Name: Kate Brierley and Joseph Swiader
Location: Jamestown, Rhode Island
Years lived in: 3
Who else lives here: Otto the bulldog, Bize the Dogue de Bordeux, and William Shatner the cat.
A swath of deep purple silk billows in the misty breeze that sweeps into Kate Brierley's home studio. Beyond the open door opposite her desk, Southern New England fog hovers above a lush green lawn. Enveloped in serenity, the 1904 shingle and stone farmhouse Brierley and her fiancé Joseph Swiader renovated, incorporates the same graceful style and sustainable aesthetic of the designer's exquisite fashion line.
Renowned in the eco-fashion world for her wild silks, organic cottons, and wools hand dyed with natural elements like logwood, cochineal, and Brazil wood, Brierley lives just across the bay from her Newport, Rhode Island boutique Isoude. When she's not in the shop, she's sketching designs in her studio, or infusing luxurious natural fibers with brilliant colors beneath the shade of her wide wooden porch. Though Brierley and her fiancé movie producer Joseph Swiader both work from home and entertain often, their extraordinary house maintains a calm ambiance among all the bustle. Soft shades of cream, walnut, and sky blue create a tranquil backdrop for an exceptional mix of Art Deco, mid-century modern, Bauhaus, and Polish Constructivist pieces. Frank Gehry's cardboard tables nest beside a 1920s leather love seat that's in perfect shape. A pile of plush towels rests on an industrial stool. Jim Morrisson poses above a teak bar cart.
Upstairs, restful bedrooms offer comfortable retreat, while downstairs gathering places invite sociability and productivity. Big tables sit at the center of the kitchen and dining rooms awaiting gregarious parties of friends and family for holiday celebrations or casual farmers market feasts. On less festive, but equally jovial occasions, dining tables become conference tables and wine glasses make way for laptops. A little alcove off the kitchen houses a well-appointed stock of liquor, vintage ice buckets, and martini shakers. Guests can mix a drink then retreat to the hearthside in winter, or the porch overlooking the wilds of a nature preserve in summer.
During the renovation, Brierley and Swiader sought out skilled painters, carpenters, and woodworkers from the local community to help preserve the character of their historic house while updating its infrastructure to be in line with modern technologies. From an energy efficient Viessmann heating system to the swirling spindles of a hand carved balustrade, each detail reflects the care and thoughtfulness that went into the creation of a sensational, sustainable home.
Our style: Pastoral chic
Inspiration: The house itself is the inspiration, it was built in 1904 by the Wharton family and is a classic shingle style home. During the renovation we wanted to be mindful of the integrity and spirit of the house, yet bring in beautiful wood workings, art, and mid century furniture I highly recommend the series of books entitled The Way We Live by Stafford Cliff and Gilles de Chabaneix. What is great about the homes featured in these books are the unique details and effortlessness of the spaces. The placement of objects is important. Also we love the Neue Gallerie in NYC as well as Vienna, and we are both Polish, so that all seeps in.
Favorite Element: The fieldstone porte cochere.
Biggest Challenge: We did a complete renovation, taking the house down to the studs. Honestly we loved doing it, of course there are challenges in that process but overall it was a very rewarding process. Joe and I love designing together, and we actually miss our nights sitting at a bar, eating dinner and sketching on napkins. If you let go of an idea of getting everything right and understand that it is a creative process it takes a lot of pressure off and transforms it into a long view of creating a home and creating a story together. Mistakes are welcome, they often lead to something better.
What Friends Say: There isn’t a lot of discussion but there are certainly a lot of repeat visits. We have house guests frequently, they say they feel so comfortable and that they have never slept so well.
Proudest DIY: We were the general contractors and the designers so it was a lot of DIY. Joe also built his own bookshelf in his office.
Biggest Indulgence: The leather handles on the kitchen cabinet doors. We bought them from London. It was worth it, it is probably our favorite element in the house. I might add more one day.
Best Advice: Builders and carpenters are visual, present what you want in a visual way. One example, for the counter profile Joe bought clay and gave our carpenter a sculpture of what he wanted. I had a cork board full of inspirational images and we both provided our builders with sketches on graph paper with measurements. Also, be persistent and firm, yet keep your sense of humor. Enjoy the personalities that come into your life during a renovation, it felt like Caddyshack for us.
Dream Source: Our painter Ryan Summers. Ryan is an art school graduate, he is so bright and beyond helpful. He introduced us to all of these incredible local sources; from wood workers to master carpenters. Ryan has such integrity, work ethic and was a blessing to us. If you live in Rhode Island, use him! Ryan rocks.
Green Elements/Initiatives: Build things to last. Renovating an existing house is such a great way to reclaim a space. It starts with the basics, building a solid house, green insulation, great windows and we used a very efficient Viessmann heating and cooling system. The temperature is so much easier to control and you use fewer resources when a home is well insulated. We also used reclaimed wood floors and sourced a lot of our materials from local sources and used local builders. Also the majority of the furniture in the house is mid century furniture that has been purchased at auction, and could be resold at auction if we chose to do so. Investing in collectible furniture is not necessarily more expensive than other alternatives and allows you to recycle pieces back into the market as your needs change. Our Paul Frankl cork top dining table is my favorite example of this. For the landscaping, we leave large areas un-mowed. This supports local wildlife in the winter months and takes less water and resources to maintain our property. And of course, our well water collection and re-use is where it is at! And we used local fieldstone and local stone workers to restore it as it had been an old Native American well.
Appliances: Aga, Sub Zero and I LOVE my DCS stove. I used to have a Viking and the DCS has better control and is so much easier to clean.
Hardware: Turnstyle leather handles, Nanz Hardware and Waterworks in the bathrooms.
Furniture: Paul Frankl, Carlo Scarpa, Jean Michel Frank
Accessories: Cashmere throws and pillows
Lighting: Wyeth in New York has the best lighting fixtures, that is where we got the kitchen fixture, they have locations in NYC and in the Hamptons.
Rugs and Carpets: With two dogs and a lot of traffic we love cow hides for their durability.
Tiles and Stone: Waterworks for tile; marble we selected in Connecticut.
Window Treatments: Venetian blinds we bought online.
Artwork: William Eggleston, Milton Avery, Giacometti, Josef Sudek.
Paint: Donald Kaufman and Benjamin Moore.
(Thanks, Kate and Joseph!)
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(Images: Celeste Sunderland)