One couple's love affair with a house
Photos by MissionBranding.com & Wendy Carlson
As soon as you drive past the whimsically designed gates, you know you are about to enter a very special place. A few moments later you find yourself facing an extraordinary Tudor house seemingly pulled from the English countryside. You are about to enter the world of Sheila Nevins and Sidney Koch. “We had a condominium in Lakeridge,” Nevins explains. “While everyone else was downsizing and dealing with empty nests, we decided to do exactly the opposite.”
The couple had looked at many houses without finding one that worked for them, until the realtor asked if they wanted to see a special house that had been on the market for some time. “I said yes right away,” Nevins recalls. “We had looked at so many barns and houses that were too big, too small, had too many horses or other animals. I didn’t want a renovated barn; I didn’t care if it was built in 1758. I just wanted a house that I could fall in love with.”
“It was so different,” says Koch. “It was enormous; one wing went this way, another went that way. It was described as Tudor but it was so big and imposing.” At almost 11,000 square feet, that might be an understatement. To say nothing of the 25 acres of land surrounding the house. Inside there are 14 rooms, including five bedrooms and five full baths.
Nevins was awestruck by the property. “It was this dirt road to a gingerbread house and I could have it. It doesn’t match anything in the neighborhood. It’s kind of a beautiful freak.”
The house was built in the 1970s by Mark Saint James, an entrepreneur who was trying to develop a new horse breed. A sharp dresser and a smooth talker who owned stables in Morris, he spared no expense in building his dream house. But he didn’t stay around long. One night he left town never to be heard from again. The house eventually went into foreclosure and was sold by the bank.
“The previous owner had been a great steward,” says Koch. “Everything had been beautifully maintained. The driveway was not up to code, so we put in a proper one. We added a swimming pool and pool house and built an additional garage.”
“For me it was a magical house ready to be pampered,” says Nevins, president of HBO Documentary Films. “I had gone to Yale Drama School and majored in directing. The house was like a set and I got to design it to my tastes. Several friends have said it reminds them of a tag sale or the set from an Ibsen play. Real Biedermeier has its place next to fake, antiques share space with items from flea markets. “I’m not a purist,” she says. “I believe that anything can mix as long as it looks pretty.” Along with her own discerning eye, she worked with interior designer Dan Lehmann who helped create the magic and find many of the pieces. Pretty doesn’t do the house justice. Everywhere one turns there is something for the eye to behold. Vignettes are scattered throughout, on tables, in photograph arrangements, with clusters of paintings. Brick and tile floors are accented with antique Persian carpets. The richness of upholstery fabrics is overwhelming.
Such a house begs for lots of entertaining and the gourmet kitchen is ready for sumptuous meals. But that is not what happens at chez Nevins-Koch.
“We do have weekend guests occasionally and small groups in for dinner. But basically Sidney and I come up here and hide out—sometimes from each other. Because of her work, Nevins spends a lot of time working and watching tapes of shows. Koch, a retired investment banker, is an avid tennis player and when not on the court is content in his study. “I can look out on the green and it gives me a chance to relax. I love the conservatory as well. We prefer eating in there rather than the formal dining room.”
So, why, after owning this extraordinary house for 15 years, have they decided to sell it? “I worked hard to put this house together,” says Nevins, who has listed it with EJ Murphy Realty. “But now it’s finished and I’m ready to move on. It was something I never had as a child—a wonderful, grand house. But now I could afford it and so I loved having it. Now my hope is that someone who will love it as much will buy it. I will even sell it with the things I’ve put into it. Well, except for the 19th-century paintings of women I’ve collected and the piano.”
“This house has brought us so much enjoyment but now it’s time for another adventure,” says Koch. “And perhaps another house—but one not so big.”