Corey Damen Jenkins helps a grande dame of a house spin a version of itself in tune with today.

By Sally Finder Weepie
July 31, 2020
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If this house were a song, it would be solid gold. The owners, who built the Connecticut home in the early 1990s, cut a classic, investing in handcrafted millwork worthy of Colonial Revival structures shaped a century ago. The magnificent curved moldings, grand casings, and graceful window mullions were the ultimate symphony for the eye—except, sadly, no one could see them.

George Ross

"Every window and door was covered with heavy swags, jabots, draperies," designer Corey Damen Jenkins says. "The house was overweight. So I put it on a diet."

George Ross

Although this home was built in the 1990s, it celebrates Colonial Revival details, including eye-catching dormers and porch columns.

The homeowners had visions of the miraculous transformation to come. Readers of Traditional Home, they had seen what Jenkins did with a house similar to theirs in Michigan, and they flew the Detroit-based designer to New Canaan to flex his decorative muscle.

After stripping away yard after yard of anachronous chintz, Jenkins assembled a new wardrobe to make the exquisitely boned home sing. "I always look to fashion for inspiration," he says. "When I started this project, the Paris runway was spilling with colors that the homeowner loved. The aubergine, lapis, and mint were the same colors I saw in her wardrobe."

George Ross

Jenkins' couture makes a bold debut in the foyer, where a mint runner descends the dark treads of a white paneled staircase. A marble-look wallpaper serves as a contemporary canvas for a salon-style grouping of gilt-framed oils from the couple's collection of antique art. Individual picture lights illuminate each piece.

Of-the-moment pattern and color keep the entry filled with stunning traditional millwork and a gallery wall of collected oil paintings feeling current.

"The picture lights are beautiful and functional; there was no need for wall sconces. But with the different-size artwork, it was a feat to orchestrate the wiring," Jenkins says with a rueful chuckle. "I didn't make life easy for the electrician."

George Ross

A vibrant chevron fabric, echoing the aubergine of the home's newly lacquered doors, skirts the entry table and repeats on wing chairs in the living room. The chairs, which bring symmetry to a sophisticated gathering space wrapped in a fresh mint wallcovering, are among the few new pieces of furniture that Jenkins brought to the home, whose owners, he says, had "bought well" initially. The new pieces and reinvented vintage pieces, including a formerly black chinoiserie coffee table reimagined with white lacquer, blend in a space that embraces tradition in a fresh way.

"We were able to bring the pieces back to life by reupholstering them and putting them in different rooms, which gives the house a new perspective," Jenkins says. "Coming behind another designer, it was a challenge to make my own statement—not copy and paste but make a new picture using the pieces from an old puzzle."

George Ross

Abstract elements, including fabric on host chairs and a newly discovered art piece above the fireplace, give youthful energy to a dining room distinguished by fine antiques. Jenkins "shopped" the homeowners' basement and attic, where he culled great old pieces that deserved a second life. A gilt trumeau mirror crowns a vintage sideboard; gilt-framed art pairs with a graceful demilune table.

Left: George Ross
Right: George Ross

Reinvention came not only from fabric but also from paint. Jenkins dipped "brown" Queen Anne dining chairs in white lacquer, for example, to play like sculpture against floors that Jenkins darkened to a rich coffee-bean brown.

The dining room's existing tile fireplace surround, featuring a blue-and-white Dutch motif, put a twist in Jenkins' palette. "The homeowners wanted to keep it because it speaks to their heritage and is nostalgic for them," the designer says.

He used the blue to launch a lacquered, mirrorlike wall treatment. "You can put your makeup on using these walls," Jenkins says. "It makes the room a jewel box, a special destination."

Left: George Ross
Right: George Ross

Equestrian wallpaper and a consignment-shop mirror marry in the informal powder room; the formal powder space gets an elegant look from large-scale wallpaper and a shapely console sink.

George Ross

Fabric from a Finnish design house directed the color palette in the master bedroom, now pounds lighter with Jenkins' removal of a bed canopy and skirt, heavy draperies, and layers of sheers. "It was like the Princess and the Pea in there—fabric overload," Jenkins says. "Now it feels so much more clean-lined, fresh, and bright."

"Passed-down furniture is back," Jenkins says. He makes the "brown" pieces feel current by pairing them with contemporary upholstery, drapery fabric, rugs, and bed linens.

Left: George Ross
Right: George Ross

He used a pretty botanical print from Marimekko on draperies and a settee. Paint and a new marble surround update an existing fireplace.

George Ross

Light bounces off lacquered walls and a fireplace surround remade in marble. One of Jenkins' signatures—a couture-inspired tape treatment—trims a cozy chair situated under a halter that belonged to one of the homeowner's beloved horses.

Like many of the pieces that now decorate the home, it's a conversation starter that sparks stories of adventures past. "There's nothing to talk about if everything is brand-new," Jenkins says. "This couple had so many great things stowed in their attic and basement that we rediscovered and brought back into their lives."

George Ross

Jenkins found photographs taken by the homeowners' daughter when she was a teenager and framed them to form a meaningful art wall in the master bathroom. A funky new fabric on the chair juxtaposes traditional columns.

Filled with new energy, their home remains a classic yet feels reborn. All it needed was a fresh spin by the right artist. "It was like Whitney Houston remaking Dolly Parton's 'I Will Always Love You,'" Jenkins says. "I got to reimagine something wonderful."

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