The Strickland Road Historic District is a cozy residential area tucked away in Cos Cob. Not long after The Battle of Strickland Plains in 1644, this winding path became known as Strickland Road. Though much has changed since, the beautiful village highway remains true to its history, thanks to the efforts of residents in preserving its architectural integrity. The community harbors over twenty historic homes, ranging in style from Federal to Italianate, Queen Anne to Tudor Revival. One of the best preserved and beautiful dwellings is the Ephraim Lane House, owned by Suzanne Branch Martin, Principal of Willingham Antiques & Interiors.
Built for a blacksmith and his family, the strip of land upon which the home was constructed was purchased by Ephraim Lane from Charles Rundel in 1820. Lane’s forge was located at the top of the present driveway, which today sits behind a lovely, white picket fence erected long after the last fires in the smithy burned out. It was from this forge that many of the home’s hinges and latches emerged, not to mention horseshoes and ships fittings. The hypnotic waterfront site, handmade elegance and Federal proportions of the house have been its current steward’s inspiration. The house now expresses a colorful alchemy of classic and nature-inspired elements, including a unique collection of antiques and artwork.
Drawing upon many years of design expertise in the worlds of perfume creation and interior decoration, as well as her education at the New York School of Interior Design, Sweet Briar College and the Sorbonne, Suzanne has done a wonderful job preserving and enhancing the historic integrity of this landmark.
Previously involved in perfume design, Suzanne relies upon an aesthetic that tunes into the desires of many different cultures. She sees striking similarities between fragrance and home design. Certain ingredients make a composition, or design signature more traditional, or more edgy, more exotic or more organic, for example. She is able to read her clients as a “brand” in effect, whose signature can be defined or evolved in an authentic and nuanced manner. Her understanding of the complexity of what constitutes a beautiful perfume structure allows her to create equally beautiful spaces.
Exterior: The house was originally built with a full length front porch (sadly, later removed). This detail was rare for Connecticut in 1820. Port towns were always the first to experience new architectural influences. Cos Cob was an active and prosperous port and this idea was likely imported by sea captains who had experienced classical revival homes in Southern port towns, such as Charleston…for this reason, and to link with her own Southern roots, Suzanne selected Farrow & Ball’s “Charleston Gray” for the floorpaint.
Entrance: Upon entering, one realizes how many aspects of the home are original. Even today, some of its windows still harbor the original, wavy panes of glass. One imagines the original occupants glancing out of those dreamlike sheets of glass, and wonders what a different world would have greeted them. The main staircase, its simple turned balustrade, and elaborate newel post conjure thoughts of the Lane sisters, Kitty, Julia, and Susan, descending the stairs, one hand on the balustrade, the other carrying the Easter bonnets the milliner sisters were known for. The black and white toile on the walls represents the four seasons and serves as a foil to vibrant hits of color in the surrounding rooms, as well as providing a neutral backdrop to a collection of antique mirrors and prints.
Living Room: The distinctive handmade character of the house is particularly evident in this room. Original random-width floorboards contrast organically with the granite hearth. The molded cornerblock trim on the fireplace mantel subtly mirrors the Federal elements of the front entrance. We can just imagine Mary Lane in her long skirt retrieving her baking from the beehive oven. The textural quality of the horsehair plaster walls has been enhanced with mellow tone of Farrow & Ball’s “Dorset Cream”. It complements the warm wood tones of the floor and unifies a collection of sporting art. A 19th century pastel of a young girl holding a spaniel hangs above the hearth, its golden frame flanked on either side by whimsical copper lustre Staffordshire spaniels. Gentle dog ear shades highlight the original woodwork of the windows and wavy glass windows. Upholstery has been kept relatively neutral to emphasize the beauty of the architecture.
Dining Room: The sophisticated and sunny impasto of Farrow & Ball’s “Silvergate Damask” is contrasted with black lacquered faux bamboo chairs and 18th Century Bartolozzi engravings of the Portland Vase. The Chinese Chippendale influence of the chairs has been echoed in the shape of the cornices. The blue of the ceiling links with the owners sublime collection of 19th Century Wedgewood transferware. The Dining Room retains its original Greek Revival mantle. A Regency washstand paired with a reticulated Chinese red tole tray acts as a petite server, in addition to the mahogany 19th C sideboard reputed to have been made in Nantucket by a member of the Coffin family.
Office/Library: The tiny office glows a vibrant geranium red complementing colors of the adjoining dining room and Aesthetic movement transferware. A pair of Victor Chin watercolors found on a trip to Malaysia features exotic architectural expressions of neoclassical style, whose pastel tones are reminiscent of Bermuda. A French bureau, a cylindre with ivory fittings, a Regency faux bamboo stool, and a Regency chair with daisy and lyre motif add particular charm to this eclectic room.
Kitchen/Family Room: This area, the Lane girls former bonnet shop, was inspired by the adjoining brick patio, whose pergola supports an ancient wisteria vine planted by Ephraim Lane to please his wife Mary. The diamond foliate trellis motif of the hand blocked paper evokes the feeling of a garden trellis, echoed in the lamp design and wire plant stand. A pair of facing love seats upholstered in a whimsical dog print flanks a Chinese export camphor chest with brass inlay. Windows have been left untreated to let in the light and water views. In the kitchen, the back stairwell reveals a fantastic grisaille style mural by artist Mary Noble Branch, which combines an array of water landscape details from her daughters collection of brown on white aesthetic transferware.
Upstairs Sitting Room: The indigo tones of Farrow & Ball’s “Dragged Paper” were selected to marry with the purple-blues of the artwork, woolies and hooked rugs, and contrast beautifully with the pecan tones of the floorboards. This room houses the owners collection of “Connaissance” a compilation of early 20th C. decorative arts publications. The 19th C butlers desk with Greek key inlay and beehive hardware was the inspiration for the Willingham Antiques & Interiors logo.
The Orange Bedroom: The color of candlelight, Farrow & Ball’s “Tallow” is a softer take on the orange tones of the eglomise picture atop the mantle of a lady wearing a bonnet, as well as an English Arts and Crafts copper firescreen. The spool bed is a family heirloom made in a coopers shop in Virginia. The oval dot motif in the Greek Revival mantle is echoed in the antique floorcovering and in the ogee inlay of a chest on chest. The garland motif in the eglomise mirror is repeated in the terracotta toned toile. A Gustavian desk features exuberant paint decoration which highlights the curvelinear theme in a more abstract manner.
The Blue Bathroom: An early 19th C. gilt pier mirror’s foliate motif corresponds naturally to the cheerful botanical cotton print wallpaper. Vivid blues and warm stone tones are offset by a collection of distinctive antique English prints, American floral watercolors, an 18th C faux bamboo chair and the original ball and claw tub, whose exterior was repainted in a warm stone color. One of the original handmade doors of the house was reclaimed and cut down to create the linen closet.
The Waterfront Bedroom: Three magnificent floor to ceiling windows with large original glass panels (similar to a room in the neighboring Bush Holley house which did double duty as an artist studio) have been minimally treated with roman shades to highlight the delightful water view to the Mill Pond. Warm and enveloping, yet light, Farrow & Ball’s “Tented Stripe”wallpaper emphasizes verticality in this small low-ceilinged bedroom. An antique Massachusetts cookie corner chest of drawers with dentil molding and reeded columns continues this vertical emphasis. A variety of art including antique English schoolgirl watercolors, carriage prints and a Turner engraving of the Brightling Observatory enhances the sense of engagement with nature.
The Dressing Room: The charming buzz of the bumblebee is the backdrop for this colorful feminine sanctuary. A Swedish Empire cheval mirror, late Georgian washstand and Georgian chest of drawers with lion hardware are distinctive antique accents, while the chaise longue and poudre add comfort. A colorful rag rug, 18th Century parrot watercolor replicas, along with antique butterfly and bee prints complete the balance. photo credit: R Adams
In the words of the great (and oft quoted) Albert Hadley, an interior designer must be able to clarify his or her intent keeping ever in mind that decorating is not a look, it’s a point of view. Suzanne’s point of view is one that stems from years of multi-sensory experience, evidenced by the wonderful ambience at 34 Strickland Rd.
For more on her amazing home, view the pictures in the gallery. Better yet, pay her a visit at Willingham Antiques & Interiors.
descriptions by Suzanne Branch
Questions for Suzanne? Email her at Twiggys@optonline.net