Home Tour: A Look Inside Tommy and Dee Hilfiger's "Round Hill"
Considering its close proximity to the Big Apple—just about 56 kilometres north of New York City—Tommy and Dee Hilfiger’s home in Greenwich, Connecticut gives the impression of being a proper family retreat, a home far removed from the stresses of the urban jungle. Round Hill, as the Hilfiger family home is called, sits on a lush 10-hectare expanse covering the highest point in Greenwich. It’s a place that seems to have popped out of a storybook: a red-roofed structure with a Tudor aesthetic in the middle of a verdant wooded area. The community it’s located in is equally charming: picturesque storefronts and homey restaurants; neighbours stepping out to say hello; and an American flag fluttering in the breeze like something out of a novel.
The story of the property begins in 1939 with the award-winning architect Greville Rickard. The graduate of the Yale School of Architecture and the alumnus of Beaux- Arts Institute of Design in New York had built it for the real estate magnate Charles Vincent Paterno, which explains the manor’s name before it was known as Round Hill: Chateau Paterno. One of the house’s more interesting details is that Rickard immortalised himself and the builder in stained glass panels flanking an ogee archway that remains a fixture to this day. Hilfiger likes to think the duo kept an eye on everyone while the restoration was being done. In 1961 the property was sold to renowned art collector Joseph Hirshhorn, who used the house to display his extensive collection of 19th- and 20th-century paintings and sculptures that today are on display at the Hirshhorn Museum, which he founded in Washington.
When the Hilfigers bought the estate in 2010, their goal was to create a comfortable English country house with French Normandy details. What they weren’t expecting was the rewarding journey the project would take them on. “As designers, Dee and I love to collaborate and we got the opportunity to work with an incredible team on this project,” noted Hilfiger. Architect André Tchelistcheff and builder Jim Xhema worked in partnership. Greenwich-based interior design firm Rinfret, Ltd. and Martyn Lawrence Bullard handled the interiors. Landscape designer Miranda Brooks, horticulturist Phillip Watson, and stonemason Bobby Hilfiger took charge of the gardens and exterior.
When it came to inspiration, the couple looked no further than their own experiences. “Dee and I are lucky to have traveled so much,” said Hilfiger. “It has given us such an appreciation and respect for other cultures and this house was truly a wonderful opportunity to pay homage.”
Since its original construction, the structure never departed from its architectural blueprint, which was Norman-inspired with distinctive Gothic and Tudor influences. While the building had seen numerous renovations, including an unfortunate attempt to go Danish modern, Round Hill has retained much of its birthright from 1930s America. History buffs will recall that was a time when affluent Americans would travel to Europe and bring back an array of contrasting ideas, styles, and décor. This home, with its nods to England, France, the Netherlands, and Flanders on full display, was no exception. For Tchelistcheff, that meant using great sensitivity and doing extensive research in order to preserve the structure’s heritage while fixing and enhancing it to suit a modern family.
Such discipline, indeed, comes into play at the estate. While Hilfiger calls the environs of his home the backcountry, he can glimpse the bustling lights of New York City shimmering in the distance from his office, a room tucked into the third floor of a romantic ivy-covered turret. State-of-the-art appliances and amenities dress the combined kitchen and breakfast space that makes up the heart of the home—an entirely newaddition to the old manor, yet visitors would be hard-pressed to discover a clue that these rooms hadn’t always been there.
Hilfiger is a passionate collector of art and antiques, and there are incredible pieces to be found throughout Round Hill. “Still Life with a Hare” by Bernard DeBridat holds pride of place beside collections of Black Forest hunting trophies. In the dining room, the 19th-century A.W.N. Pugin table is set with vintage Royal Doulton® dinner plates and Tiffany & Co. silverware. The breakfast room features a rug that once belonged to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. There are also many pristine examples of porcelain from both the Ming and Qing periods.
Amongst the antiques, personal touches can be found everywhere. The media room’s décor was inspired by Dee Hilfiger’s Turkish heritage. It’s a popular gathering place for the entire family both for its entertainment value and the expansive ottoman banquette designed by Bullard that recalls a pasha’s palace in Istanbul. In 8-year-old Sebastian Hilfiger’s room, a towering giraffe from acclaimed toymaker Steiff keeps a watchful eye during bedtime.
The outdoor spaces are no less impressive, having to measure up to the grandeur of the house. Brooks set out to create different experiences. She imagined Tommy and Dee taking a walk after dinner through the water garden where the sounds are a soothing respite, family picnics, and football games on the great lawn; and their granddaughter Harley playing hide-and-seek in the boxwood knot garden. “Miranda did an incredible job of bringing back the garden to what it might have been when the house was built,” commented Dee Hilfiger.
Q & A with Tommy and Dee Hilfiger
What do you like most about having a home in Greenwhich, Connecticut?
TH: Our property is in the backcountry at the highest point in Greenwich and overlooks the water, which is very beautiful.
DH: Also, the sense of community here is one that we deeply appreciate.
What drew you to the manor initially?
DH: The old world charm and European sensibility. I lived most of my adult life in Europe so it immediately felt like home to me.
Could you share with us your approach to the interior design of this home?
TH: We wanted a comfortable English country house with French Normandy details. As designers, Dee and I love to collaborate so we worked with Greenwichbased interior design firm Rinfret, Ltd. on many of the rooms. Most notably, they helped us develop the kitchen and breakfast room, which is one of our favorite spots in the whole house, as well as the children’s bedrooms. Then we brought in Martyn Lawrence Bullard, who we had worked with on our Miami home, knowing he would bring something very special to the house.
DH: The gardens were also very much considered. Miranda Brooks did an incredible job of bringing it back to what it might have been, and Phillip Watson planted a gorgeous cutting garden so that we would always have fresh flowers.
What challenges did you face in restoring a historic house?
TH: For Dee and I, it was important that we restore the property rather than just renovate it. It’s extensive and expensive work breaking into walls to add modern amenities and update mechanics because it’s a very old house, but things like the rope detailing and intricate molds on the gutters and drain systems were hand-cast lead. The carvings on the wood panels, bannisters and doors throughout the interior were art. It was worth it.
DH: The roof was also pretty challenging. It was original to the house and the Ludowici clay tiles had to be templated and made by hand. That alone took almost two years. Honestly, it would have been much easier to just build a new house, yet the detailing and workmanship, you couldn’t really even have that done today.
How did you reconcile your contrasting interests in heritage and modernity?
TH: That’s the big test for anyone restoring a historic home, but we just thought about our family. In the living room, for example, we have some beautiful antique tapestry pillows on the sofa, but the sofa is new and very solid so if our little granddaughter Harley is jumping around it’s fine.
DH: It’s all about balance.
Would you say that interior design Is as big of a passion for you as fashion design?
TH: I think when you’re a visual person it’s just an extension. I love what I do and as a couple we really enjoy working on our homes and collaborating with other creative people.
You are a passionate art collector. Did that play into this project as it did with your home in Miami, Florida?
TH: Our house in Miami is very contemporary so it was made for showcasing modern art. This property has lots of wall space, but the architecture and finishing are much more elaborate so the art needed to be more a part of the space as opposed to the centrepiece.
Which of the house’s original features are your favourite?
TH: I love the carved wood staircase and the limestone fireplace in the entry; they are both original to the house and so beautiful and dramatic. The nymph fountain in the water garden is really special, too; on a clear day you can see the entire Long Island Sound from that spot.
How about a favourite room?
TH: The kitchen, the media room, and I love our master bedroom. The kitchen and the breakfast room are where we spend a lot of time as a family. The media room, too.