A New Kitchen with a Preservation Ethic

Before 1994, when she fell in love with and bought this house, Sarah Blank hadn’t heard of Royal Barry Wills. Then she learned that the Cape, built in 1957, in New Canaan, Connecticut, was typical of the work of the famous Colonial Revival architect who was a prolific designer as well as America’s best-selling architectural writer.
rustic kitchen cabinets
Made of butternut, the kitchen cabinets were distressed and then stained, resulting in a soft, hand-rubbed finish. The hood over the range is made from custom, acid-washed, standing-seam metal. The wall and shelf behind the stove are fashioned from the same material.

A Massachusetts native who opened his Boston firm in 1925, Wills loved New England’s small, historic houses and made a specialty of designing updated yet authentically proportioned versions of Capes, saltboxes, and garrison colonials. Hundreds of his houses stand, including the 1500-square-foot Cape that Blank proceeded to enlarge.

“I needed a bigger, updated kitchen, a bigger garage, and more bedrooms and baths,” says the interior designer, who is based in Greenwich with offices in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York City. “I am passionate about classicism and its vocabulary, and this house was an important learning experience for me. To guide the additions, I used the book Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England, published by Thomas Hubka, in 1984.”

Blank added a second storey to the house’s central block and a rear addition to house a new primary bedroom suite and an enlarged living room. She added a mudroom and breezeway telescoping towards a new garage along one side and, on the opposite side of the house, she transformed the old kitchen and garage ell into a new kitchen. “The house grew to 4500 square feet. The kitchen, which had measured 10 x 12 feet, is now 16 x 18 feet,” Blank says. 

Sepia-colored, 18th-century Delft tiles, a hand-painted floorcloth, and an early-20th-century American flag reinforce the Colonial sensibility.

She is especially proud of the kitchen that she says reflects her appreciation for historic New England design and specifically for the work of Royal Barry Wills. She designed the room and the millwork, blending salvage, carefully chosen new elements, reproductions, and antiques collected piece by piece. The 18th-century, brown Delft tiles that line the backsplash, for example, took Sarah years to assemble: “I bought them one by one.” She repurposed gumwood from an antique barn to use for the kitchen floor. The ceiling has chestnut beams from a demolished house. Long before it became all the rage, Blank applied shiplap boards to the walls. 

The kitchen sink is six feet long, made of Verdi Quasai granite given a leathered finish. The same material is used for the countertops.

The island sink is six feet long, made from granite that she treated to a leathered finish. In the dining room, she put slim strapping on the ceiling and painted it, the moulding, the baseboard, and the chair rail in a putty color that softly contrasts with the white walls. “I was inspired by [the Colonial Revival architect] Stanford White, who often did that in back rooms as a way to separate spaces with low ceilings.”

The new mudroom also functions as a pantry. The floor is slate; cabinets here conceal a steam oven.

Sarah Blank commissioned the reproduction of a Jacobean table for the dining room and, for the kitchen wall, found a 1905 American flag that once flew on a ship. Canvas floorcloths, barley-twist candlestick lamps of English oak, and pewter on a Welsh cupboard suit the Colonial Revival sensibility. Not slavish yet a deft homage, the design of the new spaces truly reflects the sensibility of Royal Barry Wills.

The original house was one storey. Designer Sarah Blank has added a second floor, a rear addition, and a breezeway and mudroom.
Gardens are planted with hydrangeas, salvia, rue, echinacea, and other perennials, in cottage- garden style.


Sarah Blank Design Studio sarahblankdesignstudio.com

flooring/pantry walls
Carlisle Wide Plank Floors wideplankflooring.com

Canvasworks (Lisa Curry Mair) canvasworksdesigns.com

Horton Brasses horton-brasses.com

Julien Sinks julien.ca

Moen  moen.com
(at stone sink)KWC kwc.com

copper lights (pantry)
PW Vintage Lighting, Great Barrington, MA: (866) 561-3158

welsh cupboard
Stair Galleries stairgalleries.com

sofa/dining chairs
Sam Blount Interior Design samblountinc.com

american flag antique
Jeff R. Bridgman jeffbridgman.com

kitchen walls waxed plaster; blue pantry cabinets custom mixed color, glazed
Farrow & Ball farrow-ball.com/en-us

Related Resources

period kitchens
Crown Point Cabinetry crown-point.com
Custom, period-inspired cabinets; will incorporate reclaimed wood on request

Sheldon Slate sheldonslate.com
Slate sinks, counters, floor tile

Vermont Soapstone vermontsoapstone.com
Custom soapstone countertops & sinks

early hardware & lighting
Acorn Mfg acornmfg.com
Hand-forged iron builder’s hardware & strap hinges

Ball & Ball ballandball.com
Authentic, handcrafted reproductions of 17th- and 18th-century iron & brass hardware

Historic Housefitters historichousefitters.com
Early period lighting & hardware

Period Lighting Fixtures periodlighting.com
Handmade reproductions 1620–1850

Tags: OHJ June 2023

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