Classic Greenwich style

Classic Greenwich style —  the Cindy Rinfret way

What’s in a name? A lot, especially when that name is Greenwich.

Just like Palm Beach and Beverly Hills, the Greenwich name is powerful enough to conjure visions of stately homes with a look all their own.

With some of the most impressive colonial, shingle-style, Tudor and English architecture in the country, Greenwich homes have come to epitomize classic suburban America. And no one captures the essence of Greenwich style better than award- winning interior designer Cindy Rinfret, owner of Rinfret Ltd., a leading design firm in Greenwich.

Indeed, Rinfret wrote the book on the subject in her appropriately titled “Classic Greenwich Style,” published by Rizzoli in 2006. The book was the first of its kind to celebrate the renowned look and bring it to a national audience.

A second book, “Greenwich Style Inspired Family Homes,” will be released at the end of the year and reflects the evolution of that style, which can best be described as elegant yet comfortable

Rinfret interiors capture a life well-lived.  And it’s that image the author wants to make more accessible through her design books and her eponymous 4,000 square-foot retail shop on fashionable Greenwich Avenue.  The treasure trove of eye-catching home accessories evokes her early trips to London, where she fell in love with Walton Street and discovered Nina Campbell’s shop, offering a mix of retail and design

Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with the busy Rinfret about her latest book and interior design:

Why did you decide to write a book?

“Anyplace I go in the world, whether it’s Thailand or Paris, people always ask where I’m from. They recognize the name Greenwich, and it has a certain cachet about it. But people weren’t quite sure what that image was.  So what I wanted to do was present Greenwich the way I see it, because we’re really fortunate to live in Greenwich and have the beautiful architecture that we do and interesting clients who allow us to do wonderful things.

How is the second book different from the first?

“I think the difference is simply how people’s lifestyles have changed.

“When I look at the first book, it was so much more formal. People wanted fancy curtains with trim, and it seemed to be more for show.  Now people seem to be more casual. I think we’re living in a more immediate world where things have become more transitional and more tailored.

“What I try to do is inspire people to have homes that work around their lifestyles and their family’s lifestyle that aren’t intimidating, homes where you want to go into every room in the house and they aren’t just for show.  Most of my designs are built around real life and family. The second book reflects that inspired family living.”

How would you describe your personal style?

Ever since I was young I spent all my money on traveling and seeing the world. In a lot of ways, my personal style is a collection of all my travels. It is sort of Loro Piana and Hermès: It’s timeless, it’s classic and it’s comfortable. Hopefully, the rooms that I design are like that.”

Do you design rooms for your clients the way you would design them for yourself?

“My design style is not Cindy Rinfret. It is a collaboration of the house, the gardens, the family and their lifestyles.  And I just interpret it for them in the best way that I can.

“Someone once asked me to do an aqua and black room. It wasn’t what I would have thought of doing, but we did it and it was absolutely gorgeous. Is it for me? No, but they love it.

Who are your clients?

“Most of my clients are repeat clients.  I’ve done 14 houses for Tommy Hilfiger, homes for Regis Philbin ,and I work with a lot of Wall Street people. We have fashion people and many more I can’t name because of non-disclosure agreements. But we also work on smaller projects as well.”

What types of projects do you do?

“Some people look at us as traditional, but if you look at the first book and the second, you’ll notice that each project is different. We’ll do a ranch in Wyoming, a contemporary stone and glass house in Vail, Colo., an iconic presidential suite at The Ocean House in Rhode Island, a duplex at The Plaza (in Manhattan) and a traditional house in Connecticut.”

If a client comes to you with an art collection, does it affect how you approach their design project?

“The art can sometimes inspire a room and the color palette.

Like the client who owned a series of 14 Alexander Calder drawings and we used it as a backdrop in the library.

“Regis had this whole collection of photographs from Dean Martin to Frank Sinatra. He also had a great chandelier he’d gotten from Tavern on The Green when it closed, because he loved going there. Regis said to me, ‘I have this great chandelier and I have these great photographs. Can you design around that?’ We built a whole bar around that. You get inspiration from every direction.”

What are some of the biggest design mistakes people make in their home?

“Poor planning. They buy one piece of furniture and try to build a room around it. Novices often make the mistake of worrying about details when they should be worrying about the big picture.

“What’s important is to get the ‘shell’ of the house right. By that I mean the bones – the walls, lighting, hardware, paint and flooring.  If you have a great backdrop, the rest of the decorating stands the test of time.

“Another mistake people make is they’re afraid to mix styles and different periods. That’s what makes a house interesting.  It avoids what I call embassy decorating, where everything is so perfect you don’t want to go in the room and touch anything. It’s a stage set.

Which design trends are hot?

“One of the things I find exciting is the evolution of outdoor spaces and outdoor living. There’s something about gardens that makes everyone happy.  I like using outdoor elements indoors and inside elements outside.

“We had this very formal limestone mansion and when you walked in, we had these two stone garden benches in the front entry instead of what you would expect, and it just felt natural. Then we put these velvet cushions on the stone benches, which looked really cool.”

What do you clients seem to want lately? 

“My clients seem to favor large, beautiful upholstered headboards instead of traditional wood-framed beds. People are focusing on their bathrooms. I’m always getting requests for spa-like bathrooms. I’m also getting requests for yoga rooms.”

What trends are out?

“Everything used to be polished nickel, and it’s going back to oil-rubbed bronze and more to the gold finishes. Gold is back.”

“Mirrored furniture is everywhere, and it’s run its course.

Home theaters and armoires have become less popular, because of the evolution of flat-screen TVs. I’m also seeing less pattern.”

How do you feel about social media and has it had an effect on your business?

“Social media is a fabulous tool. It gives you the ability to reach out to so many people and show people what you do.

I’ve been amazed how much I’ve showed up on other people’s blogs, because they see what I do and write wonderful comments about my work, which is very gratifying.”

Looking to the future, what’s your dream project?

“I would really love to do a hotel.  One of my first jobs out of college was working on the Rockefeller resorts.

“I would love to do the perfect beach house. I’ve done houses in Nantucket, but I’d really love to do a fabulous beach house or resort.”

For more information about the designer, call (203) 622-0204 or visit her at Rinfret Ltd., 354 Greenwich Ave., or rinfretltd.com.

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