Real Estate / Mansions

Small is the New Big

BY Rebecca Sherman // 06.30.15

Prized for its modestly sized stylish houses built in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, West Highland Park remains one of the few neighborhoods in the area virtually untouched by the wrecking ball. So, when designer Cynthia Collins of Collins Interiors bought her first property last year in West HP with the idea to gut, renovate and flip it, she carefully considered the surroundings. “There are not any large houses there yet, and I wanted to keep the integrity of the neighborhood,” she says. The interiors firm finished a second house in West HP in May, located at 4611 Belclaire. “We thought, ‘Maybe there’s a niche for other smaller houses,’” says Collins. “I’ve noticed that my clients who live in these big houses sit more in their smaller spaces.”

Years of working with architects and helping clients with interior architecture opened up a new avenue for the firm. “Our primary business is interior design and always will be,” she says. “But we love the architecture side of things, and we’ve been helping clients with it for so long, we thought, ‘Why not try it ourselves?’” At 3,800 square feet, the house on Belclaire has been taken down to the studs, totally rebuilt (including new plumbing and electrical) and expanded. Listed by Briggs Freeman for $1.395 million, the house took 11 months to finish. “It’s essentially new construction, but it looks very much a part of the neighborhood. It’s been updated to live the way we live now,” Collins says.

The house had belonged to a friend’s mother, and it hadn’t been touched in 40 years. When Collins and her team reimagined the residence, they created it for the empty nesters they envisioned would live there. “We made the living room a bit smaller than it was originally and made the dining room bigger,” she says. “When you are an empty nester, you don’t use the living room as much, but your family comes home for the holidays, and you need to seat a lot of people in the dining room.” Therefore, the dining room is capable of holding 12 to 14 people comfortably at a large table. “We have clients of all ages, but we have a lot in their mid-50s and 60s, and they find that when the kids go away, they do gather at the dining table when they’re home” with extended family, she says. The kitchen, while separate from the dining area, reflects the home’s more traditional feel yet is large enough to accommodate new cooking needs. “There is a shift after the kids leave,” Collins says. “You have time to cook, time to prepare and time for the family to come over to sit down and eat.”

4611 Belclaire Ave.
The large family room offers plenty of space and natural light.

But the house is also perfect for families with teens, with its large den for gathering and a breakfast area that overlooks the backyard. The large laundry room can be accessed from a vestibule leading to the attached garage, along with a drop-off area for sports gear. The three bedrooms have large closets, and another room with built-in storage and cabinets can be used for gift wrapping, sewing or arts and crafts.

The Belclaire house may have the charm and elegance of one built 80 years ago, but it forgoes the small windows that often make vintage interiors dark. “People like a lot of light, so we put large windows throughout the house, including the kitchen,” she says. “So much natural light comes in that you don’t even have to turn the lights on.”

Inside and out, the details are refined. “We didn’t cut corners on the finish out,” Collins says. The floors are bleached, weathered oak, and the walls and doors are bathed in serene contrasting Benjamin Moore paint colors or swathed in high-end wall coverings such as Phillip Jeffries grass cloth, Brunschwig & Fils and Walker Zanger. Stylish Ann Sacks tile and satin brass hardware are used in the kitchen and bath rooms. The rooms are exquisitely staged with antique and new furnishings from Blue Print, the home-furnishings store that Collins co-owns, and everything is available for purchase. The house is already a big hit with the neighborhood. “People have stopped by to tell us how appreciative they are that we didn’t go overboard in size,” she says. “They think it fits right in.”

The company has begun hunting for a third small property in West HP to purchase. “We’re looking for around 2,000 square feet — we want to keep it small,” says Collins, who loves the stylishness that petite spaces exude. “We have friends in New York with these tiny apartments that are so chic. That’s the look we’re going for,” she says. 4611 Belclaire, $1.395 million, through Briggs Freeman.

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