throwing a birthday party for a house presents a challenge that might lummox even Miss Manners, Letitia Baldrige, or Emily Post. But in 2008, when Alicia Zalka decided to host a bash for her Litchfield County, Connecticut, home’s 200th year, she knew precisely how to go about it. First she rounded up 50 friends to toast the guest of honor. Then Zalka planned a dreamy afternoon snack—champagne plus bonbons from the local Bridgewater Chocolate company. The main event was, however, the cake: an exact replica of the federal-style structure, all the way down to the brickwork (fashioned from red fondant), and topped with 200 candles. It was particularly important to get those sugary blocks just right, since the actual bricks “were pressed right here on the property,” Zalka explains.
You can’t blame her for wanting to celebrate her home. And not just because the place is gorgeous, inside and out. Zalka, a dermatologist, had to travel a
long and winding road to get here. Twelve years ago, when she first spied the 4,100-square-foot property, she was sure she’d found the house of her dreams—before she even entered it. But her real estate agent tried to dispel any such notion, cautioning, “Don’t be silly, it’s out of your price range.” Undeterred, Zalka made an offer, only to see it rejected. A year passed. The doctor looked at nearly 50 other places, none of which lived up to the one that got away. And then, Zalka designed the kitchen herself, choosing Benjamin Moore’s Iced Slate for the custom cabinets and island. Passed down from
the home’s former owners, the rush-seat stools were originally
a mahogany brown before Zalka painted them white
out of the blue, the phone rang—her original offer had been accepted. Upon loving in, Zalka realized her existing furniture barely filled one-quarter of the sprawling house. And while the residence was in generally good condition, it did need some vital renovations, starting with a kitchen overhaul that included installing new cupboards and ripping up flooring to update the plumbing. But first things first: Before tackling the task of making the inside of her dream house a reality, Zalka planted lilac bushes by the front door, a New England custom that thrilled the self-professed “lilac fanatic.” Today, the property features nine full-grown bushes, with blooms ranging in color from white to
deep purple—and the interior of Zalka’s home serves as a tribute to those lushhues.
The master bedroom springs to life with a jaw-dropping paint treatment of lavender-gray and cool white stripes on the floor. (“I was influenced to try that after seeing a similar floor at a Ralph Lauren store in New York City,” Zalka recalls. “It took about two weeks of trial and error to get everything just ight!”) In the kitchen, which she designed herself, a perfect garden blue adorns the custom cabinetry.
Elsewhere, touches of creamy white and warm pink pop up. Come springtime, every vase, urn, and pitcher in Zalka’s considerable collection fills up with
fresh lilacs and foliage from her garden. She doesn’t divine inspiration from flowers alone, though. “I’m a nester—a bird person,” Zalka says. “I love anything that looks like sky and clouds, in colors like blue and gray.” She’s particularly drawn to robins’ egg blue, which shows up in her living room’s voluptuous Thomas O’Brien rug, the upholstery on a Louis XVI chair, and even the piping that trims a beige herringbone sofa. And for a stunning touch of realism, Zalka uses a 1950sshadowbox-style table to display the little nests she findsswept to ground afterstorms, sometimes with bits of blue-tinged hell still tucked inside.
That Zalka so embraces nature wasn’t always a given. Now she loves nothing more than working in the garden with her trio of Labrador retrievers—Willow,
Olive, and Aspen—by her side. But the Long Island native grew up in a split-level rancher with practically no yard to speak of. And rather than playing outside, she whiled away much of her childhood indoors, reading. “I was the kind of girl who read shelter magazines instead of fashion publications,” she
recalls. “I would grab them and devour them before my mom could!” In fact, Zalka credits the airy, blue-and-white richness of her master bedroom to an
inspiring swatch of Provençal fabric she saw pictured in this magazine several years ago.
Zalka also developed her appreciation for muted colors and delicate, 18th- century Gustavian pieces by spending time with her father, who owned a furniture shop. “I learned a lot by going to trade shows with my dad,” Zalka says. “And I loved going with him to other stores—especially Ethan Allen, where I’d pretend the showroom was my house!” These days, one of the foctor’s favorite spots in her own home is the attic sleeping loft she designed for when her nieces stay over. “If I’m feeling under the weather, that’s the best spot in the world to nap,” she says.
Even when Zalka’s in perfect health, she still sneaks up there to daydream about new decorating schemes and renovation ideas. “I love my home,” she explains, “but I don’t know that I’ll ever feel like this place is done. It’s a real evolution.” One she’ll no doubt want to document again with a celebratory bash.