Interior designer Havilande Whitcomb welcomes the challenges that working with historic buildings can bring.
While to some it might feel daunting, she revels in the endless possibilities that a home with built in character can provide. “While I love new construction because of the opportunities for creating spaces with every detail considered, I have also been fortunate to work on projects with an inherent character that only comes from older buildings. I lived in London for many years and understanding how Europeans approach old buildings in new ways is the basis for how I think about this. Don’t feel constrained- imagine new things! In those spaces- there is a certain soul that must be respected, but I find the challenge of interpreting old dwellings for new times and people to be fascinating and creatively stimulating. Removing layers that were added, perhaps without as much thought for the context, is often the best way to start that process.”
This willingness to stretch and come up with creative solutions has led her to designing furniture herself – an ambitious solution to a design conundrum. And while she may not have been allotted more hours in the day than the rest of us, she certainly puts them to good use, enabling her to design thoughtful, functional and elegant pieces for the home. “I do often design custom furniture, usually in response to a certain need or function – not being able to find the right piece and having a client who appreciates creativity and wants unique pieces that other people don’t have. I work with many different artisans, who are talented in their use of particular materials.”
In a way, it is not entirely surprising that this is the life work that Havilande Whitcomb has landed on. Growing up with an artist for a mother and an engineer for a father, she was exposed to a unique but powerful combination of form and function. “My love for design started growing up with an artist mother with creativity and an appreciation for beauty and also an engineer father’s interest in function and how things are built. I got a degree in Interior Design and worked in my early career for architecture firms in New York and here in Connecticut. Starting my own firm was an outgrowth of having clients who asked me to and at that point it seemed natural. The only miscalculation was thinking I would be able to control my time more!”
While the ability to control time may be out of her hands, she brings other strengths to the table that are indispensable for a designer, such as “bringing aesthetics and function together through a love of natural materials and all their potential uses in a man made environment….and understanding construction and the process of how a whole project comes together.” And because design is not a solo pursuit, “I love working with strong teams where collaboration is important. For example, on a whole house with architect, landscape architect, builder and client – It’s important to be able to visualize the whole project as one body of work and to make the interior design be a cohesive with all those elements.”
Here, Havilande Whitcomb shares some tips for our readers on ways to make their own home the best it can be.
TLV: What can you share with our readers about how to incorporate old and new pieces into a home or room?
HW: Don’t be afraid of putting modern pieces into older spaces- it can make things feel fresh and add attitude. Likewise using vintage pieces in newer spaces gives a layer of character and depth. For example, an older piece of “brown furniture” can be painted in a current color and suddenly change how it feels. ( I wouldn’t do that with a fine antique, but most vintage furniture is a candidate) There are no rules for this- but have a point of view and look for things that speak to you because if you love them- they will usually fit in somewhere. Likewise- new upholstery can be transformative. Don’t forget your tape measurer- that is your most important tool!
TLV: Tips for incorporating and or selecting artwork?
HW: If a client has interesting art, that is often how we start the inspiration for the whole project. If they want help finding it, then I have trusted resources to call on. My advice is to buy art you love- again something about it needs to speak to you. I don’t choose art to match a decor- that is really not important because art should add something to a space that wasn’t already in the room. And remember even humble things if framed well and hung considerately will look good.
TLV: Favorite places for finding unique antiques or vintage pieces?
HW: Obviously the Local Vault is a fantastic resource- I think I might have been one of the first buyers! The items are so well curated and they keep the website highly functional for searching, updating constantly, etc. Also my own clients who want to sell things say it has been a good experience.
My other favorite resources for vintage locally are Antique and Artisan in Stamford, Bungalow in Westport, and Trovare Home in Cos Cob. There are other online resources like Chairish and First Dibs, but there is nothing like being able to see and feel what something is like in person, especially for the client.
All Photos Courtesy of Havilande Whitcomb / Text by Liana Hayles Newton