Updating a Cross River Icon
The Gideon Reynolds Brick House once welcomed stagecoaches en route from New York to Danbury. Weary travelers were served a hearty dinner for one dollar each. Now a family residence, it has been updated and enhanced by Jim and Jean Prusko with invaluable guidance by Marsha Russell of Satinwood, Ltd.
Photos by CT Plans
In 2006, after the arrival of their fourth child, Jim and Jean Prusko were looking for more space. “Our house in Katonah was too small,” recalls Jim as he leads a tour of his family’s current home. “We saw a bunch of houses, none of which we liked. Then, this came on the market. Jean loves old houses, and she loved everything about this one—so much character and history. And, I loved the land.” It was the perfect match for the young family.
Back in the early 19th century, the Pruskos’ home served as a stagecoach stop and tavern known as the Gideon Reynolds Brick House. Travelers making their way from New York to Danbury at a clip of about five miles per hour found a respite from the dusty roads in this stately mansion overlooking the Cross River valley.
Nearly two centuries later, the valley and its riverside village are long gone, flooded in 1908 to create a reservoir. The Brick House went through a transition (or four), as well—serving as an inn, a summer tourist home, a tavern, and most recently, a private residence.
Perched on five acres, the four-story Brick House has stood the test of time, thanks to its sturdy construction. The walls of Jim’s office, located on the ground level where the tavern kitchen once produced hearty meals, have been stripped to reveal the native stone foundation and brick walls made from local clay.
This renovated space now hums with a different type of energy—21st-century technology. Oversized computer screens blend seamlessly with rustic old finishes. “We left the nooks and crannies in the brick wall where bread used to be baked, and our decorator, Marsha Russell, added antique barn wood to the ceiling and helped us choose artwork. I really like all the textures and rich colors,” he explains.
Aside from his state-of-the-art, subterranean office and his uber-cool wine cellar (more on that later), what Jim loves most about their little piece of heaven is the property. “The land terraces down the hill, and we have a bench at the top for drinking wine and watching the sun set over the reservoir,” he says.
“The pool was here when we moved in, but the first additions we made to the landscape were the athletic field and the sport court. The outdoor play spaces were important to me.”
Up on the hill by the sport court, there is a gym cleverly disguised as a small barn, and in the orchard, there is another small outbuilding—perhaps an old icehouse—that the Pruskos converted into a wine house. “It was a small shed sitting on top of a beautiful fieldstone cube,” Jim describes.
“Our friend, Rob Siegel, is an architect, and he redesigned the layout so that we could have a tasting room upstairs and storage below with cooling equipment hidden under the stairs. Our contractor, Gerety Building & Restoration, installed barn siding downstairs, brought in Italian artisans to hand-plaster the walls upstairs, refinished the floors, and wired the cellar for biometric locks. It’s a great space for wine and cheese parties.”
When his wife arrives home and joins the tour, Jim notes, “I’m talking feverishly about how much I love the property, Jean.” She laughs and jumps right in as we enter the English “green room” designed by Tuliptree Site Design.
Boasting a massive, stone fireplace and terrace plus two walls of hedges, the “room” extends the home’s living space into the outdoors. “Now that the kids are older, we can entertain adults down here while all the kids are playing up on the hill,” she says.
The green room’s stone patio leads to the back door—the common entrance for both family and guests. A classic center hall runs straight through the house, and when the doors are opened at both ends, a delightful breeze sweeps through the first floor.
The house unfolds from here with living and family rooms to the south and a kitchen and a dining room to the north. “I’m always drawn to older homes,” says Jean, who together with Jim, renovated three other antiques before the Brick House.
“The first time I walked in here, I liked that it was a big house with a small footprint—a grand house with cozy interior spaces.”
When the Pruskos moved in, there was no architectural detail—just sheetrock covering the interior brick walls. This seemed curious to Jean. So, Marsha Russell brought in Nichols Woodworking to recreate period-appropriate millwork—crown molding, window and door trim, and substantial built-ins.
“It re-infused the house with character that had been stripped out at some point,” Jim says. “I loved working with Marsha on the whole renovation process, but I think I was most pleased with the millwork.”
Jean adds. “Our goal throughout was to make updates that were in keeping with the original house. I feel like this house is going to age very well. It’s not trendy; it’s timeless.”
Just up the stairs is Jean’s favorite space. The second floor consists of the master suite, a guest suite, and a third bedroom that Jean converted into a dressing room.
The center hall features a hand-painted mural of the property, has magnificent views of the reservoir an oversized window, and is anchored by a sitting area where Jean loves to curl up with a good book.
The top floor is the kids’ domain. Ranging in age from nine to sixteen, the four Prusko kids share this colorful aerie. The light-filled center playroom is topped with a massive cupola and leads to four separate bedrooms and two baths.
Despite all the compelling amenities they enjoy indoors and out, at night, the family often ends up right down in the first-floor family room where the built-ins are stuffed with books and board games.
“This is a special room,” says Jim. “I think we did a good job of making it traditional yet fun. While this is a great entertaining house, it’s an even better family home.”