Going to Town
Authentic, private, and connected on Catoonah
Ross and Valerie Schneiderman are familiar faces around Ridgefield. Ross can be found sharing tennis scores with patrons behind the counter of his bakery, Ross’ Bread, and Valerie leading a class of meditating yogis at the Yoga Shala in Branchville.
Though baking and yoga may be their most recent vocations, Val and Ross have deep roots in athletics. Ross boasts a 35-year career producing sports television, covering major events including NCAA Final Fours, Super Bowls, and World Series. He is currently a senior producer with the Tennis Channel. Valerie competed as a rhythmic gymnast in the 1984 Olympic Games, where the couple first met. Years later, reconnecting in Seoul, Korea, during the 1988 Games, the two found love from a friendship and shared passions.
After nearly 15 years in Ridgefield and raising two sons Zach, 21, and Will, 20, the Schneidermans began their search for an empty-nester abode. With close ties to the town, choosing a historic colonial on Catoonah Street seemed only fitting. Set practically in the backyard of St. Mary Church, the quaint blue residence boasts two centuries of history in its walls. Built in 1780, the structure was originally located a quarter-mile away on Abbott Avenue before being resettled on its current foundation a century later.
“There’s an interesting balance between honoring the house that is here and making it livable in 2013,” says Valerie. The Schneidermans found downsizing a challenge. Their previous home on Silver Spring Road was double the size of this 1,600-square-foot colonial, and little of their old furniture would fit in the vintage house. So Valerie browsed local merchants, from the Keeler Tavern sale to Olley Court, to furnish the smaller space.
Renovations were required, but the couple sought to maintain anything that could be salvaged from the home’s historic roots. The shingled siding, wide crown molding, and a colorful stained-glass window from an original exterior wall were all maintained throughout the remodel. A dozen original windows were also saved or moved to fit within the new additions. “I like the imperfection in things,” Valerie says of the home’s heritage. “Even the teeny-tiny, crooked stairs.”
History was found in hidden places as well. While uncovering the original flooring on the second level, Ross and Valerie discovered WWII-era newspapers used to level and insulate former layers of linoleum.
When it came to structural and mechanical changes, Ross and Valerie chose a contractor with local ties and experience with smaller spaces. “We were concerned about perhaps having a builder come in and make a grand house. We didn’t want a grand house,” says Valerie. Contractor Nick Borrell had experience renovating older structures on Lake Waccabuc, and his design aesthetic appealed to the Schneidermans. Embracing the couple’s vision to build modern additions that remained authentic to the house, Borrell began with the fundamentals—like wiring. The old structure contained sockets that smoked from modern-day gadgets. It also lacked built-in lighting and storage space.
Two closets were constructed near the front door, with white vertical paneling to match that found in the kitchen. A wide arch between the entryway and living room created an open flow for the main floor, connecting all areas easily. Rather than use modern sheetrock, artisan plasterers crafted new walls and structured beams. Clunky radiators were removed and forced heating was installed, with vintage-style grates to cover the openings.
Since a coffee table would not suffice to run two businesses, dormers were added to the roof in the walkup attic to create a spacious, light-filled workspace. Five windows face north, “a great vantage point for a storm,” says Ross. The pleasant atmosphere is the exact opposite of what one might expect from an attic, yet still serves a functional purpose. Wooden cabinets line the wall, hiding the service conduits that run through the belly of the house.
The original home was constructed with three nearly equal-size bedrooms. “You can see where people maybe walked into the home and said, ‘Wow, it’s super sweet, but we couldn’t live here,’” says Valerie. But she had a vision. The master-bedroom addition now includes a transition space between the original home and the new construction. A small Indian Ganesha statue sits on a built-in nook where a closet once stood—now a shelved space for knick-knacks and picture frames.
When constructing the master bedroom and bath, Valerie wanted a more modern feel. Expansive windows across the east wall and minimalist decoration are indicative of her Zen-influenced choices. The bed seems to float above the bamboo flooring—an illusion created by a custom-crafted platform. Two fuzzy sheepskin rugs offer cozy padding on either side.
The practical bathroom has his-and-hers sinks and a steam shower. And, in keeping with the Zen-sanctuary theme, a soaking bathtub is hidden behind three translucent, shoji-inspired panels. A small window allows a view onto the surrounding yard but still offers privacy. Aromatherapy candles and jars of Epsom salts surround the tub, creating a relaxing, spa-like environment.
The grounds complement the home’s heritage and the couple’s modern, minimalistic approach. A small courtyard with casual seating overlooks the rolling lawn of St. Mary. Overgrown brush has been replaced with a bountiful garden. “We found a way to give ourselves a really beautiful, private space without closing ourselves off,” says Valerie.
Perhaps the couple’s favorite aspect of the house is its location near the heart of town, which allowed Ross to walk to Ridgefield Hardware twice a day during construction. Today, you might spot the Schneidermans strolling down Main Street with their yellow lab, Pooka. “You’re very connected to your neighbors—there’s no big, high fence,” says Valerie of the communal way of living on Catoonah. “You wouldn’t move to this street if that’s what you wanted.”