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Established Character

Appreciating an older house and property



Photographs by Douglas Foulke

“I love older properties,” says Carolyn Wheeler, surprising, because as co-owner of Country Club Homes, she builds new homes, albeit graciously proportioned ones with the same custom details and character found in older houses. “As much as I appreciate new construction, older properties have established trees and beds. It takes a long time to get the landscaping to look like it has been there forever.”

She and her husband Greg had been living in a cozy 1890s colonial, with unobstructed views of Long Island Sound, in the Silvermine area of Norwalk, when they decided to move to Wilton. “We looked for a long time. We saw so many houses set on heavily wooded lots. Many people want woods, but we prefer open vistas. We saw this house on a beautiful spring day. The property was spectacular and we could even catch a glimpse of the Sound from the patio,” says Carolyn. That view, the expansive yard and the mature landscaping, like the majestic ash towering in the center of the circular driveway, clinched the deal.

The Wheelers’ house sits on seven acres of established trees, bushes, and gardens, with a buffer of woods between their property and their neighbors. “I love gardening; it’s my therapy,” explains Carolyn. “I don’t have formal gardens, and I’ve learned by trial and error. I’ll plant something and if it doesn’t come up the next year, I’ll try something else. There’s no rhyme or reason to my approach, but it works for me, and when my gardens are in full bloom, I think they look beautiful.” While the grounds are indisputably gorgeous, the house itself defies architectural categorization. “It’s a quirky house. It was built in 1938 by a New York City architect as his summer residence,” says Greg. The exterior, with its grand brick façade and elegant second-story porch, evokes residential architecture found in Bermuda, Savannah, Georgia and country estates in Europe.

Inside, the house feels smaller and more intimate than the exterior suggests. The layout does not follow the typical center-hall colonial plan, with the living and dining rooms flanking the entrance. Instead a small foyer opens onto a kitchen on the left, a guest wing on the right, and straight ahead, to a second larger foyer with a double height ceiling, curved walls and a staircase. The formal living room, just beyond this second foyer, has soffited ceilings and oversized windows providing a sweeping view of the property.

When they bought the house in 1997, it needed work. Although Carolyn is in the construction business, she and Greg did the renovation work in stages. Mindful of its 1930s pedigree, they retained many older details, like the original dental moldings in the living room and dining room, and added other details in keeping with their home’s vintage. “The house was more formal than we like, so as we updated rooms, we tried to make it feel cozier,” she explains. In one of the earliest projects, they renovated the long, narrow kitchen, which had been a servants kitchen. They gutted a large butler’s pantry to make space for a kitchen table and chairs, but left the servant’s call box intact. “It still works,” Carolyn marvels.

When selecting kitchen materials and finishes, they opted for the unexpected. “In the business, you tend to see the same materials used over and over again. I wanted to do something more unusual,” explains Carolyn. They chose poured concrete counters in a finish that resembles burnished copper. “They stain a bit, but over time they develop a rich patina. Believe it or not, I clean them with Lemon Pledge,” she says with a laugh. While the trend in kitchen cabinets has been cream or white, they went with a soft gray finish. The professional gas range is a Bertazzoni, not the Wolfe or Viking found in many new kitchens. They installed two white porcelain sinks; Carolyn uses the smaller one for potting plants. Other details include a modified soffited ceiling, which creates an illusion of greater height, and deep crown moldings.

In the guest wing, they converted a non-descript room into an inviting, alder-wood paneled library, lined with bookshelves. “We wanted to make the room feel as if it had been this way for a long time,” Carolyn notes. The guest bathroom had a full-size tub, and 1930s green tiles. Since it needed to serve as a formal powder room as well, they paneled the walls and removed the tub, replacing it with a shower hidden ingeniously in a closet.

In later renovations, the Wheelers converted the garage and adjacent small apartment into a family room, bar and game area, and added a new three-car garage and apartment above it. They replaced the original front door with a half-glass one to allow more natural light into the foyer; its wrought-iron details echo the wrought iron scrollwork on the balcony above. They also added a new master bathroom, because the existing one was cramped. “We combined the old one with an adjacent closet to create a large walk-in closet, and bumped out over the living room for the new one,” Greg explains. With a huge whirlpool tub and two-person walk-in shower, the new master bathroom is almost larger than the bedroom. “The original bathroom was so small, I think we went overboard a bit on the new one,” Carolyn laughs, “but we love this room. In the morning, it’s flooded with sunlight. If you’re not awake when you walk in here, the sunlight will wake you up.” In their most recent project, they updated their daughter’s bedroom with a latticework ceiling and, through a happy accident, chocolate brown grass cloth wallpaper. “The walls were supposed to be done in light orange textured wallpaper, but the installer put up the wrong paper. It was a complete mistake, but we decided we liked it,” Carolyn says.

Outside, they extended the original patio by several feet to accommodate a larger table and a seating area. They also added a built-in grill and stone fire pit, and a free-form pool with its own fire pit. “We’re both casual and social people. We like to stay in touch with friends and family, so we entertain often. This is a great house and yard for that,” Greg says, surveying the stone patio and yard, both accessible from the kitchen, dining and living room. Adds Carolyn, “We’ve been hosting an annual summer party for about a hundred people, for forever. When the kids were little, we played games in the yard. Many guests set up tents in the backyard and camped out. In the morning, we’d make a Dunkin Donuts run. Now that the kids are older, we still have the party, but we don’t camp out anymore.”

Despite its spectacular property and obvious charms, the Wheelers suggest their house may not work for everyone. “Although the rooms are spacious, they don’t flow into each other as much as in newer homes, and the ceilings are just eight feet high. Many people may want a more open floor plan, massive great rooms, and higher ceilings,” Carolyn says. “Our house may look grand from the outside, but inside it feels very warm and inviting.” And that’s exactly the way she and Greg like it.

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Telephone: 203-966-1776
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Cost: $5, $3 Students & Seniors; Free for members

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Where:
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Cost: Free

Where:
The New Canaan Historical Society
13 Oenoke Ridge
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View map »


Sponsor: The New Canaan Historical Socoiety
Telephone: 203-966-1776
Contact Name: Janet Lindstrom
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
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View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
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Cost: $5, $3 Students & Seniors; Free for members

Where:
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View map »


Sponsor: Fairfield Museum and History Center
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Where:
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View map »


Sponsor: Music on the Hill
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Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
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13 Oenoke Ridge
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View map »


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Telephone: 203-966-1776
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More information

The Society’s newest exhibit honors the men and women from New Canaan who served in World War II.  Lt. Henry Maitland’s Navy White Dress Jumper and hats, Sgt. Benjamin Charles...

Cost: Free

Where:
The New Canaan Historical Society
13 Oenoke Ridge
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: The New Canaan Historical Socoiety
Telephone: 203-966-1776
Contact Name: Janet Lindstrom
Website »

More information

The exhibition Robert Rauschenberg: Spreads and Related Works is a group of paintings and works on paper chosen to compliment the painting Recital (Spread), 1980 which Philip Johnson purchased...

Cost: $35 includes tour

Where:
The Glass House
199 Elm Street
New Canaan , CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: The Glass House
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Art is pleased to present its upcoming exhibition “Turns of Phrase” featuring sculpture by John Clement and paintings by Matthew Heller.  The exhibition will be...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

The Glass House is pleased to present Yayoi Kusama: Narcissus Garden, a landscape installation that will be on view throughout the 2016 tour season to celebrate the 110th anniversary of Philip...

Cost: $35 includes tour

Where:
The Glass House
199 Elm Street
New Canaan , CT  06840
View map »


Website »

More information

Step inside the Ogden House to experience life in 18th century Fairfield. David and Jane Sturges Ogden began their marriage here, settling into farm life and establishing a family legacy that...

Cost: $5, $3 Students & Seniors; Free for members

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Sponsor: Fairfield Museum and History Center
Telephone: 203-259-1598
Contact Name: Visitor Services Manager
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Enjoy a unique water view of municipal holiday displays – times two, thanks to reflections on the water surface – when you join us on the R/V Spirit of the Sound. Departure each night...

Cost: $50

Where:
Maritime Aquarium
10 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT
View map »


Website »

More information

Singers are invited to rehearse and perform the Mozart Requiem with the Music on the Hill Summer Chorus led by Artistic Director Ellen Dickinson. Register by July 5th! Rehearsals...

Cost: $40

Where:
WEPCO church complex
48 New Canaan Road
Wilton, CT  06897
View map »


Sponsor: Music on the Hill
Telephone: (203) 529-3133
Contact Name: Ellen
Website »

More information

The Society’s newest exhibit honors the men and women from New Canaan who served in World War II.  Lt. Henry Maitland’s Navy White Dress Jumper and hats, Sgt. Benjamin Charles...

Cost: Free

Where:
The New Canaan Historical Society
13 Oenoke Ridge
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: The New Canaan Historical Socoiety
Telephone: 203-966-1776
Contact Name: Janet Lindstrom
Website »

More information

The Society’s newest exhibit honors the men and women from New Canaan who served in World War II.  Lt. Henry Maitland’s Navy White Dress Jumper and hats, Sgt. Benjamin Charles...

Cost: Free

Where:
The New Canaan Historical Society
13 Oenoke Ridge
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: The New Canaan Historical Socoiety
Telephone: 203-966-1776
Contact Name: Janet Lindstrom
Website »

More information

The exhibition Robert Rauschenberg: Spreads and Related Works is a group of paintings and works on paper chosen to compliment the painting Recital (Spread), 1980 which Philip Johnson purchased...

Cost: $35 includes tour

Where:
The Glass House
199 Elm Street
New Canaan , CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: The Glass House
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Art is pleased to present its upcoming exhibition “Turns of Phrase” featuring sculpture by John Clement and paintings by Matthew Heller.  The exhibition will be...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Step inside the Ogden House to experience life in 18th century Fairfield. David and Jane Sturges Ogden began their marriage here, settling into farm life and establishing a family legacy that...

Cost: $5, $3 Students & Seniors; Free for members

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Sponsor: Fairfield Museum and History Center
Telephone: 203-259-1598
Contact Name: Visitor Services Manager
Website »

More information

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View map »


Telephone: (203) 406-3335
Website »

More information

Enjoy a unique water view of municipal holiday displays – times two, thanks to reflections on the water surface – when you join us on the R/V Spirit of the Sound. Departure each night...

Cost: $50

Where:
Maritime Aquarium
10 North Water Street
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View map »


Website »

More information

Singers are invited to rehearse and perform the Mozart Requiem with the Music on the Hill Summer Chorus led by Artistic Director Ellen Dickinson. Register by July 5th! Rehearsals...

Cost: $40

Where:
WEPCO church complex
48 New Canaan Road
Wilton, CT  06897
View map »


Sponsor: Music on the Hill
Telephone: (203) 529-3133
Contact Name: Ellen
Website »

More information

The Society’s newest exhibit honors the men and women from New Canaan who served in World War II.  Lt. Henry Maitland’s Navy White Dress Jumper and hats, Sgt. Benjamin Charles...

Cost: Free

Where:
The New Canaan Historical Society
13 Oenoke Ridge
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: The New Canaan Historical Socoiety
Telephone: 203-966-1776
Contact Name: Janet Lindstrom
Website »

More information

The Society’s newest exhibit honors the men and women from New Canaan who served in World War II.  Lt. Henry Maitland’s Navy White Dress Jumper and hats, Sgt. Benjamin Charles...

Cost: Free

Where:
The New Canaan Historical Society
13 Oenoke Ridge
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: The New Canaan Historical Socoiety
Telephone: 203-966-1776
Contact Name: Janet Lindstrom
Website »

More information

The exhibition Robert Rauschenberg: Spreads and Related Works is a group of paintings and works on paper chosen to compliment the painting Recital (Spread), 1980 which Philip Johnson purchased...

Cost: $35 includes tour

Where:
The Glass House
199 Elm Street
New Canaan , CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: The Glass House
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Art is pleased to present its upcoming exhibition “Turns of Phrase” featuring sculpture by John Clement and paintings by Matthew Heller.  The exhibition will be...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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View map »


Sponsor: Grace Farms Foundation
Telephone: 203.920.1702
Website »

More information

Step inside the Ogden House to experience life in 18th century Fairfield. David and Jane Sturges Ogden began their marriage here, settling into farm life and establishing a family legacy that...

Cost: $5, $3 Students & Seniors; Free for members

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Sponsor: Fairfield Museum and History Center
Telephone: 203-259-1598
Contact Name: Visitor Services Manager
Website »

More information

Show More...
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