Designer Homes

Tour the Sumptuous Home of Bunny Williams and John Rosselli

Tour the Sumptuous Home of Bunny Williams and John Rosselli
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If the presidential campaign field weren’t already so crowded, some might suggest Bunny Williams throw her hat into the ring—the tastemaker, gardener, entertainer, and celebrated interior designer inspires that much confidence. Schooled by the best (for 22 years she worked at the legendary firm of Albert Hadley and Sister Parish), Bunny creates rich, inviting rooms where antiques and contemporary pieces work in harmony. In addition to running her own business and overseeing multiple home decor collaborations, for the past 25 years she and her husband, antiques dealer John Rosselli, ran Treillage, a trendsetting garden shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that sold patinated urns and weathered furniture long before anybody else did. After Treillage closed, Bunny Williams Home, a showcase for all of Bunny’s designs, opened.

Bunny’s weekends are as full as her weekdays. Over the course of 30 years, Bunny has worked to transform her weekend retreat, located in the town of Falls Village, in the northwest corner of Connecticut, into a place that’s stunning but never intimidating. In addition to renovating and decorating the federal-style house, Bunny has created multiple gardens and used the windowed facade of a 19th-century house to transform the existing barn into a conservatory. Decorated with handsome antiques and sparkles of gold, the house has a sense of history and gravitas, but also of life and change. Collections of favorite things old and new are proudly and playfully displayed, plants abound, and the gardens are never far from view.

Bunny stenciled the original pine floorboards in the entryway with a pattern resembling giant tortoiseshells.

Bunny stenciled the original pine floorboards in the entryway with a pattern resembling giant tortoiseshells.

A leopard-print runner makes a playful contrast to a set of 18th-century botanical prints hanging above the staircase.

A leopard-print runner makes a playful contrast to a set of 18th-century botanical prints hanging above the staircase.

The living room sparkles with gold accents plus art and objects that reflect the couple’s interest in animals and gardens.

The living room sparkles with gold accents plus art and objects that reflect the couple’s interest in animals and gardens.

Her House, Her Rules

“People always ask me, ‘What’s in in decorating?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know.’ Decorating to me is an interesting combination of interesting things in a space. Mix modern with old, mix black with white, but give it personality. It shouldn’t be thematic.” In Bunny’s house, the mixture includes polished mahogany furniture set atop rough sea-grass rugs, or a rusted urn on a glossy surface. “You want different textures. You don’t want everything white or everything brown or everything black, so it’s having a dark wood piece mixed with something that’s gold or glass with wood.”

This mixing creates a timeless feel and keeps the house from ever feeling out of date (the inevitable downside of a trendy home) or what Bunny calls “dead” (the curse of an all-traditional one). On tables and mantelpieces are lively collections of ceramics and servingware coupled with animal figurines—all from different decades and regions, all in different styles—and everywhere there is gold. “Every room should have some gold in it. It reflects light, and to me it’s not formal—to me it’s happy.”

 

Set atop an antique cabinet, a self-service bar featuring a 1950s apple-shape ice bucket (found by John in a junk shop) sets a relaxed tone for entertaining.

Set atop an antique cabinet, a self-service bar featuring a 1950s apple-shape ice bucket (found by John in a junk shop) sets a relaxed tone for entertaining.

The wall color was inspired by the yellow-orange of a room in Belmond Villa San Michele, a former monastery in Fiesole, Italy. Bunny painted the walls herself, achieving the watercolor-over-plaster effect by thinning the paint with water.

The wall color was inspired by the yellow-orange of a room in Belmond Villa San Michele, a former monastery in Fiesole, Italy. Bunny painted the walls herself, achieving the watercolor-over-plaster effect by thinning the paint with water.

Every room should have some gold in it. It reflects light, and to me it’s not formal—to me it’s happy.

— Bunny Williams
The mahogany Victorian dining table (inherited from Bunny’s great-aunt) is used for everyday dining and entertaining; in a low-ceilinged room an antique tole lamp makes a great alternative to a chandelier.

The mahogany Victorian dining table (inherited from Bunny’s great-aunt) is used for everyday dining and entertaining; in a low-ceilinged room an antique tole lamp makes a great alternative to a chandelier.

A warm palette and a wide range of textures and materials—linen, velvet, satin, sea grass, rough cotton, polished wood—create depth and interest in the library.

A warm palette and a wide range of textures and materials—linen, velvet, satin, sea grass, rough cotton, polished wood—create depth and interest in the library.

Moving Past Perfection

Not everything in the house is perfect, and this is by design. “Perfection puts people off. That’s why I love going in a room that’s a little messy or the chair cushion is a little sagged—I know they sit in it. If you walk into a room and it looks like no one has ever sat on the sofa—well, guess what? You’re not going to sit on it.” Though she’s a self-proclaimed “fanatic” when it comes to cleaning and maintenance, she is a firm believer in the value of patina (patinated objects were one of the things Treillage was famous for) both aesthetically and for its ability to put people at ease.

A few of the home’s inhabitants, namely their three mixed-breed dogs, also require a more laid-back approach to living well. Until recently there were only two dogs, says Bunny, but “a dog adopted us last weekend.” Bunny tops her sofa cushions with washable throws and uses sea grass as a floor covering in many rooms because she likes its casual feel and how easy it is to clean, whether she’s dealing with dirt, “dog mistakes,” or red wine. “And I think it’s pretty to put a rug on top of the sea grass. In my library I have wall-to-wall sea grass because it’s a strange-shaped room, and then I can put an area rug on top of it in front of the fireplace so that the sea grass becomes a sort of backdrop.”

 

Bunny is a big fan of urns, and she often fills this patinated brass-and-iron one with flowers. The table is from Bunny Williams Home; the green dishes are antique Wedgwood.

Bunny is a big fan of urns, and she often fills this patinated brass-and-iron one with flowers. The table is from Bunny Williams Home; the green dishes are antique Wedgwood.

The kitchen features modern appliances alongside the house’s original 18th-century fireplace; the “tree trunk” pottery pieces atop the bookcase are antique.

The kitchen features modern appliances alongside the house’s original 18th-century fireplace; the “tree trunk” pottery pieces atop the bookcase are antique.

Dinner for Eight—in Two Hours

Bunny and John are very social, hosting dinners for friends in groups of up to 12 several times a week. “We love entertaining. We love being at home, we love good food. It’s not hard for us. John is an extraordinary cook, and he loves to cook, and I love setting the table—I can set a table in 15 minutes because we have all the china and everything.”

To people who don’t do much hosting or who are nervous about the demands it makes, Bunny says relax. “People get overwhelmed by it, but there isn’t any reason to get overwhelmed. You don’t have to be in the kitchen for eight hours. John will come in with tomatoes from the garden and make the most delicious spaghetti with tomatoes and Parmesan cheese and a salad and an apple or a peach tart, and that’s dinner, and that takes two hours.” And the labor that goes into it not only has an immense payoff, but it also diminishes over time. “You open some good wine, and it’s just a joy. I think people enjoy being in someone’s home so much more than a restaurant. People think entertaining is overwhelming, but it’s like anything, it’s like learning to dance: The more you do it the easier it gets.”

 

How much china does Bunny Williams own? “I don’t want to tell you,” she says. She doesn’t collect full sets; when she and John entertain, the dinner plates might not match the dessert plates and may come from disparate eras, but they always share the same color scheme.

How much china does Bunny Williams own? “I don’t want to tell you,” she says. She doesn’t collect full sets; when she and John entertain, the dinner plates might not match the dessert plates and may come from disparate eras, but they always share the same color scheme.

Bunny and John eat breakfast (including eggs from their own chickens) at this table in the kitchen while the dogs sit on the leather couch—known as “the dogs’ TV”—looking out at the world.

Bunny and John eat breakfast (including eggs from their own chickens) at this table in the kitchen while the dogs sit on the leather couch—known as “the dogs’ TV”—looking out at the world.

“It’s heaven” waking up in her pale turquoise bedroom, says Bunny. The bed, made of bone, was designed by John and built in his shop; the limestone-topped bedside table is from Bunny Williams Home.

“It’s heaven” waking up in her pale turquoise bedroom, says Bunny. The bed, made of bone, was designed by John and built in his shop; the limestone-topped bedside table is from Bunny Williams Home.

Bunny bought this painted English chest at an auction; the mirror is a carved French antique, and the “hydrangeas” and their pots are all made of tole.

Bunny bought this painted English chest at an auction; the mirror is a carved French antique, and the “hydrangeas” and their pots are all made of tole.

Decorating to me is an interesting combination of interesting things in a space. Mix modern with old, mix black with white, but give it personality.

— Bunny Williams
The porch—which features screen windows in the summer and glass ones in the winter—runs the length of the house. Bunny used a natural-tone palette so that “when you are in this room you feel like you are already in the garden.”

The porch—which features screen windows in the summer and glass ones in the winter—runs the length of the house. Bunny used a natural-tone palette so that “when you are in this room you feel like you are already in the garden.”

A Plant-Centric Home

Bunny has a grand conservatory, but she also has plenty of plants indoors—and ideas about how to show them to their best advantage. “You want to get the plants up over your head. You don’t want everything low. If all of your plants are on the ground, you don’t see them. But if you put them on pedestals and elevate them, it is much more dramatic, and it makes the room so much more interesting.”

Inside the house, her plants don’t stay in one spot; to maintain their health, she regularly moves them around. “Frankly, no plant does perfectly indoors. Plants are meant to grow outside, and they will do well for a while indoors, but then they go into a stage where they don’t look so good, and you have to take them out. If you don’t have a greenhouse you can take them to a sunny back porch or someplace, so you’re always getting your plants to the point that when you put them out for show they’re in good shape.”

 

A slightly worn table and set of chairs are perfectly at home on the porch. “I don’t want to go in a room where everything needs restoring,” says Bunny. “But there is something about patina that is relaxing.” The washable rugs are from her collection for Dash & Albert.

A slightly worn table and set of chairs are perfectly at home on the porch. “I don’t want to go in a room where everything needs restoring,” says Bunny. “But there is something about patina that is relaxing.” The washable rugs are from her collection for Dash & Albert.

For the formal parterre gardens, visible from the conservatory where Bunny does much of her entertaining, part of the decision to create a box structure was the beautiful view it provided year-round, whether filled with annuals in the summer or covered with snow in the winter.

For the formal parterre gardens, visible from the conservatory where Bunny does much of her entertaining, part of the decision to create a box structure was the beautiful view it provided year-round, whether filled with annuals in the summer or covered with snow in the winter.

A Garden from Scratch

Bunny has always loved nature. Her mother was a gardener, and she herself grew up “way out in the country in Virginia, so I would say that my soul is in the country. I get more pleasure looking at trees and fields than almost anything.” She freely admits that before she bought this house she knew nothing about gardening. To bring herself up to speed, she spoke with every gardener she knew, and when she traveled to gardens across the United States and abroad, she talked to every gardener she met, squirreling away the accumulated knowledge. She also learned a great deal from the people who watered and weeded her own garden during the week, when she was away, people well versed in the particular conditions of the region.

Bunny enjoys the beauty of her gardens, but she’s also passionate about the work they entail. “I love dead-heading, I love weeding, I love cleaning. There is nothing better than to go outside on a beautiful day with your scissors or your clippers, the dog lying there on the grass—it’s fantastic. It’s good exercise, you’re outside, and what’s more beautiful than a flower? I’m not religious, but you can’t help but look at a passionflower and think, ‘Oh my God, how does nature make this?’”

 

The very sociable Bunny and John host many dinner parties in the conservatory. The tabletop and the bases are made of stone; the ceramic gourds are by Christopher Spitzmiller.

The very sociable Bunny and John host many dinner parties in the conservatory. The tabletop and the bases are made of stone; the ceramic gourds are by Christopher Spitzmiller.

A Working Conservatory

The conservatory is one of Bunny’s favorite places to entertain—it’s common for her to serve dinner to 10 to 12 people at its limestone-topped table—but it’s not just for show. The room is designed to nurture plants, so the floors are made of French roofing tiles set in sand, with drains built underneath, so that the floors, even after a heavy watering, won’t remain wet. The chairs are slipcovered to survive in a space where water is splashed around, and the furnishings are in pale colors so that they don’t compete with the colors of plants in bloom.

Bunny is a huge fan of hurricane lamps, and of candlelight in general. “I have two tall torchieres that bounce light off the ceiling, and everything else is candlelight.” For a time she used real candles but eventually switched to electric-powered Luminara candles. “They are fabulous. They are wax, and they look like real candles—the flame flickers and moves. I used to have to go around and light all of these candles, but that took too long. So now I have my little remote control and I light them all at once.”

 

Antique mirrors, graceful hurricane lamps, and marble-top tables add elegance to a room filled with plants.

Antique mirrors, graceful hurricane lamps, and marble-top tables add elegance to a room filled with plants.

The staggered heights of the pedestals add even more interest to this plant display.

The staggered heights of the pedestals add even more interest to this plant display.

There is nothing better than to go outside on a beautiful day with your scissors or your clippers, the dog lying there on the grass—it’s fantastic.

— Bunny Williams

Related: Tour Bunny and John’s Stunning Gardens →

Join the Discussion

Join the Discussion

10 Responses to “Tour the Sumptuous Home of Bunny Williams and John Rosselli”

  1. Julid says:

    Bunny is one of the best and we are kindred spirits! I love that noting has to look imperfect condition, but be interesting to look at, not cookie cutter; aged with patina, but sophisticated.

    • Dolores Pap says:

      I don’t see any imperfections in Bunny’s wonderful house.None at all; soo.unlike mine.:-)

      • Julid says:

        Dolores,
        To read further in my comment I referred to the “aged patina” on several of her furnishings. Delightfully unsterile! Beautifully blemished and aged, like us old folks!! To put it another way…No Furniture Botox.

        And it always amuses me how happy married coupes so often tend to look alike!

        • Dolores Pap says:

          I did understand you- I was just pointing out that ( to us) there were no imperfections. To us, imperfections= patina..:-)

    • Eugenia Murray says:

      Julid, if it helps I understood what you were saying and could not agree more. Well put.

  2. Nancy Whitehead says:

    i am a retired designer who grew up in Michigan with woods surrounding us on two sides of our five acre lot. The other side was a two acre all organic garden full of every fruit and vegetable you can imagine. We had our own gardner who happily taught me everything he knew about gardening, various plants and soil along with my “grandparent neighbors with their organic garden who were more then happy to let me help them in their garden when they were there working on it. I also learned some fantastic tricks about gardening that i still use today.My biggest challenge came when my oldest son in California bought a retirement home for me and my husband mainly because he like many Californians back then were buying Las Vegas real estate because it was much cheaper then California real estate and easy to get quickly back to California. Originally we are from Michigan. The first thing me California based son said to me was, “Make the yard and pool look like we are in California or Michigan while the reality was and still is that house sits in the middle of the Mojave Desert…No mean feat but in our large lot for LV I created a beautiful garden landscape including fifteen rose bushes in just the front yard alone and we must live with CC&R’s which are every home owners nightmare but in planned communities they are the norm. I know what it costs in water bills and landscaping bills monthly and I am out there with the crew for over an hour each week when they come for maintenance directing traffic so to speak. Their home and gardens are exqusite but knowing the costs of the maintenance they must be paying I shudder for them to maintain all those georgeous gardens and their pool. I doubt most people who will see this truely understand the costs of maintaining these properties in their pristine condition. Bravo Bunny & John. I am only too happy you are paying those maintenance bills on such a georgeous property because I speak from experience in these matters..I am also a staunch perfectionists and even in the Mojave Desert I use all organic products even on our Palm trees. You both deserve much praise with your restoration of that beautiful gem of a house, the surrounding gardens, hen house, Conservatory, and barn. folly pool house and pool, Just stunning and Oh so livable…..Many congratulations on such a fine job very well done…….

  3. Nancy Whitehead says:

    i am a retired designer who grew up in Michigan with woods surrounding us on two sides of our five acre lot. The other side was a two acre all organic garden full of every fruit and vegetable you can imagine. We had our own gardner who happily taught me everything he knew about gardening, various plants and soil along with my “grandparent neighbors with their organic garden who were more then happy to let me help them in their garden when they were there working on it. I also learned some fantastic tricks about gardening that i still use today.My biggest challenge came when my oldest son in California bought a retirement home for me and my husband mainly because he like many Californians back then were buying Las Vegas real estate because it was much cheaper then California real estate and easy to get quickly back to California. Originally we are from Michigan. The first thing me California based son said to me was, “Make the yard and pool look like we are in California or Michigan while the reality was and still is that house sits in the middle of the Mojave Desert…No mean feat but in our large lot for LV I created a beautiful garden landscape including fifteen rose bushes in just the front yard alone and we must live with CC&R’s which are every home owners nightmare but in planned communities they are the norm. I know what it costs in water bills and landscaping bills monthly and I am out there with the crew for over an hour each week when they come for maintenance directing traffic so to speak. Their home and gardens are exqusite but knowing the costs of the maintenance they must be paying I shudder for them to maintain all those georgeous gardens and their pool. I doubt most people who will see this truely understand the costs of maintaining these properties in their pristine condition. Bravo Bunny & John. I am only too happy you are paying those maintenance bills on such a georgeous property because I speak from experience in these matters..I am also a staunch perfectionists and even in the Mojave Desert I use all organic products even on our Palm trees. You both deserve much praise with your restoration of that beautiful gem of a house, the surrounding gardens, hen house, Conservatory, and barn. folly pool house and pool, Just stunning and Oh so livable…..Many congratulations on such a fine job very well done…….

  4. Mary Ellen Peter says:

    Trelliage will be missed, truly one of the great stores for the person who wanted to learn about the “just right” place for things. These two are treasures and they expanded my outlook on interesting over perfect. Truly no one like Bunny Williams (who else hand stencils tortoise shell patterns?) magnificent home and thanks to One Kings Lane for this story!

  5. I love the relaxed attitude! It’s about ease, enjoyment, a sense of abundance. And beauty everywhere!

  6. Rachel says:

    What an inspiring interview! Thank you so much for this article.

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