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Publication Date: 2013-03-13

House Tours

Easy Elegance at a Hudson Valley Retreat

Christine Pittel speaks with Connie Newberry about her redesign of a Hudson Valley retreat where chintz makes a relaxing and refined comeback.

Christine Pittel: You’ve got the ABCs of American decorating: animal patterns, botanical prints, and chintz.

Connie Newberry: I love chintz! The combination of colors adds a vibrancy to a room that even a bunch of bright solid fabrics can’t give you. It’s such an old-fashioned, warm, inviting look, and that’s what I was after for this house.We built it, but I didn’t want it to feel brand new.

Pittel: So chintz is your time capsule?

Newberry: Exactly. It makes me think of Sister Parish, Nancy Lancaster, Mario Buatta. I started with an internship at McMillen, and between Betty Sherrill and Mrs. Brown, I grew up on chintz. I think there’s a comfort factor to it. When you walk into a room with chintz on the curtains or on a chair, it brings back happy memories. You let your guard down. There’s a lack of pretense to it, as opposed to silk or damask. It’s good, classic American decorating.

Pittel: Let me guess: was that chintz the first thing you chose for the living room?

Newberry: Yes. I’d been saving little memos of fabric I was dying to use. I first saw that pattern when I was called in to refresh an apartment that Sister Parish had done 30 years ago. I fell in love with it, but the client had no idea where it came from. Luckily, the women in the archives at Brunschwig& Fils recognized it and said they would be able to reprint it if I ordered enough. ‘Yes!’ I said. ‘I’ll do everything in it!’ The pomegranates keep it from being too fussy and floral, and the colorway is perfect: orange, blue, and acid green, which makes it more youthful. It reminds me of all those good old Colefax and Fowler prints.

Pittel: Looks like you took that orange and threaded it throughout the house.

Newberry: Orange is one of those colors that just makes me happy. The front door is a deep persimmon in high-gloss paint. And the dining room is pumpkin—glazed, so it glows the way a dining room should. Then, to bring in a few bells and whistles, I hung a set of Rossini engravings in a grid, floor to ceiling. It’s a relatively small room without much detail, and they add a strong architectural element. The grid creates the effect of a giant window.

Pittel: I notice you put sisal on the floor instead of a more formal carpet.

Newberry: My husband and I have three boys and a crazy dog, and sisal is virtually indestructible. I even put it in the living room. Nothing here is off limits. I wanted every single room to be used. This is a very relaxed weekend house.

Pittel: What else can you do to relax a room?

Newberry: Put the furniture on casters, so you can move it around. In the living room, chairs get pushed and pulled between one seating area by the fire- place and another by the TV on the opposite wall. The sofa table in the center doubles as a desk, or I’ll set it up as a bar when we’re entertaining. On Thanksgiving, I put one long table in front of the windows, and we’ll have 30 people for dinner in here.

Pittel: If I ever have a library, I’m going to paint it dark, like yours. What’s the color?

Newberry: Char Brown by Benjamin Moore. It’s a rich mud, perfect for us because someone is invariably tracking mud into the house. The antelope-print carpet hides a lot of sins, and it’s also a classic. I hung a traditional convex mirror to catch the light and open up that niche. It didn’t have a great gilded finish, so I painted it white to add a little contrast. Now it looks like a giant tire! But again, I didn’t want the room to feel serious and stuffy. I wanted it to be fun.

Pittel: How many patterns have you managed to fit into the master bedroom?

Newberry: Well, there’s a textured blue-gray wallpaper. The chintz in hot pink, periwinkle blue, and more of that great acid green. The huge pinky-red check—another of those great Colefax and Fowler patterns that I absolutely love. I think a check is like a stripe: You can always get away with it. And the scale and boldness of this check keep the chintz from looking dowdy.

Pittel: And you’ve got another pattern, on that round table, under glass.

Newberry: That was a table skirt I had used somewhere else. I didn’t plan on it going into that room, but it’s like the old adage: If you love something, you will always find a place for it. Besides, I hate it when the fabrics and furniture look too matchy.

Pittel: Not everyone would choose red walls for a guest room.

Newberry: I know. But you can be more adventurous because no one is going to be sleeping there all the time—hope- fully. Red is very warm, and it sets off the chintz. I’m just realizing how much chintz I used! I thought the scale of this pattern was amazing, but at the same time, I didn’t want guests to come in and think they were going to be eaten alive by those giant apples and pears. So I quilted it to take the edge off. Actually, I quilt all my chintz. From a practical standpoint, it makes the fabric more durable because you’re backing it. And it feels so cozy, as if you can snuggle up in it.

Pittel: The quilting also creates another layer of pattern. 

Newberry: And a kind of patina. Although that wasn’t a problem here. Having three boys around definitely added to the patina very quickly.

This article originally appeared in House Beautiful. Interview by Christine Pittel. Photography by Johnny Valiant. Produced by David M. Murphy. Styled by Gregory Bissonnette.


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