An active family designs a home with personal touches
Photographs by Ken Stabile
When they embarked on a renovation project seven years ago, the Kreitlers didn’t want a McMansion, even though their family of six could fill one. They struck a balance between space and character and the results were stunning. The Fairfield couple has lots of know-how when it comes to building and decorating for a big family, including tips on how to create a home that can withstand a gaggle of teens. Heather and John Kreitler were living in London when they decided to transform their ranch-style vacation home in Greenfield Hill into their permanent residence. John, who grew up in Fairfield and Southport, says settling here was the obvious choice. “It’s got everything: the familiarity of the town I grew up in, great beaches, one of the nicer golf courses in the state.”
The couple also happened to have the right connections to pull off an overseas renovation; Heather’s brother-in-law is architect Peter Morgan of New Jersey–based Outerbridge Morgan and her sister (Peter’s wife) is interior designer Susanne Morgan. “The house we had was nice, but it was outdated and quirky,” says Heather. “We knocked it down but didn’t change the footprint much, except extending the living room. We gained square footage by going up.” The result: 1,500 extra square feet for a grand total of 6,000. Still, by Fairfield County standards, Heather insists it’s not grand. “Except for the family room, which is a big congregating room for everyone, the rooms aren’t huge. We don’t have his-and-her closets or a movie room.” What the house does have is open architecture, yet clearly delineated rooms. “As the house is built on a slight hill, two different series of steps break up the sections of the house and add character. Otherwise the central hallway could look like a landing strip,” comments John, who aspired to be an architect as a kid. “It was a good plan by committee. Homestead Construction [a local builder] also had a reasonable amount of input.”
For a large family, John cites separation of kid and couple spaces as key. “The kids’ areas are near or above the kitchen and the master is at the other end of the house,” he explains. On one side of the ground floor are the formal rooms: living room, dining room, library; on the other side, the high-traffic kitchen and family room. “It’s private yet inclusive,” says John. “We know a bit about what’s going on at the other end of the house, but we’re not bothered by it.” Despite plans to have the library be an adult room—it’s John’s office during the day and serves as the bar area for parties—it is one area that has been unexpectedly invaded by teenagers. “I never thought of having a teen cave in my house, but they would love to have more of a hang-out room,” says Heather. “We may do that in the garage.”
The living room, exquisitely designed in linen tones, has survived in a house where a sticky-fingered toddler and muddy youngsters have roamed. “The kids don’t go in there—it’s still in mint condition. Same with the dining room,” says Heather. The flow of the house functions well in those areas, but Heather wishes she had put her foot down in enforcing use of another key big-family room: the mudroom. “It’s majorly underused,” laments Heather. “Everyone comes in through the door that goes to the kitchen instead of the door to the mudroom, which is a great room. There’s a closet for each kid, with doors that close so you don’t see all their stuff. I put their initials on them with metal letters from Anthropologie.” Another important utility room, the laundry room, further demonstrates that room location may be a more important factor than size. “It’s upstairs, at the top of the back staircase off the kitchen,” explains Heather. “It’s small but perfectly functional.” In seven years, the Kreitlers have not needed to update anything, until now. “We are redecorating the family room,” says Heather. “The orange wool rug I put there was so dense that it soaked up stains. I’m replacing it with a Sisal rug—they hold up really well—with a sheepskin rug on top to add comfort. We bought a big sectional couch, which is more practical and comfortable for bigger kids.” Heather does her decorating shopping at Dovecote, Bungalow, HB Home, Design Within Reach and Pickets, and also online at onekingslane.com, dwr.com and abchome.com. “I found a beautiful old acrylic table at Bungalow. It’s really modern and I put it smack in the middle of my formal English living room. I get a ton of compliments on it.”
A great find makes a good starting point. “It’s overwhelming to do a whole room at once, so instead I pick a table or beautiful rug or piece of fabric and decorate around that,” says Heather. “My other tip is to pick what you think is pretty, what you like. There are so many pretty things out there, I could redecorate every week.” Next on the list will be the children’s bedrooms. “They have had the same rooms since we moved in, but now Jack, who has the biggest bedroom, is off in college,” explains Heather. “You have to be flexible. When I have time, I will move the kids’ rooms around.” (Heads up, Jack!) Upon finishing the renovation in 2006, architect Peter Morgan stated that Heather and John’s home “was definitely one of our most successful projects.” Years later, those words still ring true for the Kreitlers.