Turning an 1800s colonial into a modern gem takes a mighty vision
“It’s all been about editing, editing, editing,” says Fairfield landscape designer Diane Devore about the eight stunning acres around this Ridgefield estate. “We wanted to enhance the property, not fill it up.” Devore has been working with the owners, a producer and investment banker, to “edit” the landscape since they bought the 1800s farmhouse 14 years ago, inspired in large part by the property. For the past decade and a half, the couple, who prefers to remain anonymous, and their three (now grown) children, have enjoyed the house on weekends and vacations.
“The property has a rural feel,” the owner explains. “But it’s five minutes from town. A lot of weekenders have houses in Bedford, but they come to Ridgefield to do everything. I wanted a town.”
Devore, and the owners have transformed the farmhouse and property into a contemporary estate. “Once you’re in here—behind those gates—you’re in your own world,” says realtor Karla Murtaugh. With a tennis court, basketball court, outdoor and indoor pools, a winter sunroom, and an outdoor living room—there is little reason to leave.
The first project the owner tackled upon purchase was the entryway to the house. She wanted a “clean, modern front that was welcoming and beautiful.” Devore says that the idea for the entryway landscape was to marry the old Shaker aesthetic of farmhouse simplicity with clean lines to show the roots of contemporary design in Puritan tradition.
They recently completed a second landscape edit. “We added a grass stepped living room, a walking path around the entire property, a tree house, a swing, and a wonderful outdoor fireplace,” the owner says. “The property sits on Strawberry Ridge, and had more of an angle than we realized.”
Devore worked with Perennial Gardens in Bedford to install stone and grass steps that would lead your eye out from the house. These steps flatten the property to create an “outside living room,” an area for entertaining that can hold a tent.
“We wanted the landscape to be intimate enough for the owner and her husband to enjoy and to work for large gatherings,” says Devore. “During parties, old and young alike will go up in the contemporary tree house, which we installed in a tulip tree. The playful orange furniture mimics the splash of color on the inside of the tulip tree flower.”
The firepit is another addition that would summon the kid in anyone and shows the clean lines that drive all the design choices. “We used a backless bench and no extra furniture to keep the view of the landscape,” Devore explains.
“The one tip I have for people,” offers the owner about her outdoor furniture collection, “is to stay away from cushions. There’s so much comfortable and beautiful outdoor furniture. I don’t want to spend half my time moving pillows and furniture in and out every three months or sitting on wet cushions after a five minute downpour. It took me ten years to realize this.”
Property manager Steve Sheriden shows how the new cedar and gravel path winds around the entire property. “People were always trying to jog around the eight acres,” the owner says. “That gave me the idea to make an official path that brings you through the woods and meadow and arbors, and flowering bushes. Everyone uses it.” In fact, she cites an evening stroll around the walking path at twilight as one of her favorite things about the house.
Another of her favorite additions is the indoor pool. “The indoor pool and Jacuzzi are magical. We have the heat pumped up pretty high so it’s heavenly to jump in and swim with snow blowing outside.” A blue tile fountain gives the whole room a Mediterranean look.
When the owners bought the original 1800s house, they worked with the architect to open every doorway inside the house, square them off, and raise them. They replaced all the windows with large pane glass. “This gives the house a European slant,” says Murtaugh. “You can tell that the architect is European. The materials, the hardware, the windows, the lighting.” It also gives the house its modern façade, visible from Old Branchville Road.
“This isn’t a country kitchen,” Murtaugh says of the top of the line kitchen. “I see a lot of people putting kitchens in like this now.” With two dishwashers, a Sub-zero fridge, and ample counter top and table seating—it makes a great Sunday morning hangout spot. “I love the fact that the floors are slate—it’s so practical. It’s zen-like—not formal or pretentious,” says Murtaugh, of Neumann Real Estate.
The owner says that she always wanted the house to be welcoming and thinks the cool color palate and light maple built-ins throughout add to the calm feeling. “I’d choose these paint colors again.”
Even after major contemporary additions, there are vestiges of the old house. In the tracery at the rear of the library fireplace there is a picture of a couple dancing. “It blows my mind to think of all the history,” says the owner, who also insisted on keeping the original glass finial ball at the bottom of the stairs.
“The ceiling of the master bedroom was brown and when we broke through we found four beautiful beams, which had been covered.” The master bedroom is her private oasis when the house is filled with guests.
When asked about the “editing process” the owner admits, “it’s not easy keeping up with a minimal design. The tendency over time is to keep adding books, pictures, gifts, vases, etc. I finally gave in to a certain degree but I do try to pare down the rooms.” This stunning property with a house that spans three centuries will go on the market this spring.