French Toast

Paris-born Interior Designer Janine Ducoin-Arnold infuses her Larchmont home with understated French elegance.



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The majestic view of the house from the verdant garden makes it hard to believe that it was once a three-bedroom ranch.

It is only natural for a dwelling to reflect its owner, even more so when the owner of the house happens to be an accomplished interior designer. In the case of Paris-born Janine Ducoin-Arnold, every room in her elegant Larchmont home is imbued with some aspect of her own gracious French style.

Shades of blue ebb and flow throughout the interiors like a tranquil meandering brook. Ducoin-Arnold is also fond of yellows, and she uses the two colors in both a traditional French Provençal sense, with its country chic style and vibrant shades, as well as to create an understated aesthetic. Those warm and cool hues capture perfectly the essence of this former vice president for French bank CCF, who put aside her legal career when she was expecting her first child. “The part-time requirements were too much,” Ducoin-Arnold recalls. “Instead, I used my pregnancy as an opportunity for a career change.”

Though she had always had an interest in interior design, it was not on her career radar as a child. “France is the kingdom of ‘Do it yourself,’” Ducoin-Arnold says with a smile. “There wasn’t really a market for interior designers.”

Still, she admits that her passion for design was first piqued in her native country. Growing up in a small apartment on the outskirts of Paris, Ducoin-Arnold remembers her mother rearranging the furniture every weekend. “It was her way of changing the décor,” recalls the designer, who loved to help her mother “stage” the rooms each week. “It provided an outlet for my mother, and I suppose I caught the bug.”

It certainly took an interior designer’s vision to imagine the possibilities in the unassuming split-level that Ducoin-Arnold first saw on this private cul-de- sac in 1996. And it took both serious talent and uncommon flair to transform the 1940s-era three-bedroom house into its current incarnation: a tasteful center-hall Colonial that looks as if it has been imbedded in the local granite forever.

There were certain elements about the house and its property that attracted Ducoin-Arnold right from the start. After growing up in France and living in London for some years, she wanted a space with high ceilings, not the eight-foot ones found in the typical American home. The split-level fit the bill nicely, since it enabled her to expand upward, making the ceilings as lofty as she desired. Having developed a love for gardening when her family lived in London, she also was drawn to the generous property.

The designer was so excited upon first seeing the house that she stayed up all night madly sketching plans. Though she managed to keep its footprint, Ducoin-Arnold ended up with a finished product that bears no resemblance to the original home’s interior or exterior. She worked with architects Clark Neuringer of Mamaroneck and Arthur Wexler of Larchmont to refine her ambitious designs and Putnam Valley-based contractor ASC Remodeling to implement them. Not only did she add an additional story, she also pushed out the walls of the living room, kitchen, and sunroom.

One of the greatest accomplishments was the transformation of the original home’s front hall into a grand double-height entryway featuring a dramatic circular staircase curling up to the second floor. This stately room foreshadows the elegance of the rest of the house. The wallpaper here mimics blocks of stone, and a baby grand piano is nestled beside the stairway.

Two large-scale, hand-painted Chinese screens set the tranquil tone of the formal living room. Ducoin-Arnold bought the silk panels from Gracie, a New York importer of Chinese papers. The pair flank a pine fireplace mantel with detailed carvings of rams, cupids, and flowers that Ducoin-Arnold inherited from her grandmother. While she has no idea of its provenance, she has taken it with her everywhere, installing it in nearly all of her abodes on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Anything with memory attached to it—whether it’s a memento from a trip or a gift from family or friends—adds character to a home,” says the designer, who believes that pieces with sentimental value are the soul of a house. “These things can be the inspiration for design.” There’s plenty of evidence throughout the room of Ducoin-Arnold’s travels, from the vargueno, a 17th-century portable desk that she found in Spain to the many pieces of decorative porcelain purchased on her trips to Taiwan and Hong Kong.