From a perch atop a ledge in the enclave of Milbrook, a visitor to this three-story house is treated to a bird’s-eye view of the historic surroundings. Back in the early twentieth century, Brooklyn speculator Arthur H. Waterman and landscape architect Armand L. Tibbitts developed the community with a prescient, long-term view of suburban bliss—golf, tennis and a clubhouse. Built on the grounds of Jeremiah Milbank’s great estate, the area was referred to as a “carefully restricted residential park.” In 1926 Milbrook Country Club formally opened on the former property of infamous politician Boss Tweed. It’s hard to imagine one of Milbrook’s more famous residents—a young and introverted Truman Capote—enjoying the bucolic neighborhood and its social amenities in the late ’30s and early ’40s. But seventy-five years later, give or take, in 2014, it was this package—a homestead as well as access to recreational pursuits—that motivated a couple from New York’s Upper East Side to purchase the site where the building of a spec house was underway. With this strategy, they reasoned, it was a safe bet that the house would be in keeping with the area’s history and they could get in on the ground floor of its design.
“What really sold us was the idea of being in a neighborhood where our kids could bike and scooter freely and walk to a playground,” says the owner. “It’s so much fun to stroll down to the clubhouse and have family dinners or drinks on the patio after swimming or playing tennis.”
Once the purchase was behind them, the couple immersed themselves in the design process and upped the ante: An elevator and a roof deck would be among their personal twenty-first-century flourishes.
With the help of interior designer Anna Burke, and the participation of the homeowner’s husband, a financial executive and former professional lacrosse player, the young mother, previously an editor of fashion magazines, deployed her well-honed knack for style upon her latest project. Design, construction and decoration lasted roughly a year, and in 2015 the family moved in.
“I am obsessed with design and anything home-related,” she says, explaining that she wanted a house that was fun and accessible to all, but that offered some formal spaces for entertaining and guest rooms that would be inviting. “We entertain a ton.” The well-stocked and shimmering with Lucite butler’s pantry is proof of the “too many” dance parties she says she has thrown.
Her confidence and that of her designer are evident throughout the house—all 10,500 square feet of it. Color plays a starring role, an eye-catching spark in the rocky gray landscape that surrounds the house. In some spots the color is saturated, in others it’s frosted.
Among the highlights are a peaches-and-cream ceiling, a lush sofa the color of blackberry juice with contrasting embellishment of a pale-green grosgrain tape trim that resembles picture moldings on a wall. A pair of antique Italian chairs covered in a shade of fabric reminiscent of Caribbean waters picks up the thread across the room. Yellow and gold make appearances throughout. Altogether the combinations lend the interiors a sunny disposition with a subtext of sophistication.
“This client loves color and wanted plenty of it infused into the design,” Anna Burke explains. “This is a large home, which could take some big bursts. Then, to satisfy her husband’s more traditional tastes, we designed a dining room that’s warm and glamorous. It glows at night.”
With clever assemblages of new and vintage pieces, and modern art, the plan shows a deft touch. Case in point: The dining room’s sherbet-colored twelve-foot ceiling floats above walls dressed in a delicate chinoiserie covering. Silk draperies with a contrasting tape trim affirm the loft of the space above as well as the drama of the windows. But in an unexpected twist, the furnishings leap forward from the eighteenth-century hand-painting of the Far East into the present day with a statement-making table by Celerie Kemble, Burke’s former boss, that features bronze bases with brass details.
The effect carries over into other more formal sections of the home. The living room, centered on the blackberry-juice sofa, is a pastiche. An abstract painting in purple and yellow mixed media by Mary Nelson Sinclair, whom the owners discovered through gallery owner Blair Voltz Clarke, hangs above the tailored sofa, as if flirting with convention. A Swedish settee provides additional seating as do the Italian chairs, a regal island unto themselves.
Other charms in a house full of them are the staircase in the front foyer, which possesses that graceful curl on which the gown of a future prom queen might pool. In the homework room, a decorative painter added stripes like those of a circus tent to the ceiling. And in the library, paneling is drenched with dark hand-brushed high gloss. A guest room headboard upholstered in gingham blends into the wall, which is covered in the same fabric. Federal mirrors with elaborate gilded frames and burnished Moravian pendants bring a glint to rooms both public and private.
An expansive family room dominates the rear of the first floor, adjacent to a spacious kitchen featuring Calacatta Gold countertops. Cheery cornflower-blue upholstery—solid sofas, patterned berg‘eres—is a nod to the family’s home in Southampton, where they spend much of the summer.
From start to finish, the job had few challenges according to Burke, who, since 2014, has been in business with her sister in New York City. Behind their own Anna Burke Interiors shingle, they’ve been completing assignments throughout the tristate area, as well as in Palm Beach, the Hamptons, Virginia and Montana.
The chief goal was to maintain a warmth and coziness in the vast space characterized by high ceilings and large proportions. Burke says she handled it by layering spaces with wall-coverings, window treatments and lighting. She adds that the finished look is a bit more traditional than her typical project, which is a testament to her service philosophy to satisfy her client’s tastes rather than to fine-tune her own aesthetic. “I am proudest when I see how my clients belong in a space we created 100 percent for them.”
This family seems to agree.