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Small is Beautiful

A local artist downsizes in a big way



Photographs by Rana Faure

“Mom, the house you’re buying is a tear down,” said Peggy Thomas’s daughter, diplomatically, when she first saw the house on Dowling Drive that her mother had her eye on. Cut into three illegal apartments, filthy, with the only staircase leading out the front door—the house did have its drawbacks. Cautiously undaunted, Thomas enlisted builder Tom Litwin, who helped her transform a “wreck” into “The Ship”—a smaller, trimmer showcase of simple and stylish living.

In her early 70s, Peggy Thomas is an accomplished ceramicist, who decided to downsize from her 4,700-square-foot Ridgefield home. “Finding a home for Peggy was fun but a challenge,” said realtor Terry Cigno. “We needed to incorporate all her passions into a smaller space with a ceramics studio, room for her grandchildren, and a small garden. I thought Tom Litwin would listen to Peggy, and help her realize her vision.”

Thomas started the renovation by selecting two Benjamin Moore paint chips, Bleeker Beige and Wythe Blue, which she still carries around in her wallet. A two-toned color scheme unifies the house, and simplified the process. The granite surround on the fireplace fits into the scheme, as do the kitchen counter tops. Simple maple cabinets are beautiful and understated. “I don’t like things cluttered. I didn’t want drapes, or a formal dining room. I think of it as Shaker, even though I’m not sure I’m using that word right,” said Thomas.  

The showpiece of the living room is a custom sliding barn door. Made from salvaged barn wood with wrought iron fixtures, the door exemplifies the care Thomas and Litwin put into the house. Along with its natural beauty, it hides the flat screen television during the day, and slides across the side doors to provide privacy at night. The door is also a wonderful backdrop for Thomas’s ceramics.

Litwin installed a dumb waiter in the garage to move fragile ceramics up from the studio to the kiln and the heavy clay down to the studio from the garage.

Cigno sees Thomas as part of a trend of people downsizing for a variety of reasons—empty nest, divorce, or change in financial status. Thomas sees herself as a kind of pioneer of her senior generation. She says that many of her friends are envious of her, but are paralyzed by their possessions. “There’s a cottage industry for someone who could help older people deal with their stuff,” notes Thomas. She managed to sell two-thirds of her furniture to the family who bought her former house, and repurpose her favorite possessions into her new house. She split a massive sectional sofa into pieces that work in the living room and kitchen sitting area.

Thomas is also an inspiration for those of us much or slightly younger because she developed her passion for and skill at ceramics after her daughter was fully grown and out of the house. Today, she still rides horses, is active at St. Stephens Episcopal Church, and enjoys time with her three grandsons.

Downsizing has meant that Thomas can maintain these passions. “I love to garden, but the size of my property was overwhelming. I’d have to hire a gardener, and that’s not me,” says Thomas. Moving has also meant that she has time to begin new adventures. She and her daughter recently developed Stacking Stones, a set of smooth rocks that should be the house gift of the season.

Surrounded by her two dogs, her cavorting clay polar bears, and near her daughter and grandchildren, Thomas renovated a small home to work for a big life.

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