High Ridge Jewel
A talented young family refreshes a historic gem
Photographs by Hulya Kolabas
Katie Diamond reluctantly agreed with her husband Bill that it was time to move from their sleek, ultra-modern Manhattan apartment to a family-friendly environment outside of the city. So the couple compiled a list of must-haves that started with good schools, a large yard, and a convenient commute to Bill’s Mount Kisco office. Bill added a few requirements of his own.
“If we were going to be in this for the long haul, we wanted a house with a modern kitchen and a family room and a master suite,” he explains.
Katie Diamond reluctantly agreed with her husband Bill that it was time to move from their sleek, ultra-modern Manhattan apartment to a family-friendly environment outside of the city. So the couple compiled a list of must-haves that started with good schools, a large yard, and a convenient commute to Bill’s Mount Kisco office. Bill added a few requirements of his own. “If we were going to be in this for the long haul, we wanted a house with a modern kitchen and a family room and a master suite,” he explains.
Katie, a seasoned Broadway actress, added to the list: a house that would allow her to walk to a town ripe with cultural opportunities. “I wanted a town with gay people,” she says.
“A town with gay people is progressive, open, and impeccably dressed!” They zeroed in on Ridgefield and found that the town had all the right ingredients, including the arts: the Aldrich Museum and the Ridgefield Playhouse in particular.
When an updated house with a beautifully landscaped yard close to town on High Ridge Avenue came on the market, they thought their house-hunting days were done. They also looked at all the other homes on the street that were for sale, and while one in particular caught Bill’s eye—the country home built by the late publishing magnate E.P. Dutton—Katie took one look and nixed it. It would take just too much work to update the charming Victorian to meet their requirements.
But when the deal on the house they wanted fell through, Bill convinced Katie to reconsider High Ridge Manor, as the home was called when it was built in the late 1800s as a grand summer cottage. Because Bill’s business, Diamond Properties, is to renovate and repurpose commercial space on a very large scale, the project of remodeling the house didn’t seem the least bit daunting to him. Katie still had her reservations but agreed that the house had great potential, and for the next year and a half, the couple poured themselves into the renovation.
The challenges were many. The kitchen was dark and dated and had none of the contemporary amenities customary in kitchens today. The home also lacked a family room. Upstairs rooms were choppy, and the master was not spacious. In addition, some of the features of the house, like the heavy dark moldings throughout, did not reflect the Diamonds’contemporary taste.
Before they could even address their wish list, however, they had to address the practical side. When the house was built in the late 1800s, there was no central air, so the Diamonds added a six-zone, heating, cooling, and air-control system. Plumbing and electrical were also dated, so they were replaced with more energy-efficient LED lighting and new lines. Insulation was blown into all exterior walls and modern glass added.
The Diamonds hired Ridgefield architect Sean O’Kane, who specializes in historic renovations, to help them reconfigure their space. Recognizing the historic significance of their home, however, the Diamonds did a lot of soul-searching with each step they took. Window sashes were removed, cleaned, and the grooves enlarged to accommodate more energy efficient panes.
Woodworking artisans MJE Carpentry from Mahopac created knives in order to cut and replicate original moldings
where needed. It took a year to recreate the brownstone that goes around the home’s exterior to fill in the gaps.
The first-floor configuration remained predominantly the same save for the addition of a spacious window flanked family room with an outdoor patio area attached off the back of the house and connecting to a completely new bright white kitchen. They added a see-through fireplace that lends a warm glow to both rooms.
Built-ins removed from the living room to open up the space and make room for their modern photography collection were repurposed for use in the kitchen and upstairs bedrooms. They left the stained moldings downstairs and worked with interior designer Dara Stern from Manhattan to create the right balance between their contemporary tastes and the antique feeling of the home
The most dramatic floor-plan changes were made upstairs, where Bill says it was “gutted right down to the studs.” The reconfiguration of rooms and relocation of a staircase leading to the third floor gave them room for a master suite, complete with a walk-in closet for Katie and a large third-floor playroom for their three children.
The new staircase, now contiguous with a staircase from the first to the second floor, is open, making it feel like the third floor is part of the house—a well-used part of the house.
Katie laughs when she shows off the mini-stage complete with curtain and costume changes in a child’s dream-come-true playroom, suitable for future Broadway stars. “It is the only room I completely decorated myself,” she says.
Katie says they took a deep breath when they painted the upstairs moldings white. “I was so afraid we were going to ruin the house,” she says, but instead the light, airy second floor is an inviting living space for their young family. Rosemary is five, Cora is three, and Lucas is one.
“We absolutely love the house, and we are honored to be able to raise our family in it,” says Bill. “And we are especially in love with the town of Ridgefield and thrilled with the decision to move here from the city.”
“We wanted a dynamic, interesting, cultural community with excellent schools, and Ridgefield fits that bill,” adds Katie, who still groans when she thinks of the time, energy, and expense of the renovation, but she adds, “It was well worth it.”
Best of all, she says, she can walk to town.
High Ridge Manor will be one of five houses on the Ridgefield House Tour, taking place Friday, December 4, 2016. The tour benefits Tiger Hollow and kicks off with a breakfast at the newly renovated Lounsbury House. Tickets are available at Squash’s, Bella Home, Gilded Nest, and at tigerhollow.com.