Magical Mystery Tour
A Carriage House transforms at Christmas
Photos by Rana Faure
If ever there was a house that cried Christmas, it is Tom and Mary McInerney’s home, where just a step inside during the holidays immediately evokes nostalgic memories of hanging stockings and anxiously awaiting Santa.
The former carriage house is on the Ridgefield Historical Society registry and along with an antique icehouse was once part of the 30-acre Nydeggen Estate, built around 1910 and subdivided in the 1950s. When the McInerneys found the property 40-some years ago, it had two buildings in terrible disrepair. The icehouse still had remnants of the corncob stuffing in the walls. The cottage itself had holes in the floors where workers could access the underside of the carriages. The kitchen, which had been the “carriage wash,” was practically non-existent and still had a cement floor with a drain.
But the cottage had irresistible charm with its original ceiling beams. The couple easily envisioned its transformation. Another appeal was the Robert Stubner painting found in one of the dilapidated buildings. The German artist was popular in the early 1900s and this painting had likely graced the walls of
the original manor house.
Calling themselves the “ugly-duckling specialists,” Mary says making the ramshackle house into a home while still keeping it true to its carriage house roots became their passion. The icehouse was transitioned into a guesthouse. The carriage house became a comfortable place to raise their five children.
Much of the millwork and finishing touches as well as a newly renovated kitchen were later updated by their talented son, Thomas McInerney of McInerney Building and Remodeling, who, Mary says, “cut his teeth on renovations.”
There is no better time to tour such a house than at Christmas because Mary McInerney goes all out and her creative flair is evident in every nook and cranny of the antique home. Mary actually decorates for all seasons, but no other time is quite so impressive as the magical transformation that takes place every December.
Each year she climbs into the attic and tosses down one of the many boxes of decorations. The theme is always a mystery until she opens the box and peers inside. Whatever she finds, she builds on. This year, she has outdone herself with glittering red ornaments showing up just about everywhere the eye travels.
Enter the small foyer and to the left is an ample-sized living room highlighted by an oversized window, a wall of bookcases, a corner built-in, and an antique fireplace surround that Tom found in Brooklyn, their former home. The room literally glitters with an under-lit glasstop table decorated with a wintery scene of shimmering white deer and trees, all accented with red bulbs. “You should see it with martini glasses on it,” Mary says.
Over a hundred antique bottles topped with varying sizes of shiny red ornaments are prominently displayed in the lit corner cabinet. Every bottle in the collection was found on the property by three generations of McInerneys and painstakingly cleaned to take its place beside the others. Apparently, a portion of the former estate behind the icehouse was once used as a “dumping ground” and gradually over time the bottles have moved to the surface.
“The grandchildren are still bringing me bottles every time they play in our woods,” says Mary.
The mantel is decorated with greenery found on the grounds and more ornaments. A sparkling tree sits in the corner and the window is draped in garland, lights, and ornaments. It is a festive room, one that would make children and adults alike clap their hands in delight, exactly the effect Mary strives for.
The Christmas spirit doesn’t stop at the living room. On the other side of the small foyer is a large dining room and this too is decorated from top to bottom. Crafted wooden Santas and trees that Mary made herself 30 years ago lean against windows. Special shelving at ceiling level shows off Tom’s Lionel-train collection.
Tiny white lights are draped to highlight red rose topiaries. The table is set and even a menu entitled “Carriage House Christmas Dinner” sits on a music stand. This is the room the family calls the “Sistine Chapel” because of the exquisite millwork and wainscoting. This is also the room where their coveted Robert Stubner painting proudly hangs.
Beyond the dining room is a bar/pantry open to an expansive kitchen. The former “carriage wash” is very roomy with an island that is large enough to accommodate everyone at the annual “Christmas Craft Day” that Mary and Tom host. All five children, spouses, and 12 grandchildren gather to decorate gingerbread houses and personalize holiday centerpieces for their own homes.
Countertops, cupboards, and shelving all glitter with holiday decorations. Even the chandelier has sparkling ornaments dangling. It’s enough to be festive, but not so much as to take away from the pristine uncluttered appeal of the kitchen.
No detail was left unaddressed in the kitchen remodel. From the under-lit island, to the double sink and dual faucet cleanup area, to the magnetic backsplash in the message center and the separate bar opening into the pantry, it is a kitchen to envy. During the renovation, the McInerneys gave their son full rein, and Mary says, “It exceeded our expectations.” The kitchen was completely designed to reflect their needs and habits, right down to the utility drawer configurations.
A small family room off the kitchen is where Tom and Mary like to relax and it too is decked out with a skeletal tree smothered in glittering lights and ornaments. Clever place settings using a red felt background and white plates are created to look like a snowman.
The house has multiple quirky little corners that the McInerneys like to highlight rather than hide. One space in the kitchen was used to create an exposed brick backed shelf and displays small topiaries. Another in the dining room is a highlight for the children—an open window from a staircase in the adjacent room acts as a small stage where the grandchildren delight in putting on puppet shows for the adults.
Like its owners, the house exudes comfort, charm and personality. During the holidays, it becomes downright magical.
“Once you live in a house like this, you can never buy new,” says Mary. “It has been our passion.”