Water views have always been a magnet for the creative: the light, the sky, the pedal points of wind and tides — elements in concert. Long Neck Point in Darien and its inhabitants have found its beguiling nature to be a source of inspiration for the creative impulse as constant as its prevailing breezes.
Under the green copper roof of a former 1920s carriage house, high above the waters of Long Island Sound, a tradition of creativity continues into the present day.
In the 1920s the carriage house served as staff quarters and vehicle storage for an estate owned by Lurelle Van Arsdale Guild. Eventually the carriage house was rented out, and ultimately spun off into a separate property. By December 2002 it had sat on the market for a year, only half a dozen people asking to take a look. Kim and Steve Bepler fell in love with it.
Close to the road and far from the original estate house, the building had been relentlessly painted and papered inside, and added on to, with its grounds in a state of neglect and disarray. With the help of landscape designer David Rosa of L & L Ever-Green in South Norwalk, explains Kim, “We repositioned things to take advantage of the magnificent light. We covered the courtyard in sandstone and created an outdoor dining area, and we had a vision of putting in a pool because we wanted to go swimming.” Steve adds, “There was no outdoor space that was inviting. The whole backyard said, ‘don’t come out.’”
Dave Rosa designed the grounds in a looser English garden theme. “There was simplicity. Kim likes clean lines with a nice progression of blooms. She wanted the softer blues, the cooler colors. Yellows and oranges — she’s not into,” he says. The project also involved restoring a fountain, creating a boxwood parterre, installing mature evergreen screening along the front-door property line and replacing a mature but damaged beech with a specimen tree, a large weeping beech.
Now, bluestone paths guide guests in an enchanting yet easy flow between the summer bar, housed in one wing, and the sunroom, located in another that overlooks the swimming pool. An original stone wall delineates the far length of the pool area, running horizontally like the bottom of a picture frame of the grassy lawn beyond, which falls off and yields a spectacular view of the western sky. When the leaves fall, the Manhattan skyline shimmers in the distance. During the warm months, it is visible from the pool pavilion, which Kim designed.
One wonders, just as Kim was inspired by the view to create a place to contemplate not only the majesty of Mother Nature but also the enthralling man-made phenomenon on the horizon, was Lurelle Guild similarly motivated? The previous owner of the estate was one of the most prolific industrial designers of the 1930s. He designed small items, primarily in affordable aluminum, for Kensington (a subsidiary of Alcoa), and Chase Brass & Copper, which had been located in Waterbury. International Silver rendered his designs in heavy silver plate. Among the most striking is his sixteen-inch skyscraper cocktail shaker, an art deco encapsulation of the dynamic architectural aesthetic unfolding before his eyes: first the rhythmic Chrysler Building, completed in 1930, and a year later the iconic Empire State Building, both symbols of the Machine Age. He would later win the contract to design the Electrolux Model XXX vacuum cleaner, refrigerators for Norge, cookware for WearEver and washing machines for General Electric. Guild also painted, and he left canvases behind in the carriage house.
“I love white,” notes Kim, “but I saw color in here: blues, reds, greens; more richness, country, no velvet ropes, and nothing off limits. I would never say to a guest, you can’t put your feet up. We hope it’s pleasing to guests, with a little ‘wow’ factor but enjoyable to sit and have a cocktail.”
More importantly, says Kim, “Our greatest joy is our ability to help others less fortunate than we are.” Serving on boards that include the Nantucket Aids Network, Fordham University, Fairfield University and the New York Nativity Schools, the Beplers wanted to create a home that would welcome guests in a casual, unpretentious style. Ultimately, however, “We wanted to use our home as a springboard for a number of charities. I love throwing parties with a cause,” notes Kim, who was voted onto the board of directors of the Darien chapter of the American Red Cross this past fall.
Overall, the decorating is a reflection of the Beplers and their jet-setting style: Continental/Oriental/American, and all at the same level of quality. Years ago Steve’s sister lived in Hong Kong, and when he visited her, they went to China and acquired eighteenth- and nineteenth-century antiques — bargains at the time — filling an entire container. “There are little pops of those pieces here and there,” says Kim, referring to various cabinets, tables and other Orientalia throughout the house. She reinforced the subtle theme with a metal pagoda-style lantern in the sunroom, which she painted white, and Oriental-inspired print fabric.
Without getting too literal, Kim has referenced the waterfront in handsome shell prints in the sunroom, coral-motif porcelain on her dining room table, and a clear blue fabric that mimics the Sound on a perfect day on comfortable wicker in the sunroom. » A giant stone clamshell adorns the fountain in the courtyard, visible from numerous rooms inside.
“If I see something I like,” says Steve, who is in the investment management business, “even if I can’t use it right away, I’ll buy it.” He had a newly acquired antique grandfather clock in storage because his previous home’s ceiling was too low. It now stands tall in the carriage house living room.
“We travel a great deal and buy things we love, whether we’re in Hong Kong, London, Paris — they’ll fit,” notes Kim, formerly director of development at Cahners Travel Group.
An example of this is the handwoven wool Persian carpet, circa 1880, that the couple saw in a shop window in Paris near the Hotel Bristol, where they were staying. It set the scheme for the living room. A library off the living room exudes a rich, deep red that’s present in the rug’s pattern.
Stepping into the living room, Kim says, “Everything in this room is back to the original. There had been eight coats of paint on the pine paneling. The wide-plank floors had all the bumps and imperfections. My husband had a great idea to get the beams the same color as the floor, that warm honey pine. There was too much old paint on the beams, so we had them faux-painted, and coffered the ceiling.” In the resulting squares, what looks like handpainted decoration is in fact color-copied from an artist’s original design. (They made sure it wasn’t copyrighted.) Original art from around the world adorns the walls. A painting that the couple found in England called Breeze, by Simon Garden, brings depth to an awkward wall in the living room. “I wanted a window out to the sea, as well as something whimsical,” says Kim.
The home’s entry is a sunny Provence yellow, in a sponged-textured wall covering. On either side of the entrance to the dining room stand enormous mahogany pedestals that support larger-than-life porcelain artichokes. Inside the dining room, Kim kept the original, functional cabinetry white, which works well with the coral-motif bone china from Thomas Goode in London. Funky wineglasses in purple, green and turquoise, found on Nantucket at the Dane Gallery, serve as a foil to the other-wise traditional décor.
Previous owners added the large, sleek kitchen in 1991, enabling the circular flow so conducive to the entertaining that the Beplers love.
Upstairs, a billiard room overlooks the Sound. Enormous red wooden stars punctuate the light yellow walls. The billiard table reposes on a burgundy floral rug Kim found at Pottery Barn. When guests work up a thirst, they need only travel down a little staircase, which alights in the summer bar, formerly an exercise room.
The couple now uses a former bedroom to house their exercise equipment. To improve the view from the treadmill, Kim tacked up a large canvas of trompe l’oeil bookshelves with a terrier sitting on one of the shelves among the books, by Lurelle Guild. Measuring approximately five by six feet, it was originally hung in the living room.
Continuing down the hall toward the master wing, one arrives at a room unlike any other in the home. Kim’s dressing room is a feminine, French confection dripping in creamy pink silk, with a tufted ottoman, antiqued, white-painted furniture, a crystal chandelier and a Louis XVI–style caned daybed, all floating on a pale floral handwoven wool rug. It is unapologetically and utterly frou-frou.
The master suite itself offers a serene respite from busy yet fulfilling days. In decorating the space, Kim’s objective, she says, was to create “a sanctuary for Steve and me.” From the inviting bathtub looking out to the Sound to the intimate, cozy sitting area in front of the bedroom fireplace where they love to watch storms roll in over the water, Kim succeeded. She insists that it was a joint effort.
“We did this house together because we love doing that,” she says. Opening their home and hearts combines their creativity and passion for helping others. The end result is simple, says Kim: “We did something good!”