A Designer Dazzles in Her Stratfield Home
When Betsy Ryan and her husband Ed moved to Fairfield in 1997, they knew they had found their home in Stratfield, a neighborhood bordering Easton and Bridgeport in the northeast corner of town.
Twenty-one years (and five kids) later, the Ryans have long ago moved from their starter home. But, they have yet to depart Stratfield. After buying, renovating, and selling two subsequent homes in the neighborhood, the family is now happily in their fourth house in the area, a Brooklawn ranch that they gutted and remodeled into a sprawling farmhouse colonial.
Betsy, an interior designer and real estate stager, and Ed, a businessman, are huge fans of the Stratfield neighborhood. It’s a place they admittedly never want to leave. “Stratfield is like a melting pot of good people, diverse and wonderful, always open to caring for one another and being there as a community when someone needs help,” says Betsy. “Living here, you definitely give up acreage and you have close neighbors, but the tradeoff is worth it.
“We joke that our little enclave of Fairfield is called ‘Fairport’ or ‘Bridgefield’,” she says with a laugh. “Many people when they come here say ‘I never knew this area was part of Fairfield’ or ‘What a diamond in the rough!”
“A diamond in the rough” is an accurate way to describe the Ryans’ home when they found it nine years ago. Committed to staying in Stratfield but unable to locate a house suited to their growing family’s needs, the family discovered a mid-century ranch on Old Oaks Road tucked away near the entrance of Brooklawn Country Club. Situated on nearly two acres, the house was in an association of stately Tudors and center hall colonials developed in the 1920s for General Electric executives. The neighborhood’s charm won the Ryans over. But the ranch was “neither charming nor stately—it was run down and dated,” says Betsy. Yet, the property was ideal, and Betsy knew they could eventually mold the house into what they needed—and wanted—in a home.
This time around, though, the prospect of tackling another huge renovation was daunting. For starters, Betsy and Ed had already been through three home remodels. And, Betsy had her hands full with her family and a new and thriving interior decorating business. “We needed to make sure our dream for this house could in fact become reality,” she explains. Once again, the Ryans stayed within the confines of Stratfield, seeking help from nearby architect Don Fairbanks. With Fairbanks’ vision and guidance through two periods of work, the house nearly doubled in size. Almost every room was gutted, with the exception of the original living room, which Fairbanks retained due to abundance of light and a ceiling that “has a beautiful simple curved plaster cove where it meets the walls.”
Phase one of construction included adding the front porch, entry portico, a foyer, stairs, second floor bedrooms, and baths, and framing out the attic level. But two important areas of the house—the kitchen and master bedroom—had to take a back seat due to the rising costs of materials and unforeseen replacement of an entire septic system. Those projects were eventually completed in a second phrase of work, and Betsy admits “I am glad I waited, as it gave me time to look and research so that I had my dream kitchen.”
Today, the Ryan home is sophisticated yet casual and cozy. Inside, Betsy chose a palette of sandy neutral colors that are paired with softer hues in blues and red. Flooded in sunlight during the daytime, and sparkling with interior light at night, the house has inviting wood tones, charming vintage furniture and accents, and an open, airy kitchen that’s perfect for a big, busy family.
Outdoors, the relaxed vibe continues thanks in part to the work of other Stratfield and Fairfield-based professionals. Austin Ganim Landscapes transformed the entire backyard, which was ignored for years and completely overgrown. “With Eva at the helm, they continued to clear and plant more every year to create the green oasis that we have come to call heaven,” says Betsy. Kelly McGovern Landscape Designs masterminded a recent addition to the backyard that includes a pergola-covered gas fire table—a cozy spot with couches where Betsy, Ed, and friends can relax while watching their kids swim in the pool. And Stratfield landscape architect David Schiffer reconfigured the front entrance of the house with “a cohesive look of boxwoods and stone work, complete with a fountain and Belgium stone squaring off the driveway,” she explains.
Betsy’s objectives for her own home readily spills over to the work she crafts for her interior design clients. “I make it my mission to create warmth and charm in every home where I am invited to help,” she says. “To me, the most important aspect of a home is that when a guest enters, they can feel its warmth—they can see who lives there. I always say to a client, I want to know a little about the occupants in every room. I find design lately is so cold and repeated, with a very sterile ‘Pinterest’ inspired look that seems very staged and uninviting to me.”
It is easy to see that the Ryans have finally found their definitive, long-term spot. “The best part is that we feel really great here, both inside and outside,” says Ed. “We are truly home.”