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LEFT: A little bit country: Knapp in a Dolce & Gabbana dress with Mr. Bean and her niece’s Shetland pony. RIGHT: A suzani fabric from Quadrille, fashioned into a Roman shade by Tiger Lily’s workroom staff, filters the light in the kitchen.
Autumn in New England: a time of pumpkin-lined porches, wood-smoked scented air, and apple picking in idyllic orchards. For Samantha Knapp, however, these months signify a springlike sense of rebirth. “People view fall as a dying season but I see it as cleansing– like a snake shedding its skin,” she says.
The idiosyncratic Knapp has always had a flair for the unexpected. A former TV news reporter turned self-taught decorator, she is the youthful force behind Tiger Lily’s Greenwich, a design studio and workshop owned for more than 20 years by her parents, Betsy and Robert Knapp, in the heart of preppy Connecticut. Her projects are known for playfully tweaking tradition. With her frank, disarming manner and outsize personality– she’s as apt to quote Truman Capote as Mahatma Ghandi, or serve guests a homemade apple pie while blasting Tupac Shakur– it’s no surprise that her interiors vibrate with joie de vivre.
That certainly holds true for Knapp’s rural Connecticut cottage. Located on a 20-acre horse farm, the two-bedroom structure was a former residence for stable grooms, with decor that was utilitarian at best. “It had standard builder finishes and track marks on the carpet from barn guys tromping through,” Knapp recalls. “And because of all the iron in the water, the bathtubs and toilets looked like something you’d see at a gas station!” Her transformation of the cabin from dingy dwelling to offbeat-chic retreat isn’t just a makeover; it’s a personal validation. “When your energy is in the right place, things just come together,” she says.
Knapp’s path to her current profession was hardly direct. Hoping to become the next Katie Couric, she spent the better part of a decade pulling up stakes every few years for gigs in Georgia, Florida, and Michigan before becoming a freelance reporter at New York City’s WCBS in 2008. Six months later, the economy went into free fall, Knapp was laid off, and she faced every millennial’s worst fear; having to move back in with her parents. “Everywhere I turned, old friends would say, ‘What happened? We used to watch you on TV,’” she says. “It was a tough transition.”
With nothing else on the back burner, Knapp integrated herself into the daily rhythms of her family’s business– answering phones, consulting on projects, and making her mark in ways large and small. “They’re super talented, but I brought the first computer into the building!” she says with a laugh. Over time, she began to draw her own clients, a loyal following who loved her fresh perspective on color and pattern.
Three and a half years after Knapp began working at Tiger Lily’s, her sister purchased the horse farm and told her about the cottage that was available for rent. “The second I walked in, I knew it was a gem,” she recalls. With the design studio’s resources and craftspeople at her disposal, Knapp launched into a full-scale transformation. She ripped up the carpet and redid the master bathroom. She juxtaposed the wood-paneled walls with haute window treatments and a hallway lined in oxblood-red leather. She brought in vintage furnishings and custom-made items from her family’s workroom. “Everything has my personal touch,” she says with pride.
A key element of her design ethos: don’t shy away from bold colors. “A lot of people tend to go safe with grays– they think if it’s neutral it can last for 15 to 20 years,” Knapp says. “I don’t agree. When you tire of something, you tire of it.” One of her favorite spots is her bedroom, a mélange of patterns that she calls her old-school take on Americana. “I love the blue-and-red palette– Martha Washington used it, so it’s good enough for me!” The room’s signature, drapery made from a vintage B-Berger fabric, was scored from a textile vendor for an almost unthinkably low $5 per yard. “These curtains make me so happy, they’re not your grandmother’s toile,” she says.
Though Knapp was initially apprehensive about moving back home, she couldn’t be happier with the way her life in the country has turned out. “Now I’m able to celebrate autumn in a way I never did in the city– I’m roasting chickens, carrots,” she says. “My boyfriend, whom I met when I was living in Manhattan, said, ‘I didn’t know this cooking side of you existed!’” TV has come calling again; she recently appeared on a few episodes of a new HGTV series called I Break for Yard Sales, starring Good Morning America’s Lara Spencer, and landed a recurring gig on the network’s House Hunters Renovation. “It’s an awesome time in my life,” she admits. “The truth is, I’ve come so far and I feel good. I’ve given myself permission to live well.”
Written by Kathryn O’Shea-Evans | Photographed by Melanie Acevedo
This story first appeared in the November 2013 issue of Lonny Magazine.