“There were these things called… Trees,” says Doctor Who actress Michelle Gomez, mocking her own astonishment at the verdant spectacle closing in on the 1865 country house that she and her husband, Pirates of the Caribbean actor Jack Davenport, had purchased in Litchfield County, Connecticut, just a few months earlier, during the winter of 2018, when the property was cloaked in snow.
“I had never seen so much green,” the BAFTA nominee says of her first discovery of the plush lawns, thriving vegetable patch, and cutting garden of breezy, beaming flowers from delphinium to daisies to dogwood. Those aforementioned trees, thickly canopied, are mostly ash and clustered in a private woods on the edge of the eight-acre estate. Work and school had kept the family from escaping New York to their newfound bucolic retreat until spring 2019 was chirping, dewy, and utterly in bloom. (Also in residence with Gomez and Davenport are their 11-year-old son Harry, goddaughter Emma, and Frank the Jack Russell terrier.)
“It’s like I stepped into a secret garden from a Charles Dickens novel,” says Gomez, a self-proclaimed urbanite and Glasgow native. Such a revelation was this lush milieu that Gomez’s antiquing accomplice and Litchfield County neighbor, Jennifer Chused—principal of Chused & Co., a Brooklyn design studio—turned it into a touchstone in the home’s new interiors.
The colonial-era house was in good shape for its age. Tall ceilings gave the cozy spaces room to breathe, and the timeworn patina of the original clapboard was more charming than shabby. “Far from picture perfect,” Gomez says. “But very comfortable.”
The original floor planks, however, had been stained an old-fashioned shade of brown and were water damaged to boot, so Chused took inspiration from the natural setting and painted them dark green. “I normally resist painting wood floors, but there was something that was just too country about mid-brown, 10-inch-wide wood planks,” says Chused, who also designed the family’s Brooklyn town house. “The rich green really made them special.” For walls throughout the home, the designer chose “the perfect off-white,” which dialed the green floors greenier and created a neutral canvas for the lively art and textiles to come.
If the landscape was a touchstone for the design, then the provenance of the home was its north star. “The idea of a country house was something that Michelle and Jack had grown up with,” Chused says. “They wanted a little bit of heritage in the design, so it felt like they had always been there.” But when you’re furnishing a 153-year-old home from scratch, a deep-rooted sense of place can be a tricky feat, unless you’re an antiques expert (Chused also buys and sells heirlooms for a living) with a trusty deputy (Gomez is an accomplished treasure seeker in her own right). Their tandem hunting grounds included the flea markets and antique shops of Millerton, New Preston, Connecticut, and Litchfield, as well as Chused & Co.’s global inventory.
In the dining room, Harry’s art projects—vortexes of paint and fabric—take place on the dining table. The table is an old teacher’s desk with spindrift from his creative process. Any remains are handily disguised by the scarlet palette and ornate geometry of an antique Persian rug. “The horns got stuck in customs, and I forgot about them until they arrived at my door four years later,” Chused says. “Maybe they were waiting for just the right home.”
Although the living room’s warmth and welcoming atmosphere can be attributed to the tall stacks of dog-eared books and a steady fire in the centerpiece hearth (“The first order of business each morning is to light all the fireplaces, no matter what season,” Gomez says), the handsome vintage club chairs are just as inviting. Scored at an auction, the buttery leather seats are ideally oversized so that anyone can have a cozier, more curled-up sitting experience. And on the fireplace mantle, a rare painting by turn-of-the-20th-century modernist furniture designer Tommi Parzinger sends a glowing red flare of its own into the otherwise cocooning environment.
“What I love most about the house are its unpredictable moments,” says Gomez, whose taste in art is not unlike the home itself—that is, firmly anchored in tradition, but at times delightfully tangential. Although she has yet to acquire a highly coveted portrait by French artist Thierry Guetta (a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash) of the British monarch donning aviator sunglasses, Gomez has discovered a more affordable, but no less thrilling, option by Washington, D.C. artist Josh Yöung. A print of his painting Emma in Blush—featuring the peaches-and-cream visage of a Jane Austen-esque heroine anonymized by an irreverent pink slash through her eyes—hangs in the primary bedroom, over a vintage chaise also from the 19th century, at least in spirit. Nearby, Gomez displays a rare test photo of Australian queer performance artist Leigh Bowery, taken by British figurative painter Lucian Freud. The portrait was gifted to Gomez by her mother-in-law, theater legend Maria Aitken.
But these flashes of decorative daring only make the bucolic life an even more sublime departure from gritty reality. Most days when she’s there, Gomez takes a long bath in the remodeled upstairs bathroom—an aerie that has also been thoughtfully appointed with vintage rugs and modern art, plus a Victoria + Albert tub made of lightweight acrylic instead of the traditional cast iron to prevent a calamitous crash through the floor boards. She then admires the most transcendent view the house has to offer, which is nothing but weather and treetops. “We still can’t believe we’re here, and that this house belongs to us,” Gomez says. “It’s like we’re waiting for the real homeowners to show up any minute.”