Years before interior designer and stylist Ingrid Leess moved into her New Canaan, Connecticut, home, its history as a charming family haven was well established. In the 1940s, its land was deeded to the housekeepers of a neighboring mansion, who built the comfy home for themselves and their six children. When Ingrid moved in nearly half a century later, little of the original structure had changed. And, although she needed to expand the house with a modular addition, she placed careful attention on keeping the essence of the bucolic setting intact.
“I maintained the integrity of the farmhouse style, but tried to make it fresh with color and a personal mix of furnishings,” Ingrid says. Since a majority of her pieces were either inherited from her Swedish grandmother or found at flea markets, they naturally reinforce the cozy, nostalgic spirit of the home. “I go to everything from local church sales to the flea market in Paris,” says the designer. “If I drive by a garage sale, I can’t help but stop.”
The key to integrating her assorted treasures is all in the mix—combining new and old pieces in unexpected ways. This approach is fully evident in the dining room, where a set of chairs from Goodwill surrounds a table whose base was passed down to Ingrid many years ago. She implemented a bit of ingenuity to give the table base its finishing touch. “I had a furniture-maker friend create a reversible wooden top,” she says. “It’s stripped oak on one side and sports a painted white finish on the other, so I can simply flip it over whenever I want a different look.”
An array of salvaged items with similar charm permeate the home’s other rooms with an ambience both familiar and fresh. An old scrubbed-pine coffee table adds personality to the family room, a rustic chest of drawers warms the kitchen, and Ingrid’s remarkable glass-bottle and ceramic collections create a striking tableau in the living room. For the latter, the designer installed basic shelving to contain her ever-changing exhibits. “Right now I’m really into white pottery, but I collect things on a whim,” she says. “Earlier it was silver trays, and in a couple of months it might be found objects, I love having the big wall for display.”
After styling countless interiors for magazine photo shoots, Ingrid has learned plenty of tricks for keeping a home looking picture perfect—particularly when it comes to actually living with her favored white sofas. “I have a slipcover philosophy,” she admits. “I’ve had the same linen one in the living room for about 10 years and it’s showed nothing.” Keeping her large furnishings—like puffy couches and roomy down-filled armchairs—in predominantly solid colors in a limited palette, allows Ingrid to accent her rooms with changing color, pattern and texture combinations. Throughout, polka dots play off stripes, plaid shares space with damask, and sheepskin overlays sisal.
“I have so many rules about color and fabrics, but I keep on breaking them,” Ingrid says. “It’s just about mixing, editing and, most importantly, balancing contrasts, whether they are subtle or strong.” And that’s exactly what is so remarkable about Ingrid’s interior: The juxtapositions may be potent, but they never overpower the inviting comfort of it all.
Up Close with Ingrid
- What inspires you? Travel, whether it’s traveling through the woods, down an aisle at a flea market or on the beach. Inspiration is everywhere.
- How do you keep your home family friendly? I want the house to be welcoming, not fussy. I like colors that are light and soothing. I also feel a mix of formal and casual furnishings and accessories are extremely important. And a soft, comfy throw near every seat.
- What is one word that best sums up your style? Mix.
- What are a few things you can’t live without? My two daughters who are my panel of experts. French lavender candles; cashmere throws; my antique glass bottle collection; my Isuzu Trooper, for hauling all of my stuff; and my Swedish grandmother’s desk.
- What are your pet peeves? Bad lighting and McMansions.
- Which is your favorite room? My bedroom—it’s my sanctuary.
- Do you ever make seasonal changes? I make slight changes, such as switching the white slipcover of my sofa to beige wide-wale corduroy in winter.
- What DIY accomplishment are you most proud of? The shelves in my bedroom, which are planks from Home Depot with Ikea brackets. They serve up a ton of display and storage options.