Chris Madden Has Comfort All Her Own

For designer, houses are ‘havens’

By Olivia Barker
from USA Today — September 24th, 2004

USA TODAY September 24th, 2004

PURCHASE, N.Y. — For more than a decade, interior designer Chris Madden has been preaching the idea of home as haven.

But touring her house here about an hour north of Manhattan, perhaps her mantra should be changed to room as haven, or alcove as haven, or nook as haven. Madden’s home is a rambling warren of mini-refuges — a sofa-comfy kitchen banquette, a sitting-room window seat, a walk-in-closet turned snug study — tucked into a century-old, 3,500-square-foot stone carriage house. Even her West Highland terriers, Winnie, Lola and Teddy, have enclosed nests.

"I guess everyone does have their own space in this house," Madden says. She’s standing in yet another retreat, the generously proportioned, warmly appointed master bath, the "raison d’etre," she says, for buying the property a year and a half ago. (Her bathroom at her former house, in nearby Rye, was only slightly bigger than a shower stall.)

In her boudoir-cum-bath, amid Jerusalem gold limestone and beneath a crystal and bronze chandelier, "it’s so relaxing when I lie in my tub and see Marilyn (Monroe) lying in her tub," one of nine silver-framed, black-and-white photos from Harper’s Bazaar that hang on the wall.

In fact, "relaxing" describes the house as a whole, with its calming palette and traditional but not particularly fussy decor. Touches of French farmhouse abound, particularly in the Provençal-yellow living room and limestone-floored kitchen, where framed menus from Madden’s favorite restaurants adorn the mustard wall.

"Now more than ever, people need their homes to be havens, because of everything that’s gone on in the world," says Madden, 56, who turned her attentions to toile and tapestry three decades ago, when women were "supposed to be breaking the glass ceiling, not gilding it." Her belief in the sovereignty of sanctuary really began to strike a chord in 1997 with the publication of A Room of Her Own, a peek into the private retreats of 40 women, including her client Oprah Winfrey.

She continues to commit the concept to paper with her latest book, Haven: Finding the Keys to Your Personal Decorating Style (Clarkson Potter). It’s also a vision she has committed to wood, cotton and chenille with the launch of a furniture and housewares collection for J.C. Penney.

A bevy of books, a brand associated with a major mass retailer, even those pretty blond looks — comparisons with Martha Stewart are frequent and somewhat tiresome. ("The M word," jokes Madden’s spokeswoman, Barbara Marks, when talk turns to the inevitable.)

Though Madden is an admirer of Stewart’s aesthetic, "I never had an interest to look over my shoulder and see what Martha was doing." She likes to tweak the very quality that buoyed Stewart’s success: "I’m into the perfection of imperfection."

Consider how she solved the property’s major problem. Though the house sits on 3½ wooded acres, the land abuts a highly trafficked parkway. So to blunt the noise from the road when you’re strolling the grounds, she installed outdoor speakers shaped like rocks to blend in with the pink roses and dinner-plate-sized white hibiscus.

"You take these challenges and you turn them around and" — lo! — "you have music in your garden."
Sometimes perfect imperfection can manifest itself as simple ingenuity. Take the living room’s corner table, covered in brown dupioni silk. Lift the luxurious fabric and underneath sits a modest glass-topped garden table. With three men in and out of the house (husband and business partner Kevin and their two sons, Patrick, 23, who works for C-SPAN, and Nick, 19, a college sophomore), copious quantities of "boy shoes" are a minor headache, or, um, foot cramp. "I was always stepping on them," Madden says.
The storage solution? A huge but handsome covered basket — akin to a snake charmer’s — positioned in an entryway.

It’s adjacent to another Madden-conceived curl-up spot, the den. Before the family moved in, the space "looked like a bowling alley" — long, narrow and stark white. She erected an archway between the foyer and the den’s main lounging area. A new paint job transformed it into a cozy cavern of earthy browns, complete with a substantially stuffed sectional sofa and leopard-print wing chair.

"Bowling alley" also describes the original master suite. Madden broke up the space with a wall, creating a separate yoga studio and sitting room. The overwhelmingly ivory bedroom itself features a vaulted ceiling supported by four exposed wooden beams and, by a window, a nap-friendly duchesse brisée— an ornate chair and ottoman set. Propped on the seat is a cushion, a needlepoint Westie stitched on the face. "I don’t know if that’s the chic-est pillow," Madden says, smiling.

Abbreviated asylums dot the outdoors as well: the khaki-and-stone-striped poolside cabana, inside which you’ll find Madden tapping away at her laptop or entertaining guests. Tucked into the backyard among the boxwood is a pair of Victorian cast-iron chairs nestled by an arched trellis. There are other storybook surroundings, such as the two "weird, gnarly, Alice in Wonderland-looking" beeches at the end of the driveway.

"There is such a good feeling here, good karma," says Madden, standing in her airy, granite-pillared dining room, where Model Ts once parked. "When I walked in, I knew I had to have it."