RACING AGAINST THE CLOCK TO INFUSE A SPEC HOUSE WITH BOLD STROKES AND SWANK STYLE
We do everything in double time," says Mike Ventorino of himself and his wife Jackie. "We got married twice as fast as our friends, and we got pregnant twice as fast." As these speed demons speak, they mill around their kitchen in Armonk, softly in sync with the squeals and catnaps of their month-old daughter, Samantha.
Mike, a Young Turk real estate developer with a fondness for fast cars and Family Guy sarcasm, and Jackie, a passionate equestrian, have certainly learned how to put on the brakes for their new arrival. But they didn't shift gears when it came to buying and feathering their nest. The twentysomethings estimate they toured more than 100 spec homes over a long summer in 2007, deciding on the one in Armonk for its generous lot and solid execution, as well as interior splurges like a Christopher Peacock kitchen. With that decision made, designer Debra Geller had just six months to re-imagine the blank, all-white slate. And Jackie's pregnancy—"We weren't planning to get pregnant, but we were actively being stupid," Mike jokes—set the firm deadline.
The scope and tempo of the assignment was unusual even for Geller, whose 17-year career in art and design includes stints creating handpainted wallcoverings and textiles for power houses like Kravet and Schumacher and, more recently, shepherding ground-up construction. Geller's customized approach only amplified the challenge: "I pride myself on designing homes for my clients' needs and lifestyle," she says. "I don't put my cookie-cutter stamp on a place."
Channeling her young clients' desires meant actually divining their sometimes contradictory tastes. Case in point: As Mike, recalling the house-buying saga, describes the Calcutta stone-topped, pie-latched Christopher Peacock kitchen as an asset, Jackie was initially less certain. "They thought they wanted traditional," Geller says. But subsequently it became clear that their combined tastes skewed more modern. (Geller eventually gave the kitchen's sturdy white cabinetry modern flair, repainting them gray and glazing them to reflect the robin's egg and cyan blues of refreshed walls. The highlight of this suddenly personalized room: The V monogram that subtly runs down London window shades.)
Indeed, in early meetings the couple nixed one formality after the next. And when Geller asked Jackie to assemble magazine clippings that inspired her, she consistently pulled together mod lime-and-teal combinations. That color palette found its way into the living room, in which freestanding black cabinets anchor an electric-green fireplace wall. Lime ribbons trace gauzelike curtains, and swirls of complementary teal dot the glass discs of a chandelier, custom-made in Venice, that looks unearthed from the 1960s. "Lighting, to me, is one of the most important elements in a house," Geller notes. "It's like good shoes to a gown." An expansive seascape by Charles Wildbank, in which a calligraphic gesture reveals the marine life under the surface, incorporates both memorable hues.
"I take every space and think about what Mike and Jackie will be doing there, and how they will be most comfortable," explains Geller. Based on that premise, one must conclude that elegant dinner parties are a Ventorino specialty. Starting with a black-patterned Christopher Hyland silk for curtains, Geller transformed the dining room into a cavern of midnight glamour. Roomy gray velvet chairs surround the black-lacquer table, flocked black damask from Osborne & Little inhabits the panels of the wainscoting, and the walls and ceilings sport Venetian plaster rubbed with silver leaf—the handiwork of Geller's artist collaborator, Deb Ryan.
Since the new parents spend most of their time in the family room, Geller decided to reference Jackie's love of horseback riding with an autumnal scheme that informs even The Fish Wagon Lives, a painting of an abandoned jalopy by Harold Pickern, whom Geller advised on the colors. The barnwood aesthetic of the hearth, for which Ryan distressed and rubbed knotty alder, was another accomplishment of creative direction. Citing her own fine arts training, Geller says, "I know how to tell my artists exactly how things get done." A tremendous flat-screen television nods to Mike's likes, while a library off the living room, a space he calls his "man cave," flat-out indulges them.
Although every colorful room in the residence is distinct, details unify them. The crystal beads of master-bathroom sconces evoke those dangling from the powder-room curtains. A pattern similar to the Christopher Hyland curtains wraps decorative pillows on mom and dad's bed. And large, high-backed settees punctuate the entryway, living room and master bedroom. "Mike's not a little guy," observes Geller of the oversized settees, as Mike smiles and cradles his infant—who promises to grow up at Ventorino speed—like a football in his forearm.