Restoring beauty with modern flair
Chi Chi Ubina (slideshow at end)
One has only to drive along upper Main Street, just beyond the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, to notice the brightly colored Victorian dressed in vivid purple and green. Set amidst stately Georgians and proud Colonials, the house surprises in any season, its colors popping as enthusiastically as its lush gardens. But step inside this bold gem and an entirely new experience unfolds—all-white rooms and soft beige interiors are stunning backgrounds for shots of color and clean design. It is a palette of exquisite taste and style.
The house has been undergoing a grand restoration and renovation since 2002 when the current owners bought the two-acre property. They hadn’t planned to redo the whole place. In fact, the lady of the house says all she and her husband wanted to do was extend the original staircase to the third floor. Eight years and dozens upon dozens of projects later, the house is remade. Outside, the home has been restored to its Victorian phase.
Originally built in 1826 as a farmhouse, subsequent dwellers changed the style in 1896. “They went hard-core Gothic Revival,” says Peter Coffin of DCA Architects, who spearheaded the restoration. Gothic Revival is defined by decorative curlicues, steeply pitched roofs, brackets, and extended eaves. By the time the current family moved in 106 years later, most of the exterior architectural embellishments were gone. “It probably rotted over time,” says Coffin. “And when they redid the roof, it was cheaper to just cut off the extended eaves and brackets rather than fix them.”
A lucky break, in the form of a black-and-white photograph of the house in its original turn-of-the-century Gothic splendor, turned out to be a boon for the design team. They were able to copy the decorative work detail by detail and eventually restored all the brackets, verge boards, tracery, and hoods. Then came the fun part—picking the color scheme. With no way of knowing the house’s original colors, the wife decided: when in a Victorian, do as the Victorians did. “We really picked those colors from picking flowers out of my garden,” she says. “A friend and I mixed about a thousand different colors at Ridgefield Supply and we just kept testing them until we got it right. The blue on the front is a direct color match from a hydrangea we picked, and the purple is from a pansy. And that’s how Victorians used to do it.”
Coffin and his clients worked closely with the Ridgefield Historic District Commission to ensure that construction preserved the historic character of the house. One of the requirements was to rebuild the chimney so it could be seen from the front of the house. Coffin’s clients, however, didn’t want a chimney anymore. Instead, a handsome facsimile was rebuilt on the roof. “We gained 12 square feet of bedroom by taking it out,” says the client. “Let’s just hope nobody tries to start a fire in there!”
One would assume that walking through the front doors would send you into a rabbit’s warren of small rooms and smaller, darker hallways. On the contrary, visitors are immediately dazzled by the high ceilings, open spaces, and light, bright décor. “It’s definitely a different direction than I had originally thought it was going to go,” says the owner. “I thought it was going to be heavy, dark, old Victorian furniture, true to period. This is more modern and clean. I wasn’t expecting to go this way but I’m so happy I did.”
She was steered in that direction by decorator Lynne Scalo, who persuaded the family to go with a large kitchen and sunroom space in all white—a risky suggestion for a family with three young children, a dog, and four cats. “People ask about the white furniture and having all these kids and pets,” she says. “But everything is easy to clean and kid-friendly.” She proves her point by easily whisking dog hair off a long, bright-white patent leather sofa that sits in the main hangout space in the kitchen. In keeping with the modern theme, a lot of the fabrics and wall coverings are neutral colors and made of natural materials like linen and sisal. “I just wanted something that could put up with a lot of traffic and take a beating,” the owner says.
Not everything is ultra-modern. A favorite element in the house is a mural depicting the Battle of Ridgefield. It borders the ceiling in the library and was painted by a family friend, Marcia Simha. Other favored decorations are the eye-catching chandeliers found in almost every room. Two prized specimens are in the kitchen/sunroom space. One hangs over the dining table. “I love how silly and oversized it is,” says the owner, a young woman involved in many town organizations. The other is a massive LED disco ball (requiring a special motor in another room to operate it) that spins above the patent-leather couch. The family changes the ball’s colors depending on the season.
If you think this house sounds like a lot of fun, wait until you hear about the barn in the back. It was the first project the family tackled on the property and it has to be seen to be believed. Coffin designed a mirror image of the existing barn and connected the two. Inside (and incidentally, it’s where the family lived while renovating the main house) is a complete kitchen and spacious sitting area, a poker room, theater, bunkroom, guestroom, and fully equipped exercise room. Not to mention a bar that has the size and look of a real pub. With a grin, the owner runs her hand along pockmarks in the bar and divulges their origin, “These are high-heel marks. We’re always dancing on the bar.”
Most of the barn’s rooms have views of the stunning swimming pool and outdoor kitchen behind it, thanks to the huge two-story windows that line much of the barn’s back wall. It’s the perfect spot for SPHERE events, an organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for adults with developmental disabilities. The group has had pool parties and put on performances in the theater.
Given its central location in town, the property is surprisingly tranquil and private. Its small fountain, which mirrors the larger landmark opposite, hints at the reason—a home that reflects historical grace while indulging the unexpected.