Serena Crowley, an architectural designer in CA, Chicago, CT & London) was on the hunt for a new house in New Canaan and William Raveis agent, Hannelore Kaplan was tasked with the job. (The two have a great friendship they’ve developed over the years in New Canaan). She discovered that this gorgeous home at 64 Oak Street (only a 10 min walk from the train station) was to be made into a multi-family condo and showed the exterior to Serena. They contacted the owners, a couple that had lived there since the 1940’s, and together they made an offer.
Serena, a California girl who radiates happiness and warmth, immediately saw potential within the home. In her previous architectural design work from her homes in London, California and another home in New Canaan, she’s introduced frugal space planning and sensible design to projects, usually making the home much brighter. Upon entering the home, one will immediately notice the tendency to bring the outside in with a large, leafy living green wall (which waters itself) and French doors in the kitchen completely opening up to a patio flooded with sunlight. Serena feels most at home in the sunshine and fresh air, and feels it contributes greatly to a well-adapted and healthy mind and body.
Serena is interviewed below.
What was your vision when you approached 64 Oak Street?
It was almost a tear down but I really had to get creative. I gutted the house inside; the only wall that was preserved was the central wall near the stairs which was low-bearing. A talented architect should be able to stay in special sphere of what a renovation represents. If the architect doesn’t stay true to the core of the originally of the home, the scale can tend to be off.
Why New Canaan?
I came after living in London with my family and fell in love with the small-town appeal. We moved back to California for our children to attend high school and finally came back in 2008 when I took on this project.
Do you flip houses of your own or do other projects?
I do both what I call architectural design, working closely with contractors and interior design on a referral base. My next project is a beach bungalow in Costa Rica, where I love to surf with my family and enjoy the sounds of the jungle atmosphere. If I can enjoy my time with a client, then I’ll do their interior design because it becomes such a personal relationship. We spend hours together. You get to know the family intimately. This is their home, their space and I want to be able to translate it into the most peaceful environment for their family.
Do you assist in finding art for your interior design clients?
I work with Julie Marcus to find art for clients. She’s licensed as a lawyer but has an amazing knowledge for art. There is rarely an art consultant that isn’t tied to a gallery or a certain type of art that they want to sell. This way, it’s more about the consumer and what will translate best in their home. No egos here!
How did you bring California design to Connecticut?
I wouldn’t label it as California design. I’ve lived in Rome, London, San Francisco and Chicago and I draw inspiration from every place I’ve been. Truthfully, the (New Canaan) house on Carter St. received so much recognition, so when I started this project I knew I had to do something as equal to impress. I never anticipated buyers and brokers would love it as much as they do.
Tell us about your concept for the living wall?
You see it in hotels and in commercial locations. It came from my desire to have plant life and fresh oxygen in the home during the winter time. Having a bit of green on a cold and grey winters day! It manages itself beautifully on a timer that waters and drains it. It’s well worth the cost which wasn’t crazy expensive. It’s an art piece and functional at the same time.
You brought the outside in with the large doors and outdoor skylights. Tell us your concept and why this is so appealing to buyers?
How can you enhance a home without covering it up with your normal design patterns? It’s by bringing the outside inside. I don’t enjoy feeling shut-in during the winter so I love opening French doors (even for just a bit!) to let the air circulate. One of my favorite things is to be able to still enjoy the outdoors when it rains. That’s why I installed a skylight on the ceiling of our outdoor porch. It’s incredibly cozy to have the rain all around you without having to get wet! It’s a great place to congregate with family and enjoy any type of weather.
Do you have any design rules that you adhere by?
The rule is to make sure the interior design is truly for yourself, the homeowner. I want the owner to have full credit and feel accomplished on designing the home with me. It won’t be stamped ‘Serena Crowley Home’ because I want it to be theirs. Is it authentic? Is there a fluidity in the home?
Another ‘guideline’ I use is don’t take it too seriously. You want people to be relaxed enough to put their feet up in your home and not be afraid to spill something.
Name a few ways to refresh a room:
Remember that design is within everyone’s comfortable grasp. Before Pinterest, interior design was such a club. To refresh a room, use paint. I only use 3-4 paint colors per home. I reintroduce the colors over and over again. Make sure there is as much light into a room as possible. Keep it light and airy. Putting a healthy plant, like a fig tree somewhere brings life and fresh oxygen into a room.
Tell us about Hannelore!
I think Hannelore thinks outside the box and doesn’t set boundaries. We give each other referrals. Also, she takes criticism so well. There are very few people in the real estate industry who are as vocal and communicative.
What makes a home happy?
Laughter. The family themselves. Enjoying each other and enjoying your precious time together. Sense of ease. Tons of photographs!
5 bedrooms/ 4 full and 2 half bathrooms