Governor's Residence gets a makeover

Photo of Ken Dixon

HARTFORD -- The birds' nests are gone from behind the shutters at the historic Governor's Residence.

In fact, so are the shutters, as part of a six-month rehabilitation of the 1909 landmark at 990 Prospect Ave. that brought Connecticut designers and decorators into the mansion to recreate rooms that had been stagnant for 20 years or more.

The result, at no cost to taxpayers, is a makeover that money can't buy for the six-acre compound now the home of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his wife, Cathy.

Paint, wall coverings, rugs, upholstery and light fixtures and decades of expertise were donated to "The People's Project," which is in its final stages as craftsmen finish painting those shutters along with providing finishing touches on the nearby two-bedroom cottage.

"It's really nice to see people coming in and enjoying the house," Malloy said in a Tuesday phone interview, noting that the designers were eager to incorporate his family furniture with the house's antiques, such as the highly valued Chippendale secretary and the American Impressionist paintings from the Wadsworth Atheneum.

"It's a good mixture of our things," Malloy said.

The project brought together in-state corporate sponsors and design professionals to redo the public rooms of the residence, as well as its two-room pool building and the small, slate-roofed, guest cottage. All of this is administered by the nonprofit Governor's Residence Conservancy Inc.

"It's donated to the conservancy, so the state of Connecticut got the gifts," said D.J. Carey, editorial director of Norwalk-based Connecticut Cottages & Gardens, which oversaw the project with the conservancy and will feature the interiors in its upcoming November edition. "What they did with what they had was magnificent, and I think everyone in the project was happy to be in it."

Dark-hued rooms were lightened up, with colorful accents high up on the walls or ceilings to create different effects. Curtains were taken away from a west-facing sunroom, allowing a vista of the gardens -- way in the back is the governor's organic tomato garden -- and pool.

The walls of the governor's study got a multi-layered treatment and an older desk was brought in, replacing the 1970s-era desk that Malloy's predecessor, M. Jodi Rell, preferred.

"The floor plans didn't work for large gatherings or small gatherings," Carey said during a 45-minute tour Tuesday. "But there wasn't a huge reconstitution of anything."

"This was done by Connecticut-based designers who wanted to see the residence open to the public, as it should be," Malloy said. "When we got here in January it was very hard to relate to the structure of the first floor. It wasn't us."

Inmates in the state prison system got some job training in chair reupholstering on furniture found in the basement of the mansion, which has been the home of state governors since 1945.

Malloy and his wife, who had the ultimate decision on what was done to the rooms and buildings, have added their own touches, including a sofa, their collection of paintings and prints and a painted-wood cupboard that stands about 8 feet high, where their collection of matte-green pottery resides.

"Cathy and I over the years have really loved and appreciated the arts," said the governor.

"They wanted clean and easy," Carey said of the Malloys.

Decorators and designers included Carey Karlan, Carolyn Kron and Tricia Izzo, Catherine Cleare, Glenda Moralee, Jamie Drak, LouAnn Torres, Nick Geragi, Paula Perlini, Philip Garrivan, Polly Denham, Sandra Morgan and Susan Bednar Long.

Klaff's, the Norwalk-based lighting company, took over redecorating the first-floor women's restroom, including the installation of a new floor and an antique, multi-paneled mirror.

"This isn't a showcase that would be taken down," Carey said. "It's permanent going forward for Gov. Malloy and those after him."

But what about the birds' multi-generational reputation for tenacity in rebuilding nests behind the window shutters? There will be screening put behind them when they're put back next to the windows.

More details about The People's Project are available at