Meadowlands Estate Gets Glowing Makeover From Local Designers

Elena Philips, Bridal Suite (Photo credit: Jane Beiles)


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DARIEN – Not even Saturday’s torrential rain could dim the glow of The 203 Project, the community-driven effort by the Darien Community Association to refresh their Meadowlands estate.  

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 15,000 square foot, Regency-style mansion was built in 1876 and was due for a makeover, according to DCA Executive Director Erin Noonan.

“These should be rooms that wow, so when you’re done with a tour, you’re like ‘This is amazing. I want to have my wedding here.’  And it wasn’t doing that,” Noonan said.  “It was feeling like you were walking into a place that was very tired and needed a refresh.  We’ve been calling this a glow-up, we need this space to glow.”

But the nonprofit lacked the budget for a major renovation, so the idea was born to invite local designers to donate their time and vision to reimagine the space, while preserving the house’s rich history and supporting sustainability, one of the association’s core values.  

Called The 203 Project, each designer was given a room, a small budget and six weeks to transform the space.  

And the results did not disappoint the hundreds of visitors that bought tickets to the sold-out showhouse tours over the weekend.  

Karen Bow, Kitchen (Courtesy of DCA)

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” said Darien resident and “wannabe interior designer” Elizabeth Riva. “I’ve been to many show houses and I think this show house was more impressive to me than even the Kips Bay one last spring in New York City.  I’m incredibly impressed.  They did a wonderful job.”  

Riva said she has lived in Darien for over ten years and has been inside the DCA house several times for lectures and her children’s cotillion classes.  “The home has never felt more welcoming and warm and beautiful,” she said.  “The mansion has been elevated to a level that I’ve never seen.  It’s really gorgeous.”

DCA Board member Liza Smith said The 203 Project has surpassed her expectations.  She is hopeful that the revitalization project will bring more awareness to the DCA’s classes and programs. 

“The space is such a well loved part of the community and really special to Darien.  There’s nothing like this in other communities that I’ve lived in,” she said.  “I think a lot of people don’t know all the wonderful offerings that we have and I’m so excited with this glow-up that the extended community can learn about the DCA.”  

Each redesigned room has a sustainability story – something that was original to the house or the space that is now a part of the glowed up design.  In another nod to sustainability, all of the replaced fixtures and furniture will be for sale in the DCA thrift store with proceeds continuing to support their nonprofit mission.  

Fiona Leonard, East Room (Photo credit: Davison McCulloh)

Most of the new furnishings, fabrics and fixtures were donated by area businesses.  According to Noonan, over one hundred local artists, designers, woodworkers, builders, painters, plumbers, electricians, masons, upholsterers, wallpaper hangers, organizers, photographers and landscapers lent their time and talent to the project. 

Noonan thinks it’s an idea that could be modeled at other public spaces, including Darien’s Great Island.  “So many people contributed. It was such a community effort,” she said. “We had a resounding yes from everybody that we asked in town.”

Noonan said she hopes the refreshed estate will attract more members and event bookings, thus raising more money for DCA programs and college scholarships.  DCA is the largest provider of scholarships to Darien High School students and awards at least $50,000 to graduates every year.  “This was a community driven initiative and it’s all to benefit our community,” she said. “It comes full circle.”

Participating designers embraced the challenge and said they enjoyed being part of the innovative project.  

Prudence Bailey of Prudence Home and Design said she drew inspiration from the Gilded Age for her revamping of the house’s main entrance.  Despite living in Darien for 14 years, she hadn’t visited the DCA until recently but was impressed by its potential.  “I was amazed by the space.  But really what made me do it was knowing that my design would live on,“ she said.  “It was really meaningful to be able to get this to life.”

Bailey also said she has made some lasting connections through The 203 Project.  “I think everyone involved has had such a fabulous time.  And I think all of us designers are going to walk away with friendships that we’ve made.  Now we’re like super tight, which I love.  I’m really going to miss seeing them all the time now.”

“I think it’s been lovely to contribute something to the community,” said Carey Karlan of Last Detail Interior Design, who transformed the McKittrick Room, host to the association’s weekly bridge games, into a garden-themed respite.  She wanted to revitalize the community space from the drab state she found it in.  “It was pretty grim. It was washed out pale gray with gray draperies, very sad.”  

Karlan said she believes the “glow-up’ will help attract higher-end events and new members to the DCA.  Karlan said while it is good advertising for the participating designers, she admitted it was an “expensive undertaking” and with only six weeks to complete the project “you really had to pull in all your favors.”

Alicia Sands Tiberio of Riverside’s Dorset and Pond redesigned the DCA’s Private Event Office with custom wallpaper in robin egg blue.  “Brides come through here so I wanted it to feel happy and optimistic and light and bright – how you should feel when you’re planning your wedding,” she said.  

Tiberio said being a part of The 203 Project was a fun and collaborative experience and that if she was asked to participate in something similar in the future, “I’d say yes in a heartbeat.”

Fiona Leonard of Fiona Leonard Interiors was tasked with redesigning the East Room which as one of the first rooms visitors encounter, is meant to give a warm welcome to all who enter.  Leonard said it took five days of taping and staining, “lots of math and patience” to create the beautiful stage floor which is the highlight of her design.   

In the space, Leonard incorporated a painting by Ryan Wallace who was a recipient of a DCA scholarship to attend Rhode Island School of Design after graduating from Darien HIgh School.  He now has galleries in the Hamptons and Brooklyn.  

Leonard said the designers were committed to honoring the history of the home.  “We care about the fact that this isn’t a new build. This has some meaning and gravitas and we didn’t want to ignore that.”

Growing up in Darien and now raising her three children in town, Leonard said the extensive community involvement in The 203 Project was inspiring.  

“People were able to get involved and give back and collaborate and make new contacts and you can feel the energy is just so positive,” she said.  “The community came together and created something beautiful.”

For those who were unable to attend the weekend show house tours, Connecticut Cottages and Gardens magazine is featuring a 20-page spread on the 203 Project in their July/August issue.