The Lazy Days
At a transitional traditional
"Mature trees and expanses of grass made me love this house," says homeowner MaryBeth Manley. A spacious treetop aerie is nice for entertaining or quiet contemplation.
Photos by Jane Beiles
Our family moved to Wilton 13 years ago and were lucky enough to wrangle an invitation to Jim and Marybeth Manley’s neighborhood party. From the moment I stepped into the vestibule, I was smitten by my hosts and their home.
Today, it remains as warm and inviting as it was on my first visit. Though the décor is elegant and sophisticated, comfort rules in this gracious residence. Living spaces, both inside and out, have been designed to welcome family and friends with a hospitable embrace.
The Manleys have lived in their Drum Hill home for 16 years. “It has expanded and contracted over time—and still does,” says Marybeth. “Our four children grew up here, left for college, came back during school or job breaks, and now return for holidays and celebrations. For us, this house is like a living, breathing being.”
Over the years, designer Marianne Buchanan, of New Canaan’s Marianne Buchanan Interiors and Gardens, has played an integral role in all aspects of interior and exterior design and décor: “While Marybeth has never given me any specific guidelines, she is clear about what she does and doesn’t like. With any client, I try to begin a room by finding the fabric, wallpaper, or rug that particularly resonates. With a strong starting point, the rest of the room falls into place. Some clients get overwhelmed by all the many choices, but not Marybeth. She is decisive and sure of herself.”
One constant is the use of rich, understated fabrics, high-quality millwork, exquisite wallpaper, and appealing decorative accessories—from the biscuit-colored grasscloth deployed in an unexpected conversation nook beneath the main staircase, to the fawn velvet-chenille upholstered David Salmon chairs in the dining room, to the appealing pop of red lacquer in the Oomph coffee table in the kitchen sitting area.
Each room flows visually into the next. Marybeth favors neutrals and fall colors, which were utilized in the first design scheme and set the parameters for all that followed.The large foyer leads visitors down two wide steps into a stately living room made cozy by the creation of various seating areas.
The room is anchored at one end by a fireplace flanked by two identical buff-colored sofas facing one another, and at the other end by a baby grand piano. The gold hues of the statement Bella Figura lamps are echoed in the black and gold chinoiserie coffee table, and the warm amber tones of the full-length botanical-print drapery.
A discreet built-in wet bar connects the living room to the dining room. The Manleys are all about get-togethers with family, and the round antique dining table is perfect for convivial dinners and special occasions. The room is bathed in warm tones and accented with reflective surfaces. Three majestic Palladian windows remain unadorned and provide a soft spill of natural light along with a tranquil vista of seasonal greenery.
Down a set of stairs is the kitchen, which, according to Buchanan, “had been designed by the previous owner as a sort of Tuscan courtyard, complete with Juliette balcony, little windows, and flower boxes. It was an enormous, dark two-storied space with an odd telescoping brick fireplace, unattractive tiles, cheap cabinetry, and an island large enough to play shuffleboard.”
When the family first moved in, the quirkier, dated features were merely toned down, but finally last year it was time to tackle the kitchen behemoth as well as the rooms that had been left relatively unchanged, including the master bedroom and Marybeth’s study. Buchanan was brought back to help reimagine the spaces. “The kitchen’s two biggest challenges ultimately became its most eye-catching features,” says Buchanan. “The first challenge was to bring down the ceiling. This was accomplished by adding wooden beams and brackets, which visually cut the space down without physically having to lower the actual ceiling. It was then painted a darker shade of gray to make it optically recede.” To brighten up the space, two clerestory windows were added as well as recessed lights. A single chandelier was replaced with three custom-made lanterns.
The second challenge was to disguise the brick chimney that rose the full height of the room. This was accomplished by wrapping the space with flush horizontal-board paneling painted a soft dove gray, and wood trim spanning the brick of the fireplace. White custom cabinetry was added, and the kitchen island was significantly reduced in size. Adjacent to the island is a breakfast table surrounded by informal wicker chairs with gray and white pinstriped seat cushions. The entire space is fresh, user-friendly, and bright. The floors were replaced with hand-hewn reclaimed chestnut flooring.
The kitchen leads out to a tranquil treetop aerie, which provides even more entertaining space. Dark ipe-hardwood decking provides a pleasant contrast to the sea-foam green cast-iron furniture. Pinstriped chair pads are reprised from the breakfast-room chairs, bringing continuity and softening the space. The seating area features UV resistant upholstery fabric in a bold white and teal stripe that creates a crisp, tailored look. It’s easy to imagine this space being the center of lazy summer-day barbecues, then transitioning into quiet after-dark conversations over a glass of chilled rosé.
Marybeth has nothing but praise for Buchanan. “She seeks out the best, most beautiful things, from fabrics to furniture to faucets, and come decision time I rely on Marianne’s input.” Now that all four of their children have been launched into the world, Marybeth and Jim Manley have returned to daily home life à deux, as it was when they married 33 years ago. “We are comfortable in this place where we’ve spent so many years,” says Marybeth. “It’s our space. It still fits.”