Garden of Love
A Stratfield Couple creates their Dream Space, after years of meticulous renovations
Photos by Hulya Kolabas
Twenty years ago, Daryl Duarte threw a birthday party for a friend at his Black Rock apartment. A mutual friend brought David Schiffer, a designer who owns DMSsite Design, a landscape architecture company. As Schiffer wandered through the apartment and garden, he became more intrigued by the man who lived there. “There were vines growing up the house, a very nice sitting porch with hanging baskets, and the apartment was full to the brim with Daryl’s collections. The walls were hung floor to ceiling with paintings done by Daryl’s father and other inexpensive, but pretty, paintings from tag sales and flea markets,” says Schiffer.
As he got to talking to Duarte that night, the two hit it off. He learned that Duarte and his downstairs neighbor had won “Bridgeport in Bloom” twice for enhancing the beauty of streets in the city of Bridgeport. The next day Schiffer brought Duarte some tomatoes from his garden. “We’ve been together ever since,” says Duarte.
They kept separate apartments for a few years and then decided it was time to share an abode, which is what prompted them to begin house hunting. Schiffer grew up in Stratford and Duarte had lived in Black Rock for almost 20 years, having grown up in Barrington, Rhode Island. But they both gravitated to Fairfield, and specifically the Stratfield section of town. “Stratfield is a neighborhood in the best sense of the word,” explains Schiffer. “We love that people walk their kids to school, children play in the streets, and the houses are close enough to have a strong feeling of community, but far enough apart to provide privacy.”
They fell in love with the home on Inwood Road, with its abundance of storybook charm and curb appeal. Duarte had heard that it was for sale, drove by, and quickly texted Schiffer, “you’re not going to believe this house.” Both are attracted to the construction and style of period homes, and this one is the epitome of all they sought. The rooms are generously proportioned, with high ceilings, and the porch has dramatic stone pillars accessed by two sets of French doors, one from the living room, and one from the dining room—providing great flow.
“The whole house has hardwood floors, and each story of the house has a different wood,” explains Schiffer. “The first floor is quarter-sawn oak, the second floor is fir, and the third floor is heart pine.” Part of the original butler’s pantry, complete with glass front cabinets, remained in the kitchen. Duarte was smitten, as he had substantial vintage pottery collections to put behind those doors.
With its good bones, the house was the ideal canvas for their vision. While they set to work renovating, they never changed the footprint. “We replaced the roof with a AAA-ripped cedar shake roof and copper gutters, and removed the steam radiators as they were very large and too dominant for our tastes and replaced them with forced hot air and central air conditioning,” says Schiffer. They restored the plaster and refinished the wood floors. They were careful to keep much of the home’s 1928 details, maintaining the original window frames and restoring the oversized wood front door.
Over the years Schiffer and Duarte have tweaked the house, always employing the same treasured team. “We have relied on the same contractors since 2003. Whenever we are thinking about making any changes, or doing any renovation project, we say, “Let’s have a meeting,’” Schiffer says. “That is code between us that we need to meet with plumber Joe Tassitano, electrician David Gasso, carpenter Mark Eigenbrodt, landscape contractor Juan Coyt, and garden assistant Pat Sniffen. “They all know each other, work with each other collaboratively, understand we want the best outcomes we can possibly achieve, and they always exceed expectations.”
While the house is itself a gem, the park-like garden is something to behold. The plantings and property are a continuous work in progress. In 2005, the couple bought a one-quarteracre parcel from an adjoining neighbor, in the middle of which lay an abandoned, 100-year-old spring-fed swimming pool. It was a “cement pond” without any purification system. Spring water came into the pool, and exited through an infinity edge water spout, dropped into a cistern, which then supplied water to a pond. “We renovated the swimming pool adding modern filtration and a spa accompanied by gardens, walking paths, and destination patios,” says Schiffer.
Later they added the pergola which serves as the nucleus of the property, framing all other features and forming a gate through which they pass from one section to another. “We sit on Adirondack chairs, which were owned by my grandparents, under the shade from the wisteria, sip our cocktails, talk about our day, reminisce about the past and plan our future,” says Schiffer.
At least once a day, Duarte and Schiffer walk around the entire yard and make plans for future projects. “We love to adjust borders as plants mature, move plants when they outgrow their spot, and divide,” says Schiffer. The couple recently celebrated their 2013 marriage with an overdue honeymoon trip to Italy. They love to travel, but are always thrilled to return to their Inwood Road oasis.
“We don’t take the house for granted, we appreciate our good fortune for having found it, and know that we are lucky to live in a neighborhood surrounded by such giving and lovely people.”