Bucolic tradition lives on in an antique farmhouse
Photographs by Wendy Carlson
The name says it all—Breeze Hill Farm—for a house that sits on a hill with a spectacular view and the most comforting of breezes. Owners Dale and Quentin Ryan, who have lived here for over 15 years, never tire of the peace and beauty of their land.
“Quentin and I both come from New Jersey. After we were married we lived in Maryland and South Carolina, but I had always wanted to live in Connecticut,” Dale says. “We had a home in Roxbury for six years. Our sons were five and three at the time and the house was too small. One day I picked up the Litchfield County Times and saw this house for sale. It was in terrible shape, but I saw the potential. The wonderful long driveway and the old trees spoke to me and that was it—we bought it.” The Ryans then spent the next 11 years putting the house into livable shape.
“We wanted to rename the place Hurricane Hill—the winds are pretty dramatic up here,” Dale explains. “The original house was built in 1800 and was called Osborn House after the street it’s on, and the house across the street was the caretaker’s cottage.” Like so many houses of that period, it is painted white with black shutters and sits at the end of a long curving driveway.
Over the years the house had been reconfigured without any real plan, so everything that didn’t make sense or was in derelict condition was torn down and replaced: pool house, barns, greenhouse, and swimming pool.
“Peter Dalton Morris designed the barn and I designed the pool house,” says Dale. “When pools first came into fashion in the 1920s they were placed far away from the house and I like that concept, so ours sits in the middle of one of the fields.”
But the gardens, on either side of the house, were meant to be the focus of the property, and the Ryans have installed three: a formal one with boxwoods and cherry trees, an herb garden off the green house, and a large garden in the field whose most glorious inhabitants are giant sunflowers.
“I was taking a walk one day when we first moved here,” Quentin says, “and I stumbled over a half-buried pole in an overgrown area and discovered what was once the formal garden. The arbor had been knocked down during a hurricane in the Sixties and had never been rebuilt, so we restored it. I’m now working with a young landscape architect named Jameson Secco, who has been invaluable to me.”
Dale gets many of her tips from the Litchfield Garden Club, where she’s an active member. “This garden club is one of the most respected in the country and in 2013 it celebrates its 100th anniversary,” she says. “Garden clubs have changed significantly over the years and now there is a great emphasis on propagation and conservation.”
The interior of the Ryans’ house reflects their eclectic taste and they’ve taken Bunny Williams’ approach to decorating. “We love antiques, but the décor is built around our dogs. They are very much a part of our family,” Quentin says of their giant Mastiff, English bulldog, and Sharpei. “My theory is you can have a lovely home, but ours is not a showplace,” Dale adds. “The fabrics are dog-resistant and they sleep on the sofas and in our bed. Nothing is so sacred that they can’t get on it. It’s their home as well as ours.”
Dale feels so strongly about the place of dogs in people’s homes and lives that she is working on a book, Sleeping with the Beast, where she puts forth her philosophy of dogs—how to live with them and keep them healthy and happy.
Not be outdone in the talent department, Quentin is a skilled glassblower. “I work at a studio in Lakeside,” he says. “My son, Zachary, introduced me to it and said it was a natural for me. I’m now starting to collect pieces for my first show, the proceeds of which will go to the little Guild of St. Francis to care for dogs.”
The Ryans are also great supporters of New Milford Hospital, not surprising since Quentin is the grandson of J. Seward Johnson, the pharmaceutical heir who gave away over a billion dollars to medical centers and built the Hunterdon Medical Center in New Jersey.
“Given my background, I thought it was important to continue that tradition,” says Quentin.
“We have always been low-key about the charities and organizations we support,” he continues. “But we felt that perhaps if we stepped forward, we could encourage people to support local charities and organizations. We all have a responsibility to give back and it doesn’t matter how much you give. In the case of New Milford Hospital, we are fortunate to have such a remarkable hospital in our area.”
The Ryans have been involved in promoting healthy food for people in hospitals, buying from local farmers, and promoting the Plow to Plate movement. “What we love about Litchfield is the sense of community,” Dale says. “We all need to do whatever we can to keep that spirit alive.”