Text by Tovah Martin
Connecticut-based artist Priscilla Hillman decided it was time to downsize. “I always felt lonely living in such a big house,” admits Priscilla, who designs resin figurines. “In my previous home, I was forever thinking, ‘Where is everyone?’ Of course, they were just on another floor, but they seemed far away.” So, Priscilla came up with an idea. She and her husband, Norman, had previously purchased the adjacent property with its once-quaint carriage house. Although the rationale for the acquisition was to expand their garden vista, the converted carriage house on the acreage was sitting empty. So, why not move in?
Before she and Norman could make the leap into less space, Priscilla needed to do a complete makeover of the structure, which meant taking a major step back in time. The goal was to keep the sense of the carriage house’s original purpose, especially from the exterior, but Priscilla wanted to create a specific mood for the home’s interiors. To be precise, she wanted a retrospective flavor flowing throughout.
Fortunately, the couple’s son, Glenn Hillman, who studied architecture and lives conveniently next door, joined in, and together, they laid plans. The first step in creating the cottage of Priscilla’s dreams was to focus on the windows that would flood the rooms with light and ultimately overlook a cottage garden. Fenestrations to frame the outdoors took on several styles, including lattice windows, Palladian windows, and arching windows, while craftsmanship was key. From that point, Priscilla and Glenn worked together to create just the right ratio of beaded board, beams, and doorways leading from room to room. The design was so successful that Glenn won a preservation trust award, while the fine handiwork made Priscilla immensely proud. But it was the furnishings that truly made the home feel like her own.
For the décor, Priscilla started in the kitchen. Remembering her mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens, Priscilla’s goal was to slip back in time without sacrificing convenience. She bought appliances that looked the part but featured modern technology. The seemingly retro Elmira stove is electric, and a vintage-style refrigerator is every inch the cooler she grew up with as a child. She chose a color palette to accentuate the atmosphere. Knowing that jade green plays a starring role in her tabletop collections, she designed a checkered pattern for the floor in a muted shade of grass green and added cabinet hardware to match. Norman painted the kitchen chairs a retro green to complement a vintage breakfast table.
But the real flavor for the kitchen came when Priscilla brought in her dishes, cookware, and glassware. Focusing on the mood she wanted to capture, Priscilla spent time surfing the web for antiques and fine replicas reminiscent of the kitchens from her past. While the renovation was underway, she already had the kitchen staged with all her paraphernalia—measuring cups, rolling pins, sifters, iconic water pitchers, and aprons—poised and waiting to be of service. The items were all ready when the couple officially moved into the carriage house, and that’s the way it remains. “It’s filled with memories,” Priscilla says. “I want it to look like my grandma is ready to start baking.”
Clearly, the kitchen serves as the center of activity, but it opens into a glowing, white-themed dining room. Again, the details make the scene with ironstone galore plus pearl- and bone-handle cutlery arranged beside antique silverware on the marble-topped sideboard. The ambience is more formal but still feels like a warm embrace. Footsteps away, the living room welcomes with cathedral-like beams accenting a comfy white sofa beside wicker side chairs. The wicker elements intentionally echo the furnishings in the garden room, which is across the entry hall and filled with plants plus everything reminiscent of gardening pursuits.
What’s next for the cottage? The Hillmans are working on the upstairs, including a main bedroom and bath. But Priscilla’s attention is divided because, simultaneously, Glenn is installing a garden to give all those windows in the carriage house a focus. Even now, Priscilla opens the curtains to view progress outside. Every inch of space tells a story and creates a vintage atmosphere. When Priscilla planned to downsize, she never intended to cut corners, and her life and home have more fullness than ever.