In high school, Audrey Leary added color to her bedroom walls with nail polish. “I’ve always used whatever I have at my fingertips to make things more colorful,” Audrey says. “Color makes me happy.” Nowadays Audrey and her husband, Sam, own and run the Blackberry River Bistro in Canaan, Connecticut. He does most of the cooking, and she’s a trained pastry chef. They live nearby with their sons, Daniel, 6, and Kevin, 4. Here, Audrey gives us a tour of their colorful family home…
On a dad’s love language: When we moved in 10 years ago, the foyer had black and white tile. When my dad came to visit, he noticed that it was chipping and falling apart. He ended up changing his plane ticket to stay and re-tile the whole floor. This flooring anchors the room and I just love it.
On the central hub: This huge table is a hand-me-down from my husband’s brother. It’s the heart of our home and holds cereal bowls, Legos, mail, paintings, and whatever else this constantly moving household is in the middle of.
On personal paintings: Early in the pandemic, my husband went fishing and caught a gigantic trout. My son was so excited. I painted it but still need to finish it — quite a few of my paintings are up even though they’re still in progress.
On book hunting: Our book collection is about one-third fishing-related, one-third novels, and one-third cookbooks. My favorites for baking are République’s book, Tartine for all the breads, and anything by Sarah Kieffer. I also love The Red Cat Cookbook for simple, well-done classics, and Food52’s Genius Recipes never fails.
On creating a wall pattern: This wall used to be just light green, but it felt toothpastey to me, so I wanted to add a pattern. I made a simple stencil for the largest semi-circle — the top of the rainbow, if you will — by tracing an Ikea mixing bowl onto thick paper and then cutting it in half. On the wall, I started on the bottom and traced the arc with a pencil and then moved it over and traced another right next to it; I kept doing the same thing offset every other row. Finally, I painted the top arc dark green with a small paintbrush and just eyeballed the ones underneath. It was tedious but simple.
Purple lamps: Simple Designs. Wall color: Benjamin Moore Eraser Pink.
On meditative rituals: I do all the painting myself. I listen to podcasts — or show tunes if I need a boost. My biggest tip is, use a drop cloth. Sometimes I try to skip it, and it’s always a mistake. I just use old sheets that we don’t need anymore.
On finding paint: We get most of our paint from the local Buy Nothing group. People will frequently list half empty cans, or you can ask if anyone has leftovers. If I don’t get a color I want, I mix it and hope for the best.
On collections: Years ago, when we lived in Brooklyn, I wore all vintage — day gloves, hats, brooches, I went all out. My style has changed, but I couldn’t get rid of my collection of brooches. Any collection can look cool if displayed in the right space. My husband’s fishing lures are fun to look at, too.
Sofa: Albany Park. Wallpaper: Sandberg. Ceiling color: Backdrop Stromboli Chess Club. Portraits: made by Audrey. Lamp: painted an old Target lamp inspired by this Schoolhouse one. Red console table: CB2, similar.
On remembering pets: Before having kids, my husband and I adopted a five-year-old rescue, who had many quirks and issues. But she was the sweetest. She passed away a few years ago, so I painted her for my husband for Christmas. I enjoyed the process so much that I asked for giant wooden panels for my birthday to paint portraits of our boys.
On sweet photos: My youngest [right] was the crankiest baby. But in this picture with his ice cream, he was very happy. So, I painted that photo. Then I thought it would be funny if my other son was eating ice cream in his portrait, as well. We eat a lot of ice cream.
On a playful touch: The trim below the ceiling is just a classroom scalloped trim like teachers use.
On the realities of owning a restaurant: For the first year of running our restaurant, we were working 60 to 80 hours a week. Because we had to stay late and start early, we’d often sleep on a blow-up mattress in the kitchen. Then we’d wake up before the staff arrived and hide the mattress. It was all-consuming, and I remember crying to my husband. Thankfully, it’s calmed down a bit, and, as hard as it is, I love almost everything about it. I enjoy working with my hands, and there’s nothing that makes people happier than a beautiful meal that’s lovingly served.
On samples: I adored this wallpaper from Flavor Paper, but we couldn’t afford it. So, I ordered a sample and framed it. If you scratch it, it smells like bananas!
Purple paint: Benjamin Moore Eggplant Purple. Flowers: hand painted by Audrey. Mirror: thrifted, then painted with the leftover Benjamin Moore Firefly from the kitchen. Shower curtain: Schoolhouse, similar. Tiger bath mat: Amazon.
On cheerful spaces: Beata Heuman has a book called Every Room Should Sing, and, to me, every room should smile. That’s so dorky to say, but I really think every room should have some bright color or quirky thing.
On hilarious notes: I came home one night from the restaurant and this note was on the floor in the entryway. My oldest was so proud of his little brother! We had to frame it.
Paint colors: Backdrop’s Stromboli Chess Club, Blue Is The Coolest Color and Formentera. Side tables: bought at auction, similar. Clock: Schoolhouse. Bolster pillows: similar. Duvet: Schoolhouse. Blue pillows: Schoolhouse. Headboard: from Overstock, similar. Plug-in sconces: Amazon.
On the satisfaction of DIY: Many decisions in this house started with a thought like, I wish we had the money for this. Then I’ll figure out something similar I can do myself. There’s nothing as satisfying as having someone say, ‘Oh my god, that wallpaper is so beautiful!’ when you actually did it. I freestyle painted these walls with a couple different blues.
Pendant: Hay. Vintage chair: bought at auction. Wooden bench: thrifted.
On backstories: That framed poster is from ski championships in the ’80s. My husband was a champion skier at age three! That chair has seen better days, but our old dog Lucky used to sleep in it, so we’ve kept it for nostalgia.
On splashing color everywhere: My husband gave me a stamp roller for Mother’s Day, and I used it on these walls. I also spray painted the sconces red and then painted our nightstands purple with green handles, courtesy of green nail polish.
On a whirlwind romance: My husband and I met at a friend’s place in Brooklyn. We talked until four in the morning. We moved in together two weeks later, it was crazy fast. I was planning to move back to Chicago; I’d already accepted a job and put down a deposit on an apartment. When I decided not to move, my parents flew out in a panic — they thought I’d lost my mind. But Sam and I got engaged a few months later, and now we’ve been married for 12 years.
On getting dressed: I was listening to an interior design podcast a few months ago, and they said if you aren’t sure what your interior design style is, look in your closet. And I was like, oh my gosh, that rings true! Getting dressed is a creative outlet for me, and I use my Instagram as a bit of a fashion diary. I’m also inspired by hotels — I’ve been drooling over the photos of Peter & Paul in New Orleans.
Wallpaper: Hygge and West. Cactus lamp: thrifted. Red lamps: Amazon. Shelves: “my husband built them.” Yellow mobile: Mobiles Mobiles. Ship kite: Haptic Lab. Pterodactyl and hot air balloon: made by Audrey.
On the joy of children’s rooms: I would happily make our entire house look like a kid’s room and, well, maybe it does. The bunk beds I got from our local Buy Nothing group; then I took them apart and painted them with green chalkboard paint.
Dresser: hand-me-down painted Farmhouse Red Chalked Paint.
On getting a welcome from the Obamas: I was stoked to read that you can request congratulations from the president after having a baby. I did that with my oldest, who was born in June 2016. But when my younger son was born in 2019, we did not request one from Trump.
On naming the boys: My husband really wanted to name a boy after his dad. He was like, ‘My dad has done so much for me, and when else can I give him a gift like this?’ So, we named our first son Daniel. When I was pregnant again, I thought that if it was a girl, we’d name her after my mom. I love my dad, but his name is Kevin and it just felt like a name of its time. But when we had a boy, we went for it. For the first six months, I’d be like, ‘This-is-Kevin-we-named-him-after-my-dad!’ But then it just happens that a name starts to fit a kid.
On bedtime: Daniel was scared to go to sleep alone, before Kevin was born and joined him. So, one night, I made him this sign. Speaking of bravery, when people come over, they’ll say, ‘You’re so brave to paint with bright colors.’ But you don’t have to be afraid of color. If you hate it, paint over it! Nothing makes a bigger impact for less money than color. It can make the cheap couch you inherited look cool and intentional if you get the right color behind it.
Thank you for sharing your home, Audrey! You can follow her on Instagram, if you’d like.
P.S. More house tours, including a Maine home with a view and a colorful farmhouse with open doors.
(Photos by Lyndsay Hannah for Cup of Jo.)