A drum hill rambler built to entertain
Photographs by Jane Beiles Seasonal Styling by The Gardening Gals
“What was I thinking?” was my panicked thought as I lugged yet another box of random stuff to the basement for hasty concealment before my guests arrived. Why on earth had I agreed to showcase our Drum Hill home for a magazine photo shoot and to host a party on the same day? I had to be insane.
Twenty-four hours earlier, our home had felt cozy and inviting. Now, five minutes before photographer Jane Beiles was scheduled to arrive, all I could see were the flaws—the many, many flaws—that I had ignored for the past 13 years since our family moved in: the chipped paint on the window sill where our dog jumps up on a daily basis to bark maniacally at UPS trucks and deer; the kitchen light switch plate that is chronically askew; the well-worn family-room rug that has seen its share of “accidents.”
But I had no more time to worry about messy minutiae because the arrival of ten members of my long-time book group was imminent. They were coming for our annual holiday party, and my hair was still in curlers.
This house has seen many parties. In fact, it was literally built for them. The previous owners, long-term Wilton residents Lisbeth and Herbert King, entertained lavishly and often—sometimes hosting as many as 400 guests. The original split ranch structure was a builder’s special and didn’t have enough space for large gatherings, so the Kings built on two additions.
The first was a large second floor office area that housed their eponymous company, King Real Estate, and is now our master bedroom. The second, much grander addition, included an elegant formal dining room; an eight-foot-wide, front-to-back entrance hall; a cherry-paneled wet bar; a powder room; and a spacious living room.
It was the living room that sealed the deal for me. Back in 2004, the market was what can only be described as “cray cray.” Buyers were snapping up homes as fast as women were buying Manolos. Houses were frequently purchased on the spot for above the asking price, and often with no conditions attached.
My husband Bill and I had looked at more than 60 properties over a six-month period, put in offers on three of them, and still had come away empty-handed. We were ready to throw in the real-estate towel and stay put in North Stamford, but decided to make one last house-hunting trip to Wilton on a snowy day in January. Turns out to have been a good last trip.
To be honest, Ididn’t even want to come inside this house because, to me, from the outside it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing or architecturally noteworthy. But Bill insisted I give it a chance, and when I walked into the light-filled living room and saw the exquisite woodwork, high ceilings, attractive built-ins, and marble fireplace I was smitten.
Note to Realtors: when potential homebuyers start arguing over where to put the Christmas tree, it’s a pretty good indication that a sale is imminent.
But as we continued the tour, our instant love affair with the house cooled off. The tiny kitchen had green Formica countertops, the original cabinetry, and vintage (not in a good way) appliances. It was tragically trapped in 1959. There were five bathrooms that all needed to be renovated. The house had lots of minuses but there were also pluses: the private, 2.5-acre property was close to town and abutted another 2.5 acres of conservancy land that could be viewed from a comfortable screened porch.
The house, though a rambler, possessed charm and had a great flow for entertaining. And then there was the 44-foot swimming pool in a barn. The entire package was quirky and appealing to us, so even though the list of necessary improvements was long, we put in an offer that thankfully was accepted.
It took us seven years to get around to renovating the kitchen. By that time the numbers had worn off the oven thermostat and were written in magic marker, the dishwasher leaked, and only two of the four stove burners were functional. The day I turned on the kitchen exhaust fan and flames shot out, I told my husband that I would no longer be cooking until we got a new kitchen. It was time.
In retrospect, I’m glad we waited before renovating because ultimately we decided to turn the old kitchen into a TV-viewing room and to transform the large, infrequently used formal dining room into the new kitchen. We left the hardwood floors as is, purchased dark-wood cabinets, and a Thermador appliance package. Miraculously, it was all done in three weeks.
A wall was knocked out to connect the new kitchen with the family room. Upstairs, we combined two bedrooms into one for our son, and eliminated a redundant bathroom so that we could install a custom walk-in closet in the master bedroom.
Bill resurfaced the pool himself, and we replaced the poorly vented wood roof of the pool house with clear acrylic roofing panels so we can swim indoors but still look at the sky. Because we own a production company we also needed a professional space in which to edit projects and meet clients, so we converted a third garage into an office, screening area, and edit suite.
Now our house just begs to have people over. We’ve hosted many Oscar parties, casual barbecues, girlfriend nights, Halloween fêtes, and, yes, the annual holiday party for my beloved book group.
When the doorbell rings announcing the arrival of my guests, I’m pulling curlers out of my hair and applying lipstick at the same time. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. I realize that I’m kind of like this house: quirky and imperfect, but always welcoming.