Two days after Peter and Casey Luukko got married in 1982, they left Connecticut to drive cross-country. Peter had accepted a job offer in Los Angeles, leaving his role at the New Haven Coliseum, where the couple met while working together. His career in the sports and entertainment industry took them to California twice and then back east to Philadelphia where they lived for 24 years, raising a daughter and two sons. Thirty-eight years later, they’re back — Casey to her Connecticut roots, and Peter, originally from Massachusetts, to New England.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that we’d ever make it back to Connecticut, because of my husband’s work [with pro sports teams and music stars],” says Casey, whose mother and sister live in Killingworth and Clinton, respectively. “When we came back for my mother’s 80th birthday in 2018, my husband and sons went out on Long Island Sound in my brother-in-law’s boat. My husband came back to the hotel and said that he never realized how much he missed New England. That night, he pulled out the iPad and started looking at real estate. That was late July, and by October, we had found our house.”
Originally, they started looking at waterfront properties along the shore. Having previously owned a summer house on an inlet in Avalon, New Jersey, they knew they wanted to live on the water. But when they didn’t find anything that stood out, they decided to look along the Connecticut River. “I just want to see water when I get up,” Casey says. “We found this house in Essex and it had everything. The view was spectacular and the house is a gem.”
Built in 2014 by Chris Caulfield of Caulfield & Ridgway of Centerbrook, and designed by Old Lyme-based Brooke Girty Design, the home was in pristine condition. However, they wanted to modernize the interior and make the house their own. Knowing she wanted a good designer, Casey sought recommendations from her sister, whose sister-in-law worked for Caryn Paradis’ Chester-based design firm.
“Right off the bat, the first time I met Caryn, I knew that there was nobody else who I wanted to work with,” remembers Casey, who tapped Paradis to design every room in the 6,000-square-foot house. “She’s just so down to earth and easy to deal with and talk to. And then you get into the creative part and she just blows everybody out of the water.”
About a month before the closing, the previous owners allowed them into the house to take measurements so Paradis could get started right away. Casey asked her to square away the master bedroom, kitchen and family room before they moved into the house in January 2019.The remainder of the house was completed during that year and completed by spring 2020.
“She would show us all of her ideas and swatches when we came to visit,” Casey says, who at the time was in between their house in Avalon and condo in Fort Lauderdale, in addition to Peter spending Monday through Thursday at an apartment in New York City. “And I would say, ‘Yes, that’s the way I want to go,’ or ‘no.’ I knew that I wanted to keep everything a little more neutral in some areas, while brightening up others with pops of gold. Plus, I love metallics.”
Through a discovery process that Paradis does with all of her clients, she found that Casey’s favorite color is blue — perfect for a home that faces the water. She talked with Casey about her likes and dislikes and gave her a questionnaire with questions such as, “Are you the kind of person who likes to have a big house full of people or do you like to tuck yourself away with a good book in a cozy space? Do you host holidays? Walk me through what that looks like … 35 or three people?”
Discovering that they’re social people who like to entertain and host, Paradis created an entry which “welcomes you in.” A blue, Venetian plaster wall with light fixtures displayed in a constellation matches the color of the water beyond. And the wall is anchored by a black-and-gold table resembling a piece of driftwood, which is so prevalent along the shore of the river.
“The Venetian plaster is ground-fired limestone that is troweled on and then it dries super shiny and smooth,” says Paradis, who enlisted Jeremy Hughes of Brush & Bucket of Essex. “Because of that troweling process, it also has a lot of movement. When you walk in, you see this beautiful, reflective wall with that movement in it and then your eye immediately sees the water beyond. The lights form Casey’s zodiac sign. She’s not into astrology, but with all of my projects, I like to put a little nod to whoever lives there in a really subtle way.”
The dining room ceiling has a similar application in metallic gold, completed by Hughes. While it’s not blue, Paradis wanted the ceiling to have movement like a cloud. Here, uplight sconces hit the reflective surface of the ceiling to create a warm glow. The lily-pad chandelier over the dining table by Hubbardton Forge also offers movement.
The entire home was a clean slate for Paradis to choose all new furniture, rugs, lighting and more for each room. And while the kitchen was basically done, Paradis changed out the bar stools at the counter and island lighting fixtures, and added a coffee bar backsplash to modernize the look. For other rooms, if she couldn’t find the exact piece she imagined in her mind, she designed it, much like the millwork.
“We have great artisans who we work with on a regular basis and I may come in either with a sketch or a CAD drawing and say, ‘Here’s what I’m looking for, and they fabricate it and install it,’ ” says Paradis, who designed the beds in the son’s room, guest room, and master suite, as well as the master dresser, both living room sofas, desk, bar and paneling in Peter’s office and bar high-top tables. “Because I’m trying to find things for my clients that are just right for them, I’m super picky. I have this picture in my head of what it should be, but then I can’t find it.”
In what used to be a sunroom off the kitchen, Paradis took down a wall, absorbing a smaller room to create a large bar area. This room also connects to the patio and pool with a backdrop of the river beyond. Here is where Casey wanted to express her love for movie trivia with canvas prints from classics like The Godfather, Goodfellas, Saving Private Ryan, Home Alone and Pulp Fiction. “We’re a big movie trivia family, especially my boys and me,” Casey says. “I didn’t want any posters of movies or any words written. I just wanted scenes from movies that we all loved.”
The room above the garage is a multi-use space for Peter’s office, gym and a hangout spot with a sectional sofa, television and built-in refrigerator. While the downstairs bar area is a nod to the family’s love of movies, the hallway and Peter’s “man cave” feature his sports and entertainment memorabilia collected throughout his career working with the Philadelphia Flyers, Florida Panthers and New York Islanders, in addition to musical acts such as the Rolling Stones, Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. Their sons’ years of hockey accomplishments and their daughter’s yacht building are also proudly on display.
“I told them that they could have the back hall and the upstairs and that’s it,” laughs Casey, who noted that their son Nick played pro hockey in the East Coast Hockey League for the Reading Royals and is now the youngest head coach in the same league for the Jacksonville Icemen. “There’s even more memorabilia stored in the basement, but we ran out of wall space.”
Where hockey sticks and framed jerseys weren’t allowed, Paradis tapped local artists for pieces. Elvira Ormaechea of Lyme created large oil paintings with metal leaf for the living room and the master bedroom. And the dining room now has a water view thanks to fine art photographer Peter Daitch of Lyme.
For a wall in the entry, Casey wanted something that stood out, and not simply a painting. After some back and forth, they went with an artist on Etsy who specializes in blown-glass balls. Paradis says, “It’s whimsical as if a child is blowing bubbles and they’re going up to the sky. And they take on some great light.”
In the loft/media area, a common space on the second floor outside the guest bedrooms, Paradis drew a topographic map, a representation of where the family lives on the shoreline. She figured out which pieces should be higher or lower and then contacted Adam Pipkin of Ivoryton’s Harvest Building Co., who also did the millwork and custom furniture, and Dave Herrle of Lyme’s Herrle Custom Homes, who did more millwork, to execute it. Nestor Otovolo of Pioves Home Improvement, based in Old Saybrook, did the painting and cut and applied felt to the map, the same felt used on the woven felt doors of the adjacent millwork, designed by Paradis.
This area also features a reclining sectional and television along with a built-in refrigerator and drawers for snacks. When their young adult children and guests visit, they too have their own space.
Whether the house is full of people or when it’s just Casey and Peter, it feels like home. “When the sun comes up in the morning and it hits the water, I’m just mesmerized,” Casey says. “It shimmers. And I love water with movement and we get that. Sometimes there are white caps out there. I like it when there’s a lot of activity going on.”