custom-made sofa is upholstered in a Philip Gorrivan fabric by Duralee, club chairs by Quatrain flank a midcentury cocktail table, and the lamps were made from antique French wine jugs; the custom-made rug is by Holland & Sherry.
And indeed there is much to marvel at. Gorrivan, who grew up in Maine with a classic Yankee father and a French-Moroccan mother, is an unabashed fan of vivid, saturated color and strong pattern. So comfortable is he with pattern as a backdrop to the striking, uncluttered furnishings that he considers camouflage—in pink in a guest bedroom—to be his "favorite neutral." By mi such drama with real neutrals, like taupe and dove grays, he has crafted a getaway that is both timeless and offhandedly modern.
The family room's furniture is all from the 19th century, including a farmhouse table, spindle chairs painted matte black, and a pie safe and rocking chair from Vermont; the 19th-century jar on the table is English, the walls are painted in Benjamin Moore's Willow Creek, and the sisal rug is by Stark.
As an homage, perhaps, to his mother's exotic sense of whimsy, there are quirky touches, including a huge, acid yellow–glass vessel displayed like sculpture in the dining room, a wall in the den covered with tiny pairs of antlers, and zebra-print textiles in his daughter's bedroom. His father's New England influence is writ large as well, visible in antique side tables, a Wallace Nutting stool, and a 19th-century Vermont rocking chair, a family heirloom.
The kitchen stools are by York Street Studio, the range is by Wolf, the sink fittings are by Waterworks, and the walls are painted in Benjamin Moore's White Dove.
Gorrivan is a fan of "massing"—displaying vignettes of small, similar objects to illuminate their shape or color—and his obsessions can be glimpsed in nearly every room. Eighteenth-century creamware is artfully arranged in the streamlined kitchen, amethyst glass lines a deep window frame in the dining room, and endless rows of vintage-crystal glassware decorate a huge antique armoire he's turned into a bar. On an étagère in the den sits a grouping of ancient bottles, including some found by his kids in the backyard. "I really am not big on provenance," he says. "I am big on how beautiful things are, and how they make me feel."
Vintage Richard Schultz furniture lines the pool area.
By the time twilight comes, Gorrivan is feeling pretty good, relaxed at last. In a few days, after a quick trip to San Francisco to meet a client, he will fly back to London, rested and enlivened. True, he will worry about the house incessantly when he is gone—is the furnace OK? Have the deer nibbled the newest saplings?—but it's all worth it, he insists.
A 19th-century stool by Wallace Nutting and an 18th-century English console in the living room; the walls are painted in Benjamin Moore's Baltic Gray.
"Some places defy logic," he says. "You know it's insane to love them, to sacrifice so much for them. But you're powerless."