May 2024

Mansion Global

Renovating a centuries-old home isn’t for the faint of heart. When a family of five purchased a more than 200-year-old Southport, Connecticut, house sight unseen in December 2020 for $1.8 million, they lived there for about a year before turning to designers James Veal and Christine Stucker for help.

Luckily, the husband-and-wife duo behind the design firm Stewart-Schafer said they love a challenge. The five-bedroom, seven-bathroom house built in the early 1800s was struggling to keep its identity. Stucker and Veal curated an interior design style that would nod to the history of the home while reflecting the current lifestyle of the occupants, a graphic designer originally from Canada, his spouse and their three children. The homeowners declined to be interviewed

“People had added all these ornate elements that did not match the bones of it. Someone tried to push it into a French countryside house. We were excited by the challenge,” Stucker said of the 5,327-square-foot property. “The very first time we walked into the house, we immediately could see what needed to happen. That’s how we work. We really connected with that house. We saw where it could go.”

Besides settling on a uniform look, Veal and Stucker brightened up the dark and dreary house by balancing mostly white walls with a variety of stone. The mudroom, for example, features marble tumbled tiled floors.

“We didn’t want to make a trendy home for them,” Stucker said. “We could have gone in so many different directions with that home, but we created a timeless, worldly home that you could pick up and put in any country and it would be fine.”

Veal and Stucker addressed five mismatched kinds of floors, at least that many paint colors on the walls, and an outdated kitchen and bathrooms. They preserved charming original details, including some ceiling beams and the stair spindles.

“In 20 years, it’s still going to be relevant. That’s the goal,” Veal said.

The duo designed new millwork to accentuate the rooms. In the kitchen, custom millwork frames the dramatic, dark cabinets.

“We design all the millwork ourselves. We don’t buy anything off the shelf,” Stucker said. “We don’t repeat anything, so having that unique detail to the profile of the cabinets really made it special. It’s modern, but it has this bespoke feel to it.”

The Farrow & Ball paint color Railings, a slate gray, used in the kitchen anchors the home’s monochromatic palette, and Veal and Stucker pulled it through the whole house, all the way to the primary bathroom vanity.

With older estates, it’s impossible to make everything perfect, Veal said.

“You could spend a lot of money leveling the floors, but in an old home like that, it’s OK to have a little imperfection,” he said. “In old homes, you want to nurture imperfections and work with them. We put new flooring in, and in some spots, it was not level but that’s part of home’s charm. You don’t want to strip it away too much.”

Veal and Stucker offered some more insight into the renovation and lessons learned from the project.

Our biggest surprise was… “That we could have kept going. We touched everything, but I would have loved to continue outside. Normally, the scope of work is very contained, but at that house—and it’s not ‘The Money Pit,’ obviously—you could endlessly make improvements. They really lucked out with that home,” Stucker said, referring to the 1986 film starring Tom Hanks and Shelly Long.

My favorite part of the renovation is… “The kitchen transformation was magical. That kitchen is my dream kitchen. The kitchen and the formal living room with the center millwork was the most spectacular,” Stucker said.

“The stone mantel on the fireplace was custom made. It turned out beautifully,” Veal said.

My favorite material we used during the process is… “I really loved the mudroom marble tumbled tiled floors. Those are probably as old as the home,” Stucker said.

The one expense we didn’t expect was… “Re-insulating was expensive, but we were prepared. We always like to manage expectations ahead of time,” said Veal.

The renovation ended up costing… “Half of what it should be. They did very well,” Veal said.