For close to a year, Bill McDonald, a vice president at IBM, and his wife Jannine Hart-McDonald, an illustrator and textile designer, searched for their forever home throughout lower Fairfield County. They viewed multiple properties in Greenfield Hill, Westport, Southport, and Wilton. Though they already lived in a three-story home in the highly desirable Fairfield Beach area, the lot was small and the couple wanted a change.
“I missed the winding country roads and old stone walls typical of this area,” says Jannine. They also yearned for more acreage and green space for their young daughter, Catherine. “Our wish list was for a great school system, more land, and an attached garage,” says Jannine. “We also wanted to find a property closer to work for Bill.
The McDonalds weren’t exactly sure which architectural style they were looking for until they came upon a French country house situated high on a hill, overlooking the pastures at Millstone Farm. It is both rustic and refined and would be equally at home amongst the vineyards of the Loire Valley or bordering a lavender field in Provence. In an area of Wilton primarily dominated by wood-shingled colonials, this romantic charmer, with its turreted entryway and elaborately carved wooden doors, definitely stands out—in a good way.
When the couple entered the soaring two-story foyer flanked by elegant double staircases, they had an inkling that they had finally found their new home.
“When I walked in I loved the open, airy feel of the house,” recalls Jannine. “It spoke to me. I instantly knew where we would put the Christmas tree—right in the center of the foyer.” Real estate wisdom suggests that when a potential buyer starts imagining where their furniture pieces will be placed or how their family will celebrate future holidays, there’s an excellent chance an offer will be forthcoming. In this case, it proved to be accurate.
During their tour, the couple admired the home’s high ceilings, four fireplaces, and the many custom architectural details including coffered walls, decorative wainscoting, and French doors. Bill was impressed with the private setting, the hilltop vista, and the gently sloping yard. Both of them loved the soft light that filled the entire house thanks to the tall casement windows in every room. When Jannine discovered a screened flagstone porch—something she had always desired—it was the “icing on the cake.” An offer was submitted and accepted.
Since the McDonalds closed on the property two-and-a-half years ago, they have taken their time to select furnishings, drapery, and artwork that suit the house and their personal style. Today their home is a testament to this patience and care. There is a pleasing mix of antiques, traditional furniture, and more relaxed pieces—transitional wing chairs upholstered in natural linen, a Peshawar rug in muted tones, a tufted pewter velvet sofa with eight inch fringe, vintage Staffodshire porcelain dogs, an exquisite round antique Queen Anne table, an étagère displaying books, driftwood, and chinoiserie.
The color palette is subdued—a light pearl gray bathes the walls of the main floor living spaces and elevates the style quotient of the custom woodwork. The kitchen is painted the palest shade of robin’s egg blue, contrasting pleasingly with the creamy white cabinets and honey-flecked granite countertops.
Christmastime has always been Jannine’s favorite season and leading up to the holidays, every room is artfully decked out for the occasion. The living room mantle is festooned with cedar boughs, sculptural silver deer, gold ornaments, and hurricane lamps filled with pinecones. The kitchen island features pine and cedar greenery in mirrored silver vases, twin topiaries by the sink, and a potted amaryllis on a red lacquered tray atop the breakfast table. The 12-foot Christmas tree is a standout, expertly threaded with metallic ribbon and adorned with burnished gold and silver ornaments.
Jannine, who spent six years at Ralph Lauren designing and developing textiles and bedding, now paints surface designs of animals, florals, and botanicals, so she knows a thing or two about the creative process. During the holidays she converts her art studio into a wrapping room that rivals Santa’s workshop, filled to the brim with decorative boxes, bows, gift tags, twine, and wrapping paper. Three walls of windows overlook the woods and a century old stone wall, leaving Jannine feeling inspired by the serenity that surrounds her.
The McDonald’s home has great flow and is easy to entertain in. This is immediately apparent when a flock of guests—both old friends and new—arrive for a holiday luncheon. They’ve trained in from Manhattan, driven over from Fairfield, and strolled up from their homes down the street.
Bill welcomes guests with a choice of pink champagne or a prosecco-pear nectar cocktail. The sit down lunch includes chicken saltimbocca, green salad with a sherry vinaigrette, and a medley of roasted vegetables. The traditional table is set with ivory linen, china, gold and silver accent pieces, and seasonal greenery designed by Belden Botanics. Each table setting displays an individually wrapped custom snowflake cookie as a favor.
As the party winds down and guests bundle up against the chilly outdoor temperatures, there is a collective feeling of joy and camaraderie. As the last person leaves, Jannine closes the door and looks up at her picture-postcard Christmas tree twinkling in the early twilight.
“Wilton was always my dream town,” she says. “To me it was more beautiful than Darien and Greenwich. It’s not a status symbol town so it just feels more authentic. Wilton is beautiful without the pretention—it’s a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.”