View to a Chill
Living it up in Roxbury
Photos by Jeff McNamara
Dr. Alicia Zalka had her dream home in Bridgewater—perfection, by any measure. She thought she’d never leave, but along came a “prince,” and her fairytale life took an unexpected turn. “I thought I’d be in the Bridgewater house forever; it was everything I could ever want,” Zalka says of the 1808 Federal-style brick home, stately poolhouse, and gardens that she designed so tastefully, the estate has been featured in prestigious design magazines. “But now I’m here, and I feel like, Wait, am I dreaming?” Zalka, fresh-faced and looking hardly half her 50 years, tosses back her long dark locks and sits upon a pale-gray sofa piled with pillows the color of the sky and fluffy as the clouds that float by.
We’re sitting on a 1,500-square-foot deck that wraps around one side of the 6,500-square-foot home that’s built high on a hill in Roxbury, overlooking thousands of acres of forever-preserved woodland. “I have always had an absolute obsession with the sky, with clouds, with birds,” she says. “In this house, I feel like I can reach out from almost any window or deck and touch the sky, be a part of it, actually.”
The eight-acre property had been featured in a fundraising house tour that Zalka chaired for the Bridgewater Land Trust in 2012, but she’d never been inside it until the following year, after she met Victor, a real-estate broker from Woodbury. “We were on our second date at the Mine Hill Preserve, hiking with our dogs,” she says. The preserve entrance is across the quiet country road from the estate, and the couple was intrigued to see a for-sale sign at the bottom of the long, winding driveway. They arranged a visit, and were entranced driving under the elegant porte-cochere that connects the home to a three-car garage, and into a large, square, gravel courtyard.
The fragrant rose gardens and boxwoods were redolent of Zalka’s days growing up on Long Island, and the house’s gray-shingle and stone exterior, with large-paned, white-trimmed windows brought sweet memories of trips to Nantucket. But what left them both breathless was the entrance. “It had us at doorway,” Zalka says of the four-bedroom, seven-bathroom country manor that’s become a sanctuary for her, Victor, his two daughters, and their three dogs. Open the front door, past four Doric columns, and your eyes focus forward, beyond the grand foyer and great room, straight to one of Litchfield County’s most stunning vistas. It’s like an enormous Hudson River School landscape painting, only ever-changing with the light, the seasons, the sky.
There’s infinite attention to detail in everything, from the raised paneling, high-coffered ceilings and crown moldings, to the stained oak and marble-tile flooring, top-of-the-line appliances, and seductive recessed lighting, all designed by Rod Thorne, known for his masterwork at the nearby Mayflower Inn, and built by Bobby Burmann of Bridgewater. The enfilade alignment of rooms, common in Europe beginning in the Baroque period, invites flow. Because of this, you can see from one end to the other. “It’s grand, yet it envelops you,” she says. “It’s the most tranquil place. Decorating it is like therapy for me,” says Zalka, who is president of Dermatology Associates, with 50 employees and up to 45 patients a day in four offices in New Milford, Ridgefield, Danbury, and Southbury. She also writes a blog called Surface Deep, which offers free health-, skin-, and hair-care advice. “I go to bed with decorating ideas swirling around in my mind. I find it soothing and meditative—the perfect contrast to where my mind is at in my offices, where I’m laser-focused on dermatology—pun intended,” she says.
Zalka got the design bug from her father, who owned a furniture shop in Queens. “He’d drag me to big design rooms like Ethan Allen, and I’d pretend they were my houses. The luxurious fabrics and cushy bedding—it was dreamy.”
From most any vantage point in the home are views of the sky; every room has windows, even the closets. The first-floor master suite has his-and-her walk-in closets and bathrooms. For Victor, this meant designing his “gentlemen’s club” quarters in rich, brown-stained oak, oatmeal-colored tile, and a painting of river stones that look like the bottom of the Shepaug River that runs by the base of their land. For drawer pulls, “he has metal man knobs, versus my crystal girly knobs,” Zalka says of the pieces they had custom-made by Linda Zelenko of York Street Studio in New Milford. Her closet is done in a Martha Stewart metallic-silver paint with a hot-pink rug and “girly trinkets” galore: hanging jewelry, handbags, dolls, and sequined photographs of fun times with friends.
Combining furniture and tastes isn’t always easy for a couple moving in together, but Victor gave Zalka “pretty much free reign, as long as she didn’t make it too chicky,” as he puts it. She left a lot of her shabby-chic furnishings in the Bridgewater house. So she blended her boyfriend’s things with pieces they bought together, like the pair of white iron stags from J. Seitz & Co. that guard the pool they had installed by Jim Dobson of Washington, or the mahogany dining table they commissioned Gary Matthews of Falls Village to build, or the twin white Chinese foo-dog lamps from Oliphant in Litchfield gracing an antique chest of drawers in the great room.
Most of the paintings throughout the house are hers, and feature sky and clouds, including one of her favorites in the foyer by Ira Barkoff of West Cornwall. “I’m very supportive of the local economy,” she says, adding that many window treatments, including sand-colored Roman shades in the master suite, came from Apple Tree Design in Washington. She also brought her 18th-century Gustavian dresser and chairs for the sitting area of their bedroom, which she purchased from Dawn Hill Antiques in New Preston, and the girls’ rooms are colored in creamy white with splashes of pink from her past. “I worship pink and purple accents,” she says.
One thing Zalka loves to prepare with her boyfriend, the girls, and friends is Italian jambot, a vegetable stew. “I love the marble and butcher-block center island, I love the vaulted beaded-oak ceiling and the whole flow with the fireplace. There is symmetry, symmetry everywhere, doubles of precious sculptures, sconces, lamps, urns. “The architecture of the home lends itself to symmetric arrangements of pieces,” she says. “It’s comforting. Maybe it has something to do with dermatology, in which asymmetric moles are more at risk?”
Zalka’s favorite part of the house is the loggia, a large covered porch with a gray- painted floor supported by white Doric columns and balustrades. It’s on the second floor of the house, but feels like miles high in the sky because of the dramatic drop off, panoramic valley below, and hills in the distance. There’s a fireplace made of fieldstones gathered from the property, and two white stone lions flank the mantel. Two giant urns from Morocco border the glass-door entrances, and two sleek, curvy spa chairs from Modani invite lounging. There’s also a large black-wicker couch with fluffy white-denim cushions where Zalka spends most of her time. “I even sleep out here,” she says, wrapping a big white down comforter around her on this cool spring day. “I love the elevation and the openness. It’s like you’re not just looking at the horizon, you’re part of it.”
The loggia isn’t just lovely; it’s something of a life coach for the busy doctor. “I wake up really cranky and clumsy and unraveled. Then I get my coffee and come out here. This view, being part of the sky, it just puts me back together.”