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Simply Small

History and modernity combine for elegant charm



Hulya Kolabas

The home that Laura Hoyer and Joe Henbest share with their five-year-old son, Hugo, on North Benson Road is steeped in history. The colonial was built in 1903 and dons a plaque next to the front door that documents how it was listed in Fairfield’s Historic and Architectural Survey of 1988. The couple says they were partly drawn to the house because of its unique details from a bygone era, such as the built-in cabinet with leaded glass in the dining room. 

However, it is the personal history that gives the 109-year-old home its true character. There is pottery displayed in the kitchen that was made by Hoyer and decorative tiles above the sink that the couple picked up in Prague. The walls of the home are also adorned with art from Berlin, Paris, and especially London, where Henbest’s job in financial consulting took them for a year. 

“Over time, we’ve collected stuff and I think most of it does have meaning. Every time you look at something, you’re like, ‘Oh, I remember that trip. That was so nice,’” says Hoyer. 

Some of the art hanging in their home was also made by Hoyer, a textile designer, who owns a business called Open Face Sandwich. “I wanted a name that people remember, and people do, so it worked,” she says with a grin. Her patterns can be seen framed on the walls of her studio upstairs as well as in Hugo’s bedroom. “The prints for Hugo’s room I tried to do more fun, cutesy ones, little-kid stuff,” she says. 

While the master bedroom pops with blue, floral-patterned wallpaper, when it comes to the overall look of the home, Hoyer stuck with solids for a lot of the decorating. She says her profession played a role in her choices. “I’m always thinking about color, you know, how things are arranged.” The couple also took the age of the home into consideration when it came to decorating. “I think in terms of style, it would be more classical-modern,” observes Henbest.

The home’s history was something the couple made an effort to preserve when they began renovating the house after purchasing it in 2001. “It wasn’t in bad shape. It just needed a little updating and TLC,” explains Henbest. With the help of Hoyer’s father, who did a lot of the woodwork in and around the home, they renovated rooms little by little over the course of several years. 

One of the most visible changes may be the staircase Hoyer’s father made out of rich, Brazilian hardwood someone else was getting rid of. His attention to detail is evident in the inlaid design on the landing, intricate cuts in the wood along the staircase, and the matching bench that sits at the bottom of the stairs in the foyer. The same wood was also used for some of the floors, window frames, and a narrow door with an inlaid eye in the mudroom.

For the patio, the family made use of recycled wood as well as the Brazilian hardwood that was used inside. The family likes to spend time outdoors, and Henbest says they did all of the work on their patio themselves, including a lot of stone work, which ties in with the original stone foundation of the house. 

A fun personal touch the family added to their side patio area was an outdoor shower, which Hoyer says everyone has down by the shore in her native New Jersey. While an outdoor shower might not be in keeping with the home’s history, Hoyer says, “It’s so nice when you come home from the beach, or whenever.” 

When it’s warm out, it’s also useful for more than just rinsing off sand. “We don’t really use the shower inside during the summer,” says Henbest. “We just shower out here.” 

If they aren’t spending time around their patio, the family is on their front porch, which still features the home’s original flooring. It’s now visible because the couple stripped off the former paint and sealed the wood. New porch steps lead to the front yard, where Hoyer tends to bright gardens featuring traditional New England hydrangeas and more tropical elephant ear plants. The yard is also where the family plays everything from badminton to bocce. 

The time spent outside, be it at the house or riding bikes to the beach nearby, is one thing the family says they will miss now that they are selling their home and transitioning into a new phase of life. They had been splitting their time between Fairfield and New York City, where they also have a home. “It’s nice having the two environments,” remarks Henbest. But now that Hugo is starting elementary school, the couple has decided to make a full-time commitment to their life in New York. 

Even though this family is saying goodbye to their house, all of the efforts they made to update the home without drastically changing its original charm remain a source of pride. “You end up spending a little extra time and extra money on it, but that sort of ends up, at the end of the day, worth it, because it retains that consistency,” Henbest says. 

Hoyer echoes the sentiment, “I think you have to respect the old house.” 

 

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