“Ten years ago, the property that’s adjacent to my parents’ house became available for the first time in nearly a century,” says real estate developer Paul Arnhold, who grew up in New York City and spent weekends in bucolic Roxbury, Conn., two hours away. Arnhold introduced his husband, Carolina Herrera creative director Wes Gordon, to the area, and he, too, fell in love with the beautiful countryside. Fortunately for the design-oriented couple (Arnhold is also a talented glassblower), the property, known as Thistledown Farm, was an iconic Connecticut farmhouse, built in 1790. They had to have it.
“It was very emotional for the owners after three generations, but we assured them that we would do our best to be great caretakers,” Gordon says. The duo enlisted celebrated interior designer Stephen Sills (keep an eye out for Arnhold and Gordon’s farmhouse in Rizzoli’s recently released Stephen Sills: A Vision for Design), who brought on architect Charlotte Worthy and landscape designer Janice Parker for the nearly two-year-long project. “Charlotte has a brilliant understanding, as well as academic knowledge, of historical architecture and was able to design structural changes that feel authentic and totally harmonious with the rest of the house,” Gordon says. “It was more about gently working with what was there and helping it shine.” Gordon himself designed the chicken coop, but “the chickens are very unappreciative tenants,” he says, laughing. “I designed something that looked beautiful on paper, but they’re very messy, and it’s never looked as good since they moved in, much to my disappointment.”
The couple’s shared vision for a parklike setting for the exterior—based on the work of Capability Brown, the 18th-century landscape architect often called England’s greatest gardener—was brought to life by Parker, who stripped away anything that felt “too suburban” and planted grass meadows to emphasize majestic trees. She also removed any non-native plants, and replaced the asphalt with gravel.
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For the interiors, Arnhold and Gordon didn’t want anything to feel too precious or overly furnished. “Wes is drawn more to a romantic look, and I usually prefer things a little more clean,” Arnhold says. “Stephen has the incredible ability to marry my aesthetic and Wes’ into one in order to create a place that’s totally us.” The result: a modern farmhouse where both 18th- and 21st-century pieces complement the space.
Arnhold and Gordon purchased many of the home’s existing early American antiques—and inherited quite the haul of equally seasoned books from the former occupants—while Sills added new, custom pieces. “It’s a house that has had many chapters since the 18th century, and we are honored to be writing the next,” Gordon says. “There’s a good energy in the house. You can feel a lot of people have made wonderful memories there.” Last year, the couple made one of their own when they brought home their son, Henry. “Now we’re getting to rediscover the farm through his eyes.”
Gordon and Arnhold’s Favorite Local Spots
“There’s a little town called New Preston that’s filled with shops and sits right next to a beautiful lake called Lake Waramaug. It’s really nice to wander through the stores and then do a little drive around the lake.”
“There are two wonderful local stores that we always visit, a block away from each other in New Preston: Plain Goods, owned by Michael DePerno and Andrew Fry, specializes in home goods and clothing; while Privet House, owned by Richard Lambertson and Suzanne Cassano, is focused on antiques.”
“There’s a fantastic bakery in nearby Woodbury, Conn., called West Egg Cafe that we often visit for breakfast. It’s run by a mother and son, Mamie and Matt Keys. She’s the best baker: Her pumpkin muffin is out of this world, and her almond cake has been our holiday gift for a few years now.”
This article appears in the October 2022 issue of ELLE.
Naomi Rougeau is ELLE’s senior fashion features editor.