“There were these things called … Trees,” said Doctor Who actress Michelle Gomez, mocking her own astonishment at the verdant spectacle approaching the 1865 country house that she and her husband, Pirates of the Caribbean actor Jack Davenport, had bought in Litchfield County, Connecticut a few months earlier in the winter of 2018 when the property was blanketed in snow.
“I have never seen so much greenery,” the BAFTA contestant said of her first discovery of the luscious lawns, the flourishing vegetable patch and the cutting garden of radiant flowers, from delphinium to daisies to dogwood. These aforementioned trees, with thick canopies, are mainly ash trees and clustered in a private woodland on the edge of the eight-acre estate. Work and school had kept the family from escaping New York to their new bucolic retreat until spring 2019 was sparkling, dewy, and fully in bloom. (Also in residence with Gomez and Davenport are their 11-year-old son Harry, goddaughter Emma and Frank the Jack Russell Terrier.)
“It’s like stepping into a secret garden from a Charles Dickens novel,” says Gomez, a self-proclaimed city dweller from Glasgow. Such a revelation was this lush environment that Gomez’s antiquarian accomplice and Litchfield County neighbor Jennifer Chused, director of Chused & Co., a Brooklyn design studio, made it a touchstone in new interiors of the House.
The colonial era house was in good condition for its age. The high ceilings let cozy spaces breathe, and the aged patina of the original clapboard was more charming than shabby. “Far from perfect,” Gomez says. “But very comfortable. “
The original floorboards, however, had been stained an old-fashioned shade of brown and had been damaged by water. Chused was therefore inspired by the natural surroundings and painted them in dark green. “Normally I resist painting wood floors, but there was something too country about the 10-inch-wide medium brown wood planks,” says Chused, who also designed the family home in Brooklyn. “The rich green really made them special.” For the walls of the whole house, the designer chose “the perfect off-white,” which made up the greener green floors and created a neutral canvas for the living art and textiles to come.
If the landscape was a touchstone for the design, then the provenance of the house was its north star. “The idea of a country house was something that Michelle and Jack had grown up with,” says Chused. “They wanted a little bit of heritage in the design, so it was like they had always been there.” But when furnishing a 153-year-old home from scratch, a deep-rooted sense of place can be a tricky feat, unless you’re an antiques expert (Chused also buys and sells heirlooms to earn her life) with a faithful assistant (Gomez is an accomplished treasure hunter in her own right). Their tandem hunting grounds included the flea and antique markets of Millerton, New Preston, Connecticut and Litchfield, as well as the global inventory of Chused & Co.
In the dining room, Harry’s art projects – swirls of paint and fabric – unfold on the dining table. The table is an old teacher’s desk with some residue from his creative process. All the remains are easily disguised by the scarlet palette and ornate geometry of an ancient Persian rug. “The horns got stuck in customs and I forgot them until they got to my door four years later,” says Chused. “Maybe they were just waiting for the right house.”
Although the warmth and welcoming atmosphere of the living room can be attributed to the tall stacks of dog-eared books and the constant fire in the central foyer (“The first order of business every morning is to light all the fireplaces, regardless of the season. Just as inviting are the beautiful vintage club chairs. Won at an auction, the buttery leather seats are conveniently oversized so everyone can have a more comfortable, curled up sitting experience. And on the mantelpiece, a rare painting by early 20th-century Modernist furniture designer Tommi Parzinger sends a dazzling red flare into the otherwise cocooning environment.
“What I like most about the house are its unpredictable moments,” explains Gomez, whose taste for art is reminiscent of the house itself, that is to say firmly anchored in the tradition, but sometimes deliciously tangential. Although she has yet to acquire a much coveted portrait by French artist Thierry Guetta (aka Mr. Brainwash) of the British monarch wearing aviator sunglasses, Gomez has discovered a more affordable, but no less exciting option, by Washington, DC artist Josh Yöung. A copy of his painting Emma blushing– featuring the peach-and-cream face of a Jane Austen-style heroine anonymized by an irreverent pink slash across her eyes – hangs in the master bedroom, on a vintage chair also from the 19th century, at least in spirit. Nearby, Gomez displays a rare essay photo of queer Australian artist Leigh Bowery, taken by British figurative painter Lucian Freud. The portrait was given to Gomez by his mother-in-law, theater legend Maria Aitken.
But these flashes of decorative daring only make bucolic life an even more sublime distance from rocky reality. Most of the time when she’s around Gomez takes a long soak in the renovated upstairs bathroom, an area that has also been carefully appointed with vintage rugs and modern art, as well as a bathtub. Victoria + Albert in lightweight acrylic instead of traditional cast iron to avoid a calamitous crash through the floorboards. She then admires the most transcendent view the house has to offer, which is only the weather and the treetops. “We still can’t believe that we are here and that this house is ours,” Gomez says. “It’s like we’re waiting for the real owners to show up any minute.”