Jen King had seen the house countless times. She was transfixed by the grand, 5,600-square-foot, center-hall Colonial in West Hartford, just 1½ miles away from their home in the same town. “I had driven by this house 100 times, back and forth to preschool and playing tennis,” Jen says. “It’s always been my favorite house in West Hartford for this particular style. It has a New England, big-cottage feel.”
Thanks to the coaxing of her Realtor friend, Samantha Doering, Jen decided to take a peek inside. As soon as she entered, she felt a nice, comfy vibe. But she saw that there was work to do; it was dark and dated. And Jen couldn’t understand how this six-bedroom, six-bath beautiful house did not take full advantage of its location, adjacent to The Hartford Golf Club, of which the Kings are members.
After renovating two previous homes, Jen and her husband, Rob, couldn’t pass up this third opportunity. The potential-filled home was ideal for an avid golfer like Rob, but also for Jen and their three children, a son, 16, and two daughters, 13 and 12, who could walk across the grounds to the club’s tennis courts and swimming pools. With the location a dream come true, and no strangers to renovating, the Kings were eager to bring a contemporary feel to the traditional home.
Built in 1933, the home’s architecture is conventional, but the Kings didn’t want that style to dictate the home’s interior. So, after buying the house in November 2015, Jen tapped Stacy Millman, the founder of West Hartford-based SKM Design, a boutique, full-service architecture and interior design firm. She played tennis with Millman, and Millman’s husband previously worked at ESPN with Rob, currently senior vice president and editor-at-large of content at the Bristol-based sports network. Knowing that Millman had experience working on modern, residential projects throughout New York City before moving her business to West Hartford, Jen was confident the designer understood her vision.
“There’s a delicate balance between historical architecture and modern sensibilities, so it’s important to be thoughtful in every design element — from proportion of spaces to combining existing architectural components with new materials and details to create an overall feeling for the whole home,” notes Millman, whose work often reflects clean, crisp details, natural materials, and visual simplicity.
Keeping within the home’s original footprint, Millman worked alongside Farmington-based Daigle and Son to open up a series of small rooms, typical of an old Colonial layout, into a big, bright living-and-dining area. To connect the kitchen’s flow to the rest of the house, a back stairwell was removed, as was a butler’s pantry between the closed-off kitchen and traditional dining room.
Next, Millman took a portion of the garage to double the size of the existing mudroom and add a new powder room. Previously, a side door opened directly into the kitchen. But Millman created a new side entry with a covered portico with access to the kitchen through the expanded mudroom. To make the home even more inviting, a front portico was added.
With its raw-edge shelving, distressed wood beams, and mixing of metals, the kitchen is fresh and interesting. At its heart is an over-size, 14-foot island with a 2-inch-thick marble slab that elevates the entire space. On any given day, Jen says that her kids are sitting on the barstools eating breakfast, opening up laptops to do homework, or helping her cook.
“I went to a dinner party and there was a 23-foot island in their kitchen and I asked them how they were able to achieve this length,” remembers Jen, who says her kitchen is her favorite space in the house. “The owner shrugged and said, ‘There are seams.’ But I found out that a long counter is not normally done because slabs are only made in certain sizes and the stone manufacturers don’t like to do seams in counters. They are concerned with not being able to deliver a high-end result. If I wanted a big counter, they suggested going to Italy to pick one out. But we insisted on the seam, and if I didn’t tell you there was a seam, you wouldn’t know it.”
Just as the couple envisioned, there isn’t a single formal room in the entire house. The dining area, used for eating as a family almost every night, offers a casual extension of the kitchen. Here, Millman added a French patio door with sidelights, where there were previously two windows, to provide the visual connection and physical access to the golf course that the Kings wanted, rather than having to walk around the house or through the garage. The doors open up to a new patio offering an additional outside living and dining space.
“In our last house, the dining room was the same distance from the kitchen, maybe even closer,” Jen says. “It was accessible. There was a wall with two lovely French doors, so you could see the dining room, but we never, ever ate there. Having no barrier makes all of the difference in the world.”
The family room is minimal, yet warm and inviting, with walls painted a light gray with blue undertones (Benjamin Moore Silver Lake). Millman says that the color is calming and complements the white trim and kitchen cabinet color (Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace). Upholstered pieces are an eclectic mix with traditional lines and soft fabrics that look lived in.
“They wanted the decoration to take a backseat to the stronger architectural elements — rustic beams and plaster fireplace,” Millman says. “The fireplace is a definite focal point as it adds a modern architectural element to the old home. New custom-troweled plaster finish achieves the look of traditional cast-in-place, board-formed concrete. The effect is minimal with a sense of permanence and warmth.”
New oak wood flooring, made to look original to the house, connects the kitchen, family and dining areas. Flooring was stained, and after existing bulky radiators were removed, hydronic radiant heat was installed underneath to provide comfort. Baseboards and windows were also replaced throughout the house.
Upstairs, Millman made color and lighting recommendations, except for in the master bedroom and bath, which were completely redone. The bathroom wall was bumped out a bit to allow for a roomier bath and the configuration changed so that the bath and closet are now connected. Marble walls and countertop, standalone soaking tub, glass shower, and double sink with white cabinets create a minimalist aesthetic. “We wanted a light and bright spa-like feel,” Jen says. “In our last master bath renovation, we did not have space for a standalone tub, so the beautiful, soaking tub under the window with the marble wall backdrop is visually my favorite part of the bathroom.”
Jen says she has no regrets. Well, maybe just one. “Hiring Stacey was money well spent. She was amazing through every phase of the project and made the process so much easier and less stressful. In fact, I wish I’d hired an architect for the last house. The design would have been better.”