A Perfect Fit

Small can be beautiful, but you have to make every inch count. Designer Chris Madden shows how one family of five turned their small Connecticut cottage into a stylish gem.

Like many young couples, Agnes Rethy and husband Christopher Lynch bought their first house when they were expecting their first child. The 1970s Colonial-style house in the seaside enclave of Westport, CT, appealed to their traditional tastes, and its 1,700 square feet of space seemed the right size. Now, six years later, Rethy and Lynch still love their home, but as their family has grown from two to five, the couple has had to be inventive to keep the snug rooms from feeling cramped. Fortunately, a pared-down sense of style and an affinity for organization come naturally to Rethy, an interior designer and former creative director of Chris Madden, Inc.


“When you’re living in a small space, it’s critical to keep your style consistent from room to room,” says designer Chris Madden. Rethy took this rule to heart as she decorated, adhering to a neutral palette in all the rooms on the first floor. “I wanted the whole house to have a sense of flow,” she says. “Although I didn’t use the same paint hues on all the walls, I made sure all the colors work together.” The house lacked some of the old-fashioned charm the couple was looking for, so new crown moldings were added, which also helped provide a stronger architectural identity throughout.

Against this subtle backdrop, Rethy used brilliant white—from the finish on the kitchen cabinets to the slipcovered furnishings—to further unify the main living areas. White? With three kids under the age of 7? “Everything in the house is washable, from the walls to the silk curtains in the dining room,” she explains. “That’s key when you have kids. It saves a bundle on dry cleaning.” Natural materials—in curtains, pillows, slipcovers—are another running theme, in keeping with Rethy’s vision for the house. She used cotton, wool, silk, sisal, jute, and linen-no synthetic fibers anywhere.

Tiny touches of shimmer amid all that white-crystal knobs on the cabinets, for example—lend a hint of sophistication to the family-friendly home, the way sparkly earrings add polish to a little black dress.



“Homeowners often choose black-and-white photos for an arrangement like this, but against such a neutral backdrop the pop of color is refreshing,” says designer Chris Madden. “And all-white frames make these eclectic photos feel like a true collection”



A small kitchen’s expansive makeover: A coat of white paint and new crystal knobs spruce up the cabinets; space-saving sliders replace French doors to the deck; and laundry and art supplies hide behind the louvered doors


The tiny entry hall gets a big dose of style from a diminutive table and an ornate mirror Rethy found at an antiques shop and painted white. A basket corrals boots and shoes-ready for outdoor forays


The real trick to having great style in a small house lies in the way you live in the space and how you outfit it. Visitors might notice only the light, bright look of the decor, but there’s a secret behind this success. &lquo;Make no mistake, this is a very organized house,” says Madden. In each room, Rethy chose furnishings that do double duty, either as hidden storage or as visual sleights of hand, making the space seem larger with their presence. In the family room, for example, an elegant Swedish-style bench has storage beneath the seat and converts into a train table for son Oliver, 2, most days. A floor-to-ceiling bookshelf holds matching baskets labeled with each child’s name, “so they know where to put away their things at the end of their playtime,” says Rethy. She color coordinated all the containers in her open storage units-which look pleasingly monochromatic, not messy-even down to the photo albums she and her husband keep there. “All her albums are covered in brown kraft paper,” notes Madden. “It’s an easy way to create a pulled-together look.”




When the weather is warm, the backyard, with its deck, patio, and play area, expands the square footage of the house—a key feature for any small home.



Another family room wall hosts an ever-changing gallery of family photos. “I used a variety of frames, but all in the same color, so they’d look like a collection,” says Rethy. Gallery-style picture lights-a sophisticated touch-illuminate this sweet family display.

The children’s kitchen play set-picked up at a garage sale-harmonizes with the overall design because Rethy painted the units the same shade of white as her own kitchen cabinets, added identical crystal knobs on the cabinet doors, and even matched the color of the kids’ tabletop to that of the grown-ups’ kitchen counters.

In the dining room, a pair of French doors open onto the deck, making the narrow room appear larger. The circa-1970 Parsons table floats in the space, thanks to its light-reflective glass and chrome. Rethy had the white covers of a set of IKEA dining chairs monogrammed, adding instant elegance to her bargain find.

Upstairs, the master bedroom is pale and serene, but the children’s rooms are as bright as they are. Abigail, 6, and Vivien, 4, share a room papered in a green-on-cream toile, and Oliver’s nursery is a sunny yellow. But the family spends more time downstairs or outside, where the backyard affords space for playing and entertaining. “In a small house, you have to make a place for everything—and everyone,” says Madden. Thanks to her deft designs, Rethy and her husband and three kids feel right at home.

If you’ve chosen a busy pattern, be sure to balance it with something simple
Chris Madden


Soft colors light up the family’s bedrooms, from green and splashes of pink for the girls’ (left; below, right) to a bright yellow for the boy’s (opposite), and peach (below, left) in the master bedroom. A kid-smart space saver: the shallow bookcase, opposite, with covers facing out