A traditional home in West Hartford gets a modern, vibrant makeover

Karen and Steve Sack loved their house in West Hartford and its idyllic neighborhood even more. Moving there prior to having their four children, they became good friends with their neighbors. And over time, everyone’s kids became friends, walking to school and playing outside together. But as they were about to embark on a house renovation, Karen’s father became seriously ill and passed away. So they pivoted. This family of six needed a bigger house: Grandma Lucy was moving in.

“My family and I loved living in our former neighborhood,” says Karen, whose own grandmother lived with her family in Newington after her grandfather died when she was younger. “I’m still friendly with everybody. It was just this sweet, old-school neighborhood. We did block parties on our street. And if you needed something while cooking, you could text somebody. It was wonderful for the kids to grow up there.”

For their initial renovation plan, the Sacks tapped builder Bruce Daigle of Daigle & Son, based in Farmington. Once plans changed, he pivoted right along with the Sacks. Daigle knew of a 5,500-square-foot, circa-1928 Colonial on the market with a lot of potential; it would be perfect for them. However, Karen, a local Realtor, had already seen it, and couldn’t imagine moving her family into an outdated house across town. While only seven minutes away, and located in a beautiful neighborhood, it meant changing school districts and making all new friends. But when the price dropped, she took another look. 

“I couldn’t visualize anything,” she says. “I was hoping for a more California vibe and didn’t want a historic house. I just couldn’t see past the wallpaper and the choppy layout. But Bruce kept saying, ‘I’m telling you, this is your house.’ ”

The redesigned kitchen, with stained walnut cabinetry and a cabinet-free window wall, opens to the dining room to add connection and spaciousness.

The redesigned kitchen, with stained walnut cabinetry and a cabinet-free window wall, opens to the dining room to add connection and spaciousness.

Jane Beiles

Upon seeing the modern architectural work of Stacy Millman, owner of West Hartford-based SKM Design, at a few of their mutual friends’ houses, Karen decided to give her a call. She wanted Millman and Daigle, who had both worked together on numerous renovations, to see the house with her before she and her husband bought it.

“If she could make me a modern house, I thought, maybe this house could work. I had remembered what some of these houses looked like before Stacy worked on them, and I was blown away,” says Karen, whose husband, who grew up in West Hartford, was completely on board with the family’s new plan. His own mother had passed away when he was young, and he thought of Grandma Lucy as his own.

With a portfolio of bringing older, traditional houses into the modern age, Millman knew exactly what to do. Originally dark and heavy feeling with little flow, the home’s interior needed a fresh take. The whole family was beginning a new phase in their lives, and this house, where they all wanted to continue traditions and start new ones with grandma, needed to spark joy and happiness.

“Opening up the kitchen to the dining room, combined with a brand-new window wall with no upper cabinets, brought in light and a connection to the outdoors,” says Millman, mindful that the Sacks wanted usable space and nothing formal.

The redesigned kitchen, with stained walnut cabinetry and a cabinet-free window wall, opens to the dining room to add connection and spaciousness.

The redesigned kitchen, with stained walnut cabinetry and a cabinet-free window wall, opens to the dining room to add connection and spaciousness.

Jane Beiles

For colors, Karen kept showing Millman images of kitchens with white cabinets, except for one gray kitchen. While Karen was drawn to the gray, she told Millman, “I like it, but I don’t think I have the courage to actually do it.” Fortunately, Millman pushed her out of her comfort zone, choosing a grayish-blue-beige stain color, which allows the warmth of the walnut cabinetry to come through. 

“A home full of color was the goal,” says Millman, who shopped with Karen to buy new furnishings and accessories from the third floor all the way down. “We chose all new, fun and playful items. Every room in this house was touched. Every wall was painted. Every fixture replaced.”

With individual hangout spaces for the kids and a lounge area for grandma, the living room, which already had great proportions, is a space where everybody comes together. 

Pops of vibrant color appear in rooms throughout the house

Pops of vibrant color appear in rooms throughout the house

Jane Beiles

Nothing is precious here, yet the integrity of a formal living room remains. Easy-care fabrics can be wiped clean, and a rustic wood coffee table hides any dings. The blue velvet sofa and pink chairs sit around a coffee table, while a marble game table offers a place where the kids can do puzzles, play games, and create art. Pops of brass accents throughout the room add both warmth and a youthful glamor to the updated space.  

A new, simple white Carrara marble fireplace surround with trim replaces a more traditional mantel. Millman highlighted the room’s architectural trim in bright white paint against soft gray walls. A subdued, but modern blue-and-white area rug acts as a backdrop for strokes of blue, deep pink and yellow accents. 

Pops of vibrant color appear in rooms throughout the house

Pops of vibrant color appear in rooms throughout the house

Jane Beiles

The Sacks moved into the house in 2018. “I wanted the house to feel clean, open, modern and for anyone coming over to feel like they lived here too,” Karen says. “And I had no idea that I liked color as much as I did. My eye gravitated toward it, but I was scared.”

The house has seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms, and Grandma Lucy worked with Millman in designing her spaces. An uplifting distraction from a difficult year, the house-wide renovation project gave Karen and her mother something to do together. Whenever Millman would come over with samples, Lucy was right there, offering an opinion.

Pops of vibrant color appear in rooms throughout the house

Pops of vibrant color appear in rooms throughout the house

Jane Beiles

“My mother and I are very close,” says Karen, who grew up the youngest of four. “So when we moved in, it felt like we were on vacation every day. We’d pour wine, order takeout, play cornhole in the backyard. I never wanted to leave.”

“I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” she says. “I have the house that I have today because of Stacy. Change is hard. Sometimes you can’t even envision it, but it was worth it.”


https://www.ctinsider.com/connecticutmagazine/home-living/article/traditional-west-hartford-home-modern-makeover-17512345.php