Sandy Alexander, her husband, and her son were looking for the perfect place to call home. As a designer and entrepreneur, she had worked on many interior projects that included not just the design but the whole branding experience for companies such as gyms and hair salons. When they sold their previous home, they couldn’t find exactly what they were looking for until they came across a pictoresque lot that was an apple orchard in Stonington, Connecticut. Instead of purchasing a home and renovating it, they decided to design their dream modern farmhouse from the ground up.
Where were you and your husband living before you bought this home in Stonington?
My husband Jeff, our son and I were living in the Philadelphia suburbs in a really cool, mid-century modern home that we completely gutted and renovated. We called it “the treehouse” — it was in the woods nestled into the side of a hill with a steep driveway. We had a fabulous deck with a gorgeous view but we didn’t have a lot of sunlight which made the house damp and the vegetable garden I wanted impossible. It also had these contemporary, triangular windows that were terribly inefficient, a roof that leaked and I don’t think the house was well insulated.
How did you want your new home to be different?
Actually, we planned our new home to be the exact opposite of our last home. We knew we wanted to build a high-performance, super energy-efficient home first and foremost — and we wanted something with an abundance of natural light. The property we found was an old apple orchard — with one ailing apple tree still standing. I’ve lived in almost every style of home you can imagine…and I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my days in a farmhouse with a big garden and a level, green landscape for my son to run around. The property we found was a perfect fit for the style of home we wanted to build and the lifestyle we were trying to achieve.
It sounds so perfectly idyllic! What was it like to take on a new build project?
Neither of us had tacked a project as large as this before. We did a lot of work to our last home, and as a designer, I’ve worked on many renovations. But a ground-up, new construction home was a first. We spent a lot of time dreaming, planning and saving. Houzz was a great source of inspiration as was Pinterest.
How incredible to be able to completely decide everything about a space! Tell us about the layout.
In total, the house is 2,848 sq. ft. We spent a lot of time thinking about how we live, what we wanted and ultimately what we really needed. Our top priorities were an open concept floor plan, a big pantry, a mudroom, an office space and a screened-in porch. And since we’re planning on this being our forever home, everything essential on the first floor. Trying to maintain a modest footprint was a small challenge, but we’re not a big family so it wasn’t terribly difficult.
Were there certain structural decisions that were important?
We wanted to make strategic choices on materials that would last longer than your typical build materials — a metal roof, cement board siding (it’s fire, rot, and insect-resistant, comes pre-finished and is virtually maintenance-free), and Ipe decking for our porches. The deck on our last home had to be refinished every two years which was time-consuming and expensive.
Finally, we wanted to raise chickens, have a big vegetable garden and an outdoor firepit. Outdoor space is pretty important to us.
What was your first step after purchasing the property?
We were interviewing architects and simultaneously I was finding some great house plans online. I found a farmhouse plan that we loved and I reworked the floor plan to incorporate everything on our wishlist. We hired an architect to draw up the construction documents and used those for bidding the project.
How long did it take to carry out the project and were there any challenges along the way?
My husband and I feel very fortunate with how smoothly and quickly the project went. As soon as we closed on the property in late October of 2015, we began the design process. By March we settled on an amazing builder (Lehto Design & Build) who specialized in net-zero homes and finalized our construction documents with our architect. The only real challenge in timing was the permit process, but we broke ground in May 2016 and moved in seven days before Christmas.
It’s often hard for couples to make design decisions together, especially with that large scale of a project. How did you two resolve it?
My husband and I decided before we started that if one of us didn’t love a choice the other had made, we would look for an alternative. We both wanted to love the finished product.
I created a binder with mood boards for every single space with selections — tile, flooring, lighting, furniture and color palette choices and updated as needed. It was a great way to communicate with our builder and subcontractors and keep the overall aesthetic consistent from one room to the next. Anytime I went out to look for a light fixture or a door, that binder came with me!
That’s such a great tip for everyone designing their homes! Besides purchasing new items, you worked with artisans to make it a home that had character and felt unique, tell us about some of those collaborations.
It was very important for us to source as much as we could locally and enlist the help of artists in our area. Our biggest stroke of luck was when we responded to an ad on Craigslist for some barn beams. The barn beams didn’t work for us, but the daughter of the man selling them turned out to be a master woodworker. She single-handedly built our kitchen, master bathroom and mudroom cabinetry, 11’ island countertop, living room built-ins and pantry shelving. She really left her mark on our home!
Some of the furniture was handmade as well. Our neighbor (and original owner of our property) made us a set of beautiful Windsor dining chairs. An artist we found at Brimfield Antique Show made our dining room table, another our kitchen wall sconces, another a statement basket chandelier we hung in our great room.
Your choice of paint colors works wonderfully throughout the space, could you tell us which ones you used?
We wanted to stick with the traditional farmhouse palette for the exterior — white, black, grey and red. The exterior board and batten siding is James Hardie in “Arctic White”. The window trim is black and the metal roof is grey. We used red as an accent on the Bilco doors and fire pit chairs. We also did a traditional haint blue for the beadboard porch ceilings in Harbor Haze from Benjamin Moore.
For the interior, the main spaces are Simply White. The bedrooms are neutral with a hint of blue/green: Wickham Gray for the master, Stonington Gray for the guest, and Buxton Blue for my son’s room. All by Benjamin Moore.
What was one design decision that you are your husband are still in love with to this day?
That’s hard because we’re really happy with everything. We love the farmhouse aesthetic and the way the house fits perfectly in its setting. We also love the flow — how the master is separated on the south side of the house and our son’s room, mudroom, and laundry are on the north side. The kitchen/dining/living is truly the center of the home and where we spend most of our time.
Tell us about some of the pieces of decor that you’ve included?
We had agreed on a modern farmhouse, but from day one, my husband really wanted to lean into an industrial aesthetic. I wanted everything to feel organic and natural with a hint of glam here and there so trying to make all of that work was a bit of a challenge. I found an enormous rusty basket at Brimfield which I turned into a light fixture with a cluster of LED bulbs. It’s definitely a conversation piece!
The blue velvet couch came from Article and the nubby rug is from overstock.com. Some things were custom – like pillows and window treatments. I also love Chairish, One Kings Lane, Skinner Auctions and Ebay when I’m looking for really special, specific pieces.
I love our bed in the master. It’s from Restoration Hardware and it’s wrapped in metal with these tiny, brass nail heads. We also inherited a Victorian settee from my mother-in-law which I had reupholstered in a beautiful blush floral fabric from Kravet. We found these great red firehouse lockers that we cleaned up and put in our son’s room that look great against the Buxton Blue walls.
Which part of your home do you love the most?
The porches! The back, screened-in porch for a meal and a view of our garden. The front porch for a nap on the hammock or a glass of wine at sunset.