It Takes a Village

There’s an unfussy sense of refinement about this urbane home

By Sabine Rothman

Playwright Arthur Miller, who spent his teenage years in the Midwood area, once described Brooklyn as a collection of villages. Carol Chera can attest that's still true today. This mother of five has spent her whole life in Miller's erstwhile southeast Brooklyn neighborhood. What's more, her extended family lives just a short hop away, if that.

Carol, husband Ike, and their five children--four girls and a boy, ranging from ages 19 down to 4--are happily ensconced. "I love having my kids around me," she says. "We play board games on snowy days. We're really like the Waltons; it's almost that corny."

But that clan never lived like this. Carol's tastes are urbane--and so is her home. Architect Warren Meister built it for the Cheras about eight years ago, designing it to blend into its neighborhood of freestanding houses and tree-lined streets.

Inside, the flowing rooms are human in scale but still generous, with graceful woodwork, fine paneling, and coffered ceilings. But life had somehow gotten in the way of decorating. "We slept on a mattress on the floor," admits Carol.

That started to change four years ago, when interior designer William McIntosh stepped in to help decorate the house. "I'm a control freak, but when it comes to Bill, I surrender," Carol offers. "Whatever I dream about, he takes to the next level."

Taking cues from her wardrobe--and combining them with his own aesthetic sensibilities--McIntosh chose a sophisticated neutral palette. He's one of those rare designers who can make neutral colors exciting. "There's so much more than beige," he explains. "So that it doesn't get boring, you need to pull in a range of tones, from the depth of warm black to cool, icy whites." He combined that nuanced palette with tremendous textural variety--silk and felt, lacquer and plaster, hammered bronze and polished nickel. The living room has two sofas: one with a sleek bench cushion clad in mink-brown wool, the other in tufted natural linen. Elegant variation in its best sense.

Alternating tailored details and daring broad strokes also contributes to the unfussy sense of refinement. McIntosh wrapped the living room bookshelves in felt and edged them with nail heads, a favorite design detail. The bedroom features 40,000 more nail heads that delineate the border between wool-upholstered walls the color of pale chocolate milk and wainscoting painted to match. A plaster fireplace mantelpiece hand-sculpted by artist Malcolm Hill is the tour de force here. Its undulating pods bring an organic lightness that perfectly complements the polished-nickel bed frame. "I wanted drama, not a disco," Carol says.

Carol particularly loves her bedroom curtains. They're layered: an embroidered sheer under sleek, boxy, tailored taffeta. "They look like me," she explains. "Sometimes I'm old-fashioned. But, sometimes I want to feel young and fun and sleek and modern."

In the couple's dressing rooms, McIntosh lacquered existing woodwork the same pale chocolate milk color he used in the bedroom, replaced solid shelves with Lucite and panels with nickel grilles, clad the walls in felt and outlined them with nail heads, and switched out the hardware for polished nickel. "Small surgical insertions changed the whole look," he explains.

The dining room--inspired by a photograph of Yves Saint Laurent's dining room that Carol spotted in a Christie's catalog--may be the most dramatic space of all. "It took two guys three weeks to achieve that finish," says McIntosh of the chocolate walls and ceiling. His grand gesture: a Murano chandelier that looks like a golden sea creature descending over the table. ?Art adviser Elizabeth Wingate, who has worked with Carol and Ike on their collection, found an abstract Pat Steir painting to complete the scene.

Comfortable in this elegant setting, Carol's thoughts, as always, turn to her family. "One day my kids will be married," she says. "I want all of us--and grandchildren--sitting around that table." Like this home, it'll be worth the wait.