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,”
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.