INTERVIEW BY ANNA LANE
WHEN MICHAEL AND FRED CANORO RELOCATED to Connecticut in 2014, they fully embraced suburban living, trading their Manhattan apartment for a historic house in New Canaan. The couple sought more space for their growing family—Sofia, 6, and Cooper and Carter, 5—and they found it in a centuries-old house on four acres.
The project was a huge undertaking. But Michael, founder of Eastman-Interiors and managing partner at Maiden Lane Group, was up for the task. In addition to renovating the entire house, the couple transformed the garden into a lush private oasis ideal for family life and entertaining. Here, we speak with Michael about the whole process.
How did you end up in New Canaan?
We chose New Canaan primarily for the excellent school system, but also for the land and play space. I wanted to have that “old Connecticut” kind of experience, and I fell in love with the property. We have 400-year-old sugar maples, a huge sycamore right behind the house that’s upwards of 300 years old, and lots of other well-established trees. We have blueprints of the updates that were done in 1922 and in 1944, and I really took the lead from those drawings to restore the property and grounds to the grand farmhouse that it must have been.
How long did it take to landscape the garden?
We purchased the home in January 2014, moved into the house in fall of 2014, and then we continued to work on the outbuildings. We did extensive landscaping over the past few years, and everything finally got finished in the spring of 2018. So it took, overall, four and a half years. It’s been a long process. We plan to do some wetland renovation next spring, but other than that we’re pretty much done.
Did you have a landscape designer?
I’m an interior designer and I don’t draft, so I had Diane Starr of DB Landscape Designs put it on paper for me. I put together a master plan for the whole property, of which 80 percent has been executed.
When facing a project of this scale, where does one start?
One of the first things we did was restore the sunken garden. We redid all of the hand-stacked wall work around it. We used the original bluestone pavers that outlined the interior of the garden, and kept the same format that was here in the 1920s. We redid all of the plantings in there, we put grass in the center and added a fountain.
Did you keep any of the original plants?
In the front of the house there are 100-year-old rhododendrons that we kept, and I feed them and make sure that they stay healthy. They act as screening from the road, but they’re also beautiful, just gorgeous. Other than those, because we did so much wall work and putting lawns in, all the plantings are new.
Can you share with us how you manage to have an exquisite garden that’s also child-friendly?
When we purchased, there was a 1970s pool on the other side of the property [from where the pool is now]. We removed that pool—it wasn’t very kid-friendly—and we put it to the rear of the house with a new pool house. On the opposite side of the property from the sunken garden there was a dilapidated stable/barn that we took down. I built a new post-and-beam barn, which I’m using as my office, and to the back of that we have a play structure and a fully fenced-in area for the kids.
What’s one of the best features of your garden?
We have this wall of Tardiva hydrangea plants that separate our back lawn from the pool. In August they’re in full bloom and they have big white hydrangea blooms so it’s like this white cloud of beautiful blooms all around the pool. It’s stunning.
Did you have a color scheme in mind when you planned the garden?
The sunken garden is all purples and pinks. All the roses in there are a hot pink, there are purple irises, and in the spring we have peonies. There’s also a rose bed leading up to the guest cottage and I have all yellow roses in there that we cut all of the time.
What’s your favorite garden spot?
I love the sunken garden. It’s so quiet, and between hearing the river and hearing the fountain it’s just so lovely. We especially love it in the spring when all the things are popping up, and we do an Easter egg hunt every year. This is where we want to be with our family for the next 25-plus years.