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Comfort and Joy
House & Garden, November 2005

Each spring a pair of ducks plop down by a pool overlooking the chill waters of Long Island Sound. As the gray branches of the surrounding 250-year-old oaks brighten with fresh green leaves, ducklings practice the heated pool before heading off into the open water. “I like to think it is the same family each year,” says Dixon Boardman, the debonair hedge fund manager who has overseen the birds’ sanctuary for some 20 years.

Yet even as his sweeping gardens and lawns underwent a natural renewal each year, his brick house remained the same. When Boardman proposed to Princess Arriana Hohenlohe of Austria, sprucing up the idyllic retreat took on some urgency.

As they planned the June 2001 wedding, they turned to New York designer Ralph Harvard, who had helped Dixon with his New York apartment after a divorce. Harvard, who is also know for his preservation and restoration projects, could sense he was in for some good times. “They’re a delightful couple and completely unpretentious,” he says.

That lack of pretension matches their property. “It is not a grand house,” Arriana says. “That’s not my husband’s style, and it’s not mine either.

The Boardmans’ main house and its detached guesthouse were originally outbuildings on a grand Gold Coast estate that the architectural firm Walker & Gillette began in 1913. The Boardmans and Harvard agreed that the larger house needed almost no remodeling. “We didn’t make a lot of architectural changes,” Harvard says. “We wanted to open the house up more to let in the glorious light.” The couple wanted to enhance the comfort of the already comfortable rooms, each with a working fireplace. “Cozy and comfortable was the goal,” Dixon says. They also wanted to highlight the structure’s simple detailing, a signature of Walker & Gillette.

The Boardmans opted to refurbish family pieces and furniture that he had purchased at auction rather than start anew. “At the time, I was not very knowledgeable about furniture,” says Arriana. “I was twenty-five years old and I was inspired by colors and patterns. I was quite sure of what I was looking for – a framboise-colored living room, a sort of dressy feeling played down with sisal.”

Manhattan yielded almost the exact fabric, a red cotton and silk damask, that she wanted to cover the walls, and achieved perfection by using it in reverse. On a trip to London, Arriana spotted the embroidered fabric that would be used elsewhere in the room. Harvard located the gilt chairs, which he re-covered in Arriana’s selection of apple green silk. “I love the way the apple green plays off the red,” Harvard says. “The living room is my favorite. It’s got a lot of older things in it, but it open enough that it doesn’t feel dowdy.”

The dining room needed to accommodate the couple’s constant entertaining. Most of the time, everyone fits around the large circular table in the pine-paneled room. When the guest list inches past 12, the Boardmans set up a second table to accommodate as many as 20. Getting people to visit isn’t a problem. “This is a peaceful place – you hear nothing but nature,” Dixon says. “Aside from the quiet, there’s a tennis court, fishing off the sea wall, and a Boston Whaler for exploring when Arriana hasn’t take it across the Sound to train for competition with her two show hunters, Gatsby and Broadway Baby.

The rightness of the couple’s emphasis on comfort is apparent in the entry hall, with its polished, wide-plank floors and simple curved staircase with an arched door underneath that leads to the living and dining rooms. Harvard followed the eighteenth-century convention of painting the baseboards a much darker shade than the white wainscoting. “It tricks the eye to give the illusion of a wider room,” he says, “and the mopboard doesn’t get scuffed up.” A substantial Regency-style that he based on a 1930s version, usually stacked with books, signals that quiet relaxation won’t be hard to come by.

Indeed, Arriana’s favorite room is their bedroom, a retreat pulled together by fabrics she selected to emphasize its warmth. The apricot-yellow palette she chose soothes, and the decision to use a rough cotton for the curtains, with taffeta under-curtains, reverses the usual order of things.

“It has staggeringly beautiful views,” she says of the ever changing, tree-framed vista across a body of water always alive with boats. “What’s really nice is not looking into empty ocean. We have perspective, and our guests are very appreciative of the view.”

Sharing the house with friends and family is the Boardmans’ ideal. To be able to live there full-time “would be the biggest luxury in the world,” says Arriana. And even part-time residence is just ducky.