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A Home With Well Balanced Colors

A seasoned architect and his spiffed-up foursquare offer lessons in scale, proportion, and picking paint colors

Well-Informed Period Homeowner

Photo by Tria Giovan

If you've ever wondered how to make a period home look more authentic than it already is, take a peek inside Gary Brewer's century-old house in Yonkers, New York. With each additional bit of his tinkering—decorative beams here, wainscoting there, beadboard overhead—the vintage vibe seems to grow stronger. Visitors are drawn to the old-fashioned comfort of the place, which comes on like a warm embrace. Credit not the home's venerable age but an owner with an eye for well-proportioned baseboard and overmantel trim.

Contemporary white-walled houses pretty much leave Gary cold. "They are all about the individual expression of the architect," he notes, "while traditional houses come in certain styles, and people can choose the one that reflects who they are."

Shown: The circa-1910 American Foursquare is a 30-step walkup. New terracing, stone walls, and paths wrap the house, yielding outdoor rooms and making the interior feel larger.

General contractor: Empire Restoration & Consulting, Ridgewood, NY

Painting: A Plus Painting, Yonkers, NY; 914-548-4300

Windows and doors: Marvin

Architect's Off-Duty Work

Photo by Tria Giovan

What's interesting is that Gary is himself an architect—a partner in the prestigious firm of Robert A.M. Stern Architects, no less—and could have built a nice big neoclassical house from scratch; he does this for wealthy clients all the time. Instead, he shopped for a find in a dormant neighborhood filled with a candy-store assortment of traditions—Craftsman, Queen Anne, Tudor, Mediterranean, Cape Cod, Shingle, split-level, ranch—and chose to embroider rather than rebuild.

At the time, Gary was living in an apartment in Brooklyn. "But I design houses," he says. "I wanted to live in a house, among houses." Luckily, his longtime partner, Barbara Brust, a theater-costume designer, didn't object.

Shown: Gary, with his wirehaired fox terrier, Scout, gravitates to this spot, rain or shine. He designed the porch railings and furnished the space in complementary hues.

Yonkers American Foursquare Find

Photo by Tria Giovan, Paint Dabs: Brian Henn/Time Inc. Digital Studio

Prompted by a 1998 New York Times profile of the neighborhood, illustrated with photographs of houses for sale, Gary motored out to take a look. There, just 14 miles from midtown Manhattan, on aptly named Edgecliff Terrace, he found his mission: a circa-1910 three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath American Foursquare, overdue for a little spit and polish.

As a student of old-school "garden suburbs," Gary was equally intrigued by the neighborhood, Park Hill, a rocky tract that had been subdivided into cliff-clinging lots starting in the 1880s and sold to up-and-coming Manhattanites. Rail service never quite made it up the hill, however, and over time the planned community became a refuge for bargain-hunting artists, musicians, and like-minded souls.

Shown: Multiple hues enhance the foyer while highlighting the millwork.

For a similar look, try (left to right): Valspar's Belle Grove Buff, Pittsburgh Paints's Balsam

Paint: Farrow & Ball's Blue Gray (upper walls) and String (wainscot)

Gracious Living Room

Photo by Tria Giovan, Paint Dabs: Brian Henn/Time Inc. Digital Studio

With its barrel-tiled hipped roof and wide, symmetrical porch, the house fit a textbook description of "Eclectic Houses, Subtype American Foursquare," making it obvious prey for a zealous collector with an antiques habit who had grown up in a similarly cozy Cape Cod. "My first reaction was to its curb appeal," says Gary, who promptly scooped the house up.

Then, with the help of general contractor Tomasz Fryc, he ladled on the charm.

Shown: Layered trim and furnishings and a polished palette give the living room a big, gracious presence.

For a similar look, try (clockwise from top left): Benjamin Moore's Hannah Banana, Colorhouse's Glass .03, Sherwin-Williams's Vital Yellow

Paint: Farrow & Ball's Straw (walls), Ball Green (decorative beams), and House White (trim throughout)

Sofas: Pottery Barn

Fireplace tile: Waterworks

Freshened Up Kitchen

Photo by Tria Giovan, Paint Dabs: Brian Henn/Time Inc. Digital Studio

Though it had held on to its original rooms and had a functioning furnace, the house had not aged well. The landscaping was ragged, and the 1970s kitchen and its breakfast nook were a little sad. But rather than open up the first floor à la mode, Gary kept structural changes to a minimum. Fryc and his crew rebuilt the breakfast nook's rear wall with lots of glass. In the dining room, they tore out a dropped ceiling and replaced the original "piano window"—one designed to sit higher than an upright—with a custom window that brings in more light while framing new landscaping and a dramatic boulder in the neighbor's yard.

Shown: New fronts gave the cabinets a lift.

For a similar look, try (clockwise from top): Benjamin Moore's Banana Cream, Clark + Kensington's Feather Cactus, Pittsburgh Paints's Morning Fog

Paint: Farrow & Ball's Farrow's Cream (upper walls), Skylight (ceiling), Cooking Apple Green (windows and doors), and House White (cabinets).

Range, refrigerator, and dishwasher: Kenmore

Subway tile: Daltile

Airy Breakfast Nook

Photo by Tria Giovan

The canvas was now clean and prepped for period-style woodwork and built-ins. "Gary may be an architect who works for a big firm," says Fryc, who knows him through their joint work on traditionally tricked-out mansions, "but he would greet me in the morning with a couple of ideas in his head and put them on a piece of paper." Fryc took the sketches back to the workshop in Queens he shares with his father, Zygmunt, a master craftsman who makes custom knives for millwork shaping. Along with a mantel and overmantel for the fireplace, they turned out built-ins, wainscoting, decorative ceiling beams, radiator covers, and ribbon upon ribbon of crown and picture molding. "With Gary, it's a never-ending story," Fryc says appreciatively. "Something's always 'missing.'"

Shown: Sky blue, cloud white, and grass green connect the breakfast nook to the outdoors.

Custom Dining Room Window

Photo by Tria Giovan, Paint Dabs: Brian Henn/Time Inc. Digital Studio

Their biggest challenge was turning back time in the kitchen and breakfast nook. "The kitchen, yes, this was actually very interesting," Fryc says. "It was dark brown, all old oak, and I suggested we take everything out and build a new-old kitchen. Gary's like, 'No, no, this kitchen has a spirit and I'd like to keep it.'" Two weeks elapsed while he pondered ways to achieve the architectural equivalent of comfort food. Eschewing cabinets that leap accommodatingly to the ceiling, he kept the existing boxes, commissioning new glass fronts and beadboard backs, and a pantry to catch the overflow.

Shown: A custom window and built-in with matching divided lights showcase antique furniture and transferware.

For a similar look, try (from top): Olympic's Dusty Yellow, Behr's Lime Light

Paint: Farrow & Ball's Dorset Cream (upper walls) and Pale Powder (ceiling)

Flea-Market Wall Art

Photo by Tria Giovan, Paint Dabs: Brian Henn/Time Inc. Digital Studio

Upstairs, Fryc and his crew merged two bedrooms and turned another into a study. The bath was refurbished with period-style finishes and the hall lined with more wainscoting. When they finally reached the attic, it became a sewing room for Barbara and a walk-in closet to hold what little clutter the couple allows in.

Shown: Flea-market artwork hangs in the stairwell leading to the new master bedroom and hall bath.

For a similar look, try: Colorhouse's Water .02

Paint: Farrow & Ball's Blue Gray (hall upper walls), String (wainscot), Farrow's Cream (bath walls), and Skylight (bath ceiling)

Master Bedroom Tree-Filled View

Photo by Tria Giovan, Paint Dabs: Brian Henn/Time Inc. Digital Studio

Figuring out the paint was no small thing, partly because Gary wanted his rooms to have separate but related identities, like siblings. Turning to his firm's go-to brand for colors, he experimented with some 30 shades, eventually whittling them down to a dozen. Leafy greens, sky blues, and sunny yellows borrowed from the outdoors shift between rooms with varying light, while a darker blue-gray climbs from the foyer to the attic, connecting all three levels. Walls are in a light-absorbing matte finish, and trim, much of it a single unifying white, is a slightly glossy eggshell.

Shown: Antiqued mirrors bookend the master bedroom's window seat, reflecting glimpses of the trees.

For a similar look, try (clockwise from top right): Valspar's Martinique Dawn, Clark + Kensington's Spanish Olive, Sherwin-Williams's Wheat Grass

Paint: Farrow & Ball's Churlish Green (walls), Ball Green (windows and doors), Cooking Apple Green (door panels), and Skylight (ceiling)

Study Full of Rich Colors

Photo by Tria Giovan, Paint Dabs: Brian Henn/Time Inc. Digital Studio

Today, homeowners and enablers alike are taking a breather. And so far, so good. "With the outdoor spaces, the house is great for entertaining," Gary says. But most of all, "I like the comfortable feel of the rooms."

Shown: A former bedroom became the study, finished with colors that evoke oak library tables and embossed leather.

For a similar look, try (from top): Olympic's Going Gray, Glidden's Soft Suede

Paint: Farrow & Ball's Cat's Paw (walls) and Skylight (ceiling)

Floor Plan: First Floor

Floor plan by Ian Worpole

The breakfast nook gained a French door and sidelights, and the dining room a replacement window.

Floor Plan: Second Floor

Floor plan by Ian Worpole

Two upstairs bedrooms were joined, and built-ins added throughout. Even with a now-finished attic, the house totals 1,800 square feet.