Make it Home for the Holidays
One afternoon, while waiting at an airport after the family’s annual holiday visit, Beth Simon flipped open a magazine and landed on the photo of a charming Victorian in a place called Ridgefield, Connecticut. Beth; her husband Joel; and daughters, Olivia, Josephine, and Louisa had been living in London and Paris for the past 16 years, but they knew someday soon they would be returning to the U.S. Now she turned to her family with the magazine in hand and said, “This is our new house.”
“The magazine literally fell open to a page and two weeks later I was back on the plane to see the house,” says Beth.
It was all well and good to be attracted to the late 1800s Victorian on East Ridge adjacent to East Ridge Middle School, but there were other things to consider. Joel’s office is in New York City so he needed to find a house with a reasonable commute for those days he wasn’t working from home. Living in cities abroad convinced the Simons that they wanted to be able to walk to a town. They wanted good schools, varied cultural opportunities, and a mixture of activities for their three daughters who enjoyed everything from community service to the arts. In addition, Beth’s mantra has always been: Be part of the community where you live.
Beth had no idea if Ridgefield would offer any of those things. But she did her homework and from the moment she came to town she liked the vibe. Once she stepped into the house she could envision all life’s momentous happenings—birthday parties, celebrations, high-school graduations, weddings—the happy and the sad. And, of course, Christmas. “We love Christmas and love to decorate for it,” says Beth. “Even Joel, who is Jewish, gets really into it. I think he loves it more than any of us.”
As it turns out, the house is located close enough to walk to town for dinner out or an afterschool ice cream. In fact, as they ticked off their wish list, it met with almost every requirement. The Ridgefield Playhouse, which they frequent, is a short walk away. The town is abundant with cultural options like the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, and Keeler Tavern. As an added bonus, every inch of the house lends itself to decorating for Christmas.
The Simons think of themselves as caretakers of the historical home known as “The Towers” when it was built in 1880. Designed by Charles Northrop, the architect who designed the Lounsbury House, it was constructed for Nathan Lounsbury Rockwell, nephew of former Governor Phineas Lounsbury who gave him the land. The house has eight bedrooms, an expansive front porch, 12-foot ceilings, and a tower room in a tall turret offering sweeping views of downtown. In the 1930s, it was rented as a summer cottage by the John Davis family, who entertained cousin Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her visits to Ridgefield.
In spite of its size and ceiling height, the Simons found the house cozy and livable. Before they could move in, it needed some immediate work. Dilapidated railings on the front porch had to be replaced and constructed to replicate the original design. The kitchen was old with cabinet doors falling off the hinges. Every room was painted a different bold color. But the family loved the charm and the fantastic energy of the house with its old pot-bellied stove in the kitchen, hidden closets within closets, detailed craftsmanship and compelling history.
With the help of builder Joe Fossi of Pelham Country Homes and cabinet designer Simon Johnson of Northeast Cabinet Design, they went to work. First order of business, they created an archway in the entrance to the utility area with fine detail to mirror those found in other areas of the house. It would act as a division between the kitchen and the utility space.
The reconfigured area also includes a separate powder room. In the corner sits an antique chair that has been passed down from owner to owner and is believed to have been the chair Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy sat in during her summer visits when she was a young girl.
The laundry was moved upstairs where there is plenty of space to set up ironing and folding areas. Removing the fridge from the immediate kitchen allowed room for additional cabinets with ample space for family dining. While the entire kitchen was gutted, Beth likes the idea that they kept to the original layout as much as possible. A large island, the pot-bellied stove, and a great dining table make this room the heart of the home.
With the help of painter Dave Kiley, the Simons replaced the former dark rainbow of color with a softer palette. Off came the curtains so you can enjoy the light from the beautifully detailed oversized windows. Cushy couches and chairs flank the cozy fireplace in the family room. Furnishings are a mix of treasures from antique flea markets and hunts through stores like Silver Lining Consignments. Beth enjoys reinventing uses of classic treasures like turning an old punch bowl into an interesting centerpiece for the dining table. “I’d rather use and risk damaging an old silver piece than let it sit and get dusty,” she says.
While furnishing the home would be an ongoing project, the Simons knew it was their first Christmas that would truly christen this house as home. Taking advantage of their new community, they purchased a special Owl Tree at the Community Center Tree Festival that would fill the still sparse front sitting room. A formal all-white tree glittered in the front hall, made a glorious visual from the street for all to enjoy. Railings were decorated with the needlepoint stockings lovingly made by Marmee (grandma), and everywhere mantles and side tables displayed holiday decorations and fare. Even the butler’s pantry was decked with a buche de noel, created by Sarah Bouissou at Bernard’s.
It is hard to believe that less than two years has passed since that fortuitous day when a magazine flipped open and started the Simons on a journey that has finally brought them home. And not just to any home, but a home they can embrace all year long, but especially during the holidays.