Built on Love
A New Chapter unfolds on Ridgefield Road
Three custom couches upholstered in textured ivory fabric from Denmark serve as a neutral background for the graphic punch of the black-and-white throw pillows and black velvet club chairs. House of Clement custom puzzle coffee table.
Photos by Jeff McNamara // Floral Designs by Earth Garden
Six years ago personal tragedy was visited upon Steve and Tamara when each lost their respective spouses within months of each other. Suddenly they found themselves heartbroken, single parents in their 40s. Steve had two school-age kids, Will and Maddie; and Tamara had a pair of young-adult children, Jason and Lexy.
When introduced by a mutual friend, Tamara and Steve’s rapport was immediate. They discovered they were both passionate about wine, fitness, travel, and family. “I wasn’t looking for love,” admits Tamara, “but Steve made it kind of impossible not to fall in love with him. He’s so incredibly thoughtful, giving, and kind.”
When the couple began to create a new life together as a blended family, they realized it was time to build happy memories in a new home. “Steve and I were looking to downsize,” explains Tamara. “We wanted a small, turnkey house that was a short walk to town. We were considering the River Ridge development when our realtors, Nancy and Phil Crossland, told us there was a property we should see. Nancy said, ‘I know this is everything you don’t want, but I think you’d better look at it.’”
The property in question was a hilltop antique nestled on a 3.8-acre parcel of land, immediately adjacent to Wilton town center. “We stood in the backyard holding hands and fell in love with the land,” says Tamara. “We were ready to buy it without even going inside the house.”
When the couple did venture inside it was definitely not love at first sight. The rambling 1820 home was in a sorry state of disrepair. Enormous trees were growing up against the house, their roots compromising the foundation and the limbs posing a threat to the integrity of the structure. “It was a disaster,” recalls Tamara. “There were 12 fireplaces because that’s how the house had been heated, and the windows, though pretty, did nothing to keep out the cold.” On the plus side, the rooms were gracious, with beautiful wide-plank floors, charming built-ins, dentil molding, and sweeping views of the exquisite backyard.
Tamara and Steve bought the property and began what they naively believed would be a nine-month renovation process. Three years later, the house is almost finished and the result is stunning. Happiness abounds both figuratively and literally in the case of the latest addition to the family: Cali, a rescue dog, whose entire body wriggles with joy when visitors arrive.
Keeping the original footprint, the couple shored up the foundation and eliminated trees that choked the perimeter and obscured sightlines. “We viewed ourselves as caretakers of the property,” says Steve. “Our goal was to retain the historical charm with updated infrastructure, which was easier said than done. Given the complexities, we decided that we needed an architect with a specialty in restoring antique homes and one who understood our style. This led us to Wilton-based architect Kevin Quinlan and Norwalk-based Michael Smith.” It was an unconventional approach but the couple loves the end result.
The 8,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom house is large by any standard, but every room is inviting, has purpose, and is carefully thought out. The Kalins’ style is sophisticated and eclectic. Modern furniture and accessories co-exist with vintage and antique pieces. The spacious kitchen features a dark royal-blue Molteni cast iron stove from France, and a massive island topped with Caesarstone. Originally, Tamara had romantic visions of white Carrara marble countertops, but practicality trumped desire.
“Steve frequently drinks red wine and if we’d gone for marble, it would have been ruined almost immediately,” she says with a smile. Instead of trying to disguise the two large refrigerators behind paneling that echoed the white cabinetry, they chose to face them with thick walnut and vintage hardware evoking the look of an old-fashioned icebox. The kitchen flows into the breakfast area, Tamara’s favorite room in the house. She calls it her “Little Pub,” thanks to the original plaster and wood beamed ceiling and wide-plank floors. A fifth-century Parisian workbench serves as a dining table and is surrounded by comfortable brown leather chairs.
Another favorite space is a snug office-lounge area referred to as The Campbell Apartment, a humorous nod to the shuttered Grand Central Station bar and cocktail lounge. With midnight-blue lacquered walls, gold leaf built-ins, and a secret wet bar tucked behind slim doors, one can easily imagine curling up on the leather couch in front of the vintage black-marble fireplace with a drink and a good book in hand.
None of the rooms is cookie-cutter. All are stylish and chic, thanks to a close collaboration with designer Giles Clement of the Westport-based House of Clement. The elegant living room features three custom couches, a pair of black velvet club chairs, and a sculptural one-of-a-kind coffee table. A modern chandelier liberally draped with glittery silver chains provides “jewelry for the room.”
A unique feature wall has been created by a large framed 1963 print by celebrated photographer Melvin Sokolsky from his bubble series depicting an elegant Chanel model in an oversized acrylic ball set against a backdrop of Paris.
The master bedroom is no less glamorous, and worthy of an A-list movie star. A palette of white, dove gray, and silver gives an airy, elegant feel. The room is anchored by a king-size bed dressed in white linens, with a unique silver leather headboard. A large seating area features a luxe chaise, two white club chairs, and an oversized acrylic coffee table. Fiberglass casts of tree trunks painted silver serve as whimsical side tables. The room is spectacularly oriented towards a serene vista of green treetops.
Inspired by the challenge of landscaping the property, Tamara joined the Wilton Garden Club and, remarkably, oversaw the entire process herself. The sweeping lawn conjures up visions of croquet matches or, perhaps, an impromptu family football game. As well, the 50-foot pool and two outdoor dining areas make one think of poolside al fresco lunches and dinner parties under the stars.
Despite the protracted renovation roadblocks, the Kalins are clearly in love with their new home, and with each other. “I’m the luckiest person in the world,” says Tamara. “This house, this life, was a match made in heaven.”
The Kalin home will be featured in the ABC House Tour on June 2, 2017