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Building Character

An artful couple combines their talents to compose a well-balanced retreat in Little Compton

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Pop of color, shiplap, and flow are terms often thrown around in home decor talk these days, but in the most unpretentious way possible, Gail Greenwood uses “chiaroscuro” to convey the interior style to which she and longtime paramour, Henry “Chil” Mott, abide in their Little Compton cottage. This art school term references the interplay of light and shadow and how it casts and contrasts from objects. “We’re artists so we can’t get away from composition,” offers Greenwood. “It’s all about where light meets dark. There are no overstuffed couches, and we try to hide things – like microwaves – under counters.”

Composition rules the day in the home that is at once welcoming and livable but also filled with vignettes using items that play hopscotch with periods and subjects. Family heirloom pieces play nicely with salvaged finds, collections and curiosities, and art. Contributing to this streamline aesthetic is antique furniture which tends to be slim and leggy, leaving a small visual footprint. Most pieces have been handed down from friends and relatives or rescued. “It’s rare that something new is ever bought. We mostly reduce, reuse, and recycle stuff,” says Greenwood, who had slipcovers made of durable bark cloth in a graphic pattern for her mom’s rattan set used in the living room.

While the couple’s adoration for chipped finishes and timeworn pieces is evident, there’s no hiding that they both possess the eyes of graphic designers and also favor clean lines and vibrant colors. Choices in the kitchen like a Herman Miller poster from the artist’s Summer Picnic series gives a sense of place and connect with Fiestaware stock in red displayed on white open shelves held by black brackets. Various shades of complementary colors red and green can be found in most every room, as can something black and white. In the bedroom, the colorway softens with nubby chenille and childhood portraits painted by Greenwood’s mom, Dot. Decorative accents and home goods are paired with their neighbors on the color wheel.

The single-story home; which Greenwood defines as New England Ranch or Swamp Yankee, began as a humble chicken feed cook house. In the 1950s, its then-owners added on as determined by need. Since taking ownership in 2005, Greenwood and Mott have made many structural revisions of their own. For starters, to remedy sagging in the original part of the house, built circa 1900, Mott crawled under the floors to replace beams by hand, shoring up the joists using car jacks. A first visit to the attic led to the discovery of the original roof line obscured by a drop-in ceiling, which Mott opened up to a cathedral-style; still keeping the original roof line resulted in a feature which Greenwood likens to a house within a house. Mott also knocked down the walls of a dark bedroom to create the now sun-filled open kitchen complete with French doors leading to the back property.

While a small home, a sense of breeziness prevails thanks to gleaming hardwoods left bare and minimal window treatments which offer views of unspoiled acreage lined with stone walls. “We like lots of sunlight!” says Greenwood. “No curtains, just natural grass roller shades mounted in the windows.” Neutral wall colors are framed by glossy white to accentuate substantial trim, an architectural detail favored by the couple.

The Farm-Coast setting provides a retreat for the industrious couple, who run a graphic design business, Greenwood Associates Design, from their primary residence in Middletown. When they’re not designing, painting, or illustrating, they’re rocking out – together in their band Benny Sizzler – or for Gail, traveling the globe as bassist in the alt-rock band Belly.

Sure, the modest house has been a lot of work, but more a labor of love. “Location, location, location,” says Greenwood, who notes that the only store for a mile, Wilbur’s General Store in the Commons, is just a bike ride away. “It closes at six o’clock though, so you gotta hustle!”