After spending most of her childhood in the quaint rural towns of southern England—surrounded by charming gardens and picturesque roads—it seemed only natural for Debbie Propst, president of One Kings Lane, to relocate to New Canaan, Connecticut, to raise her growing family. The quiet New England town—a one-hour commute from her office in New York City—has its own history deeply rooted in architecture and design: a hub for Harvard Five modernist architecture, stately farmhouses, and historic estates, all nestled in the scenic rolling hills of Connecticut's Gold Coast.
Propst wasn't specifically searching for a farmhouse-style home for herself and her family. But after stumbling on a Royal Barry Wills–designed 20th-century farmhouse that had been meticulously updated to reflect the home's authentic character, she couldn't pass it up. Most of the home's renovations were already completed by the previous owners, so Propst called on the help of The Studio at One Kings Lane to breathe life into this already dreamy home. By mixing traditional staples with modern convenience and a dash of humor, she was able to create a timeless family home to enjoy for years to come.
The One Kings Lane exec recently invited us on a tour of her meticulously designed modern traditional home. Step inside and find out her one trick for making a house unforgettable.
"The house was originally designed by Royal Barry Wills, a famed 20th-century architect who specialized in Cape Cod and saltbox residential structures," explains Propst. "It was expanded with every historical detail in mind by the previous owners. I immediately fell in love with the house's great bones and abundance of character—and although I wasn't specifically looking for a farmhouse-style house at the time, I felt immediately at home when I stepped inside."
Though the house had excellent bones, it truly came to life with Propst's quirky timeless style. "Luckily, the house was in great condition when we moved in, thanks to all of the work that the previous owners put into it," says Propst. "We did some cosmetic updating throughout the house, including painting, wallpapering, changing all the light fixtures, and putting in a herringbone floor in the playroom."
The five-bedroom, five-and-a-half bathroom house—laid out on two stories with most of the common areas located on the ground floor—offered the perfect layout for a family with young children: "I love how most of the living spaces are on the ground level, which means we are using so much more of the home than I ever have in any other house," says Propst. "The kids run back and forth to their rooms all day long."
No detail was spared in the styling of this home, which nailed the right balance between layered and airy. "When my husband and I decided to purchase this home, I knew without a doubt that I'd want to work with the Studio at One Kings Lane, our in-house design service, to create a home that would not only be an expression of our personal styles but also one that would be relaxed and comfortable for our children and guests," explains Propst.
"Each room has its own distinct personality, but I love the common thread of the 'modern farmhouse' aesthetic throughout," explains Propst. "The inspiration for the design actually came from a painting by Ben Shahn, which encompasses the mix of traditional, modern, and global, as well as sets a tone for the sense of humor that I wanted to convey in my home to create levity in the design."
Though her style is rooted in tradition, Propst never shies away from making a humorous statement: "I'm always looking for pieces that add an unexpected touch of humor to a space," she says. "I saw the alligator statues at a market three years ago and knew I had to have them." She already had the vision of how she wanted them displayed, but she patiently waited until she had the right dining space: "They can't go on a table you use every day!"
Because the family most often uses the casual breakfast table in the eat-in kitchen, she was finally able to let her alligators shine in the formal dining room. She told us humor was the one design trick she swore by to make a traditional home feel laid-back and memorable.
"I'd describe my style as unexpected traditionalist," says Propst of her lighthearted approach to classic décor. "I wanted to create a fresh, contemporary take on traditional, with an emphasis on keeping everything practical—which is crucial when you have small children." The alligators are the one instance where she chose aesthetics over function, which worked perfectly in a lesser-used room.
The entire house is a masterpiece of farmhouse design, but the pièce de résistance is the large eat-in kitchen—complete with a five-foot-long green marble farmhouse sink that's most often used as a bath for the little ones. "One of my favorite spaces is the eat-in kitchen and the butler's pantry, which was originally designed by Sarah Blank. It's the ideal backdrop for entertaining (because every party ends up in the kitchen)." One day, she dreams of using her statement sink to shuck oysters and pop champagne instead of operating it as a makeshift baby bath, she quipped as she was giving us a grand tour of the kitchen.
The kitchen had perfect proportions and exquisite finishes, but the original cabinets, made out of reclaimed barn beams, felt dark and small. With the help of Decorist's digital design services, Propst painted the kitchen cabinets in a cool cream. "It was a simple yet effective solve for brightening up the space while still honoring the exquisite woodwork and hardware," she explained. This small change transformed the entire space into a light, bright family kitchen.
"Being in this industry, it would be easy to create a home that looks like a museum," admits Propst. "But my favorite thing about this house is that we kept it real—it's totally livable and is the perfect representation of my style. To me, that's the best part of working with One Kings Lane to decorate a space; we have an incredible mix of styles and breadth of assortment that allow customers to create a home that's uniquely theirs." By choosing pieces in a wide mix of styles and colors, she was able to create a home that felt timeless and authentic for her family to enjoy.
Next up: This styling trick makes your home look more expensive—instantly.