For an older home and a downsizing family, renewal is its own reward
Call it love at first sight.
That’s how Chris and Nancy Monahan describe the impulsive 24 hours in which they discovered and bought their Fairfield farmhouse last year. Chris saw the “For Sale” sign on the vacant, dingy brown place on his way to hit balls at Fairfield’s H. Smith Richardson golf course, and called his wife. “I just knew,” says Chris.
“We weren’t even looking,” says Nancy, who reluctantly came to see what had Chris so excited. “I said, ‘Buy it’ before I even walked inside.”
So began the Monahans migration from their Westport home of 15 years, a downsizing move the couple had talked about as a “someday thing.” But when their girls, Sara, 18, and Erin, 16, opted to attend boarding school, the drab house on the hill suddenly offered sooner-than-expected, empty-nest potential.
It wasn’t the house that was so tempting, although its bones were fine. “I think what we both fell in love with was the property,” says Chris, who works for the Royal Bank of Canada. The new Monahan home sits on the summit of six gently sloping acres, enveloped by backcountry Fairfield’s best natural assets. The view includes apple orchards, open fields, and a vintage flagpole, a gift to the home’s original owners from Igor Sikorsky. It is said to be made of parts harvested from one of his first helicopter models.
Nancy, a biotechnology sales representative who also studied design at Fairfield University, was sketching a new interior before the sale closed. Modernizing the home, custom built in the 1950s for a General Electric executive’s family, became a personal project. After years of helping friends and family outfit their homes, Nancy had the chance to design from scratch. “The house, I imagine, was beautiful once, but it seemed like it hadn’t been touched for 60 years. We knew we had to gut the place,” she says. After a big tag sale, Nancy imported only favorite furnishings from Westport, including landscapes by Sara.
“The plan was to create our grownup house,” says Nancy. “We love to entertain. Chris comes from a big Irish family. It is not unusual, some holidays, to have 20 kids here. We wanted something open and airy where we could have a big party and spread out.”
Also important was to create an environment welcoming enough to make daughters Sara, bound for New York University, and Erin, at St. George’s in Newport, Rhode Island, feel truly at home. “It was a big deal for us to leave the house they grew up in. I wanted them to come here and love it,” says Nancy.
The mission was accomplished by creating a cozy yet sophisticated home for all seasons. The first-floor renovation is a happy marriage of interior and exterior design. French doors lining the kitchen, sitting area, and dining room are flung open in fair weather to access a stone patio and fire pit. The resulting vibe is that of a well-appointed European portico.
“My taste had changed,” says Nancy, who now tends toward a minimalist décor, relying on art and textiles for color. “Our Westport house was very traditional. I got rid of all the clutter. Here, I wanted clean lines and lots of light. I used more white and light paints. The idea was to have the place feel restful, like a spa.”
The transition was completed with glamorous private quarters for the Monahan girls, who, like their parents, have become Fairfield enthusiasts. “It feels more relaxed here. Or maybe it’s the place that relaxes us,” says Nancy. “Either way, we love it.”