Designer helps New Canaan homeowner find her style

A Perfect Partnership


February – March 2011 Issue
By Rebecca Haynes

Karen Stevenson

Karen Stevenson

Karen Stevenson wanted her New Canaan home to be a retreat, a place where she and her two daughters could kick back and relax in surroundings that reflected their personalities, interests and lifestyle. But like many of us, she wasn’t quite sure where to start.

So she ventured into what can be intimidating territory — consulting an interior designer. What she discovered, however, is that you don’t need to be a member of the jet set to afford the services of these professionals. And by getting help from a pro, Stevenson

was able to spend her money more wisely, sinking the larger sums into the changes that made the biggest impact, such as faux painting on the hardwood floors.

Of course, it helped that Stevenson already knew Cathy Glass, a Stamford resident and founder of Cathy Glass Design Associates. Glass had been involved in a playroom project Stevenson’s family had undertaken at a prior home, so she got the call whenStevenson decided she needed some help with her new house. The first project they tackled was redesigning an upstairs bathroom.

“Since then it’s been more of an ongoing journey,” Stevenson says. “But she’s willing to work gradually with me and target the end game. She’s really helped me to figure out what the major pieces are that I should replace or acquire. The biggest value really has been the logical sequencing — how something would fit with what I had and what was going to have to wait (until the budget allows).”

LivingroomFirst they tackled the living room, which didn’t get used because it was too formal. Much of Stevenson’s decorating inspiration came from her desire to prominently display the black and white family portraits taken by Darien photographer Ben Larrabee. “They were so clean and crisp and really more informal and we loved them and wanted to go with that feel,” she says.

Carpeting and draperies were replaced and the taupe walls got a new modern color. Reupholstering some of her furniture made sense. And Glass helped her find the antique Chinese cabinet, as well as many of the room’s other pieces, including lamps, which she brought to the house so Stevenson could try them out before making her final choice.

One improvement that she couldn’t test ahead of time, however, was the faux painting on the hardwood floors. “We tried a lot of different solutions with the front hallway and Cathy suggested painting (the floor),” Stevenson says. “The compass was her idea. Then it was her idea to do the kitchen floor because we wanted something to give (the room) some personality.”

compassGlass suggested Christianson Lee Studios in Ridgefield for the job and Stevenson had to put her trust in the artist, Glass and a computer image of the proposed “rug” and diamond design that would end up on her floor. It was a fascinating process to follow, she says, as the floor was sanded and everything was measured precisely for the painting that followed. And she loves the end result.

Floor detail kitchen“It’s a hard thing to commit to,” she admitted. “But being able to see a computerized image of what it would look like was very helpful.”
Another room revamping directed by Glass — the formal dining room — contributed significantly to changing the overall feel of the house. The “before” room was heavy and uninviting, with dark red walls, a mahogany hutch, table and chairs and toile drapes. Stevenson’s family never used it. “I think the deciding factor for me was when I hosted three things here and I didn’t even consider using that room,” Stevenson says. “So I sold those pieces to a consignment shop and really decided to commit to a whole new feel for the room.”

Kitchen DetailHer new, modern dining room is clean and welcoming and a polar opposite from anything Stevenson would have imagined herself. An ultra modern zinc table with a black iron “X” base replaced the traditional mahogany. “They actually put salt on it and let it sit out in the rain (to weather the surface),” Stevenson says of the way the table was created. “Going to metal like this was a huge step for me, but I felt very comfortable about making the change.”

A large antique store cabinet is a focal point that lets the family display beautiful keepsakes and art, as well as hide papers and office supplies that are needed now that Stevenson and her daughters use the room for doing school and paperwork. The gray grass cloth wallpaper and soft draperies complete the feel, filling the room with light and creating a more peaceful setting. And the starburst mirror, originally thought to be a temporary fix to an empty wall, is one of Stevenson’s favorite things in the room. “It’s very easy to be here. It has more of a library feel.”

Stevenson says working with Glass helped her to imagine and think out of her comfort zone. “And I’ve come a long way if I can walk through the store and say I want those zebra stools,” she says, referring to the two small ottomans she saw at Lillian August and thought would be a perfect addition to the living room.

“She gives practical suggestions,” Stevenson says of Glass. “She has clients where she flies all over the country and I’m in this predictable 1964 colonial. I’m a tiny project. But she’s never pushed or said you have to buy this. So (using a decorator) has really worked for me financially and relative to the family schedule.”@


• Cathy Glass Design Associates, 31 Prospect St., White Plains, NY 10605; (914) 993-1435;; e-mail
• Christianson Lee Studios, 44 Old Mill Road, Ridgefield 06877; (203) 798-0098;; e-mail
• Lillian August, 32 Knight St., Norwalk 06851; (203) 847-3314.
• Alix Unlimited, 45 Mayhew Ave., Larchmont, NY 10538; (914) 834-2478.

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