What does one do when looking to downsize from a historic 45-acre horse farm in Pawling, New York? In the case of advertising executive couple Nina DiSesa and Brian Goodall, the answer was purchasing a bigger historic home in Lakeville, Connecticut, with less property (and no horses). “I always admired this house,” says Brian of the circa 1763 Georgian center-hall Colonial known locally as Burton Brook Farm. “I fell in love with it before even going inside.”
Beyond the farmhouse façade, “the architectural detail is magnificent,” Brian says. “The entrance hall is very grand and inviting. Though it’s a large house, the rooms are a manageable size.” Yet Nina refused to move into a home with a single bathroom to serve three second-floor guest rooms. So she called designer Neil Bradford, a former associate of Jamie Drake, who had returned to private practice in his native Australia. Bradford had worked on the couple’s other homes and knew them intimately.
“Luckily the guest rooms are large,” Bradford says. “So I was able to slice a corner off each and turn it into a bathroom. The idea came from my travels in Paris, where they manage to get bathrooms into very small hotel rooms. It also created the added bonus of building a walk-in closet in the adjacent corner, giving the rooms architectural symmetry.” Nina was happy to let Brian and Bradford handle the aesthetics. “My interest,” she explains, “was making sure the house functioned technologically.”
The man charged with this task was builder Mark Benko. But because finishes and architectural details were so pristine, he remembers, “We couldn’t open walls, cut up floors or disturb the fabric of the house in any way. So we did things very creatively.” Aside from geothermal heating and new windows, imaginative solutions included removing baseboard moldings to run new audiovisual wiring and WiFi, and inserting ductwork through dead spaces such as chases next to fireplaces.
The floors and kitchen also required attention. Happily, says Nina, they discovered old timbers in the various barns on site to repurpose into flooring, and Bradford completely overhauled the kitchen area to serve the couple’s extensive entertaining needs. The island, formerly modest in size, says Brian, “is like an aircraft carrier; you could land a plane on it.”
Another serendipitous coincidence: “This is the first house we’ve bought where most of the things we already had worked,” says Brian. About 80 percent of the art and furnishings came from previous residences. This included contemporary furniture with clean traditional silhouettes accented by modern art and Asian antiques. Bradford carried over the Pawling home’s palette—pale blue, grays and taupes—and supplemented existing furnishings with new custom upholstery and other filler pieces.
Meanwhile, landscape designer Ellen Marshall was busy outside creating a suitable setting for Burton Brook Farm. The home sat on “five acres of level land in the middle of town,” she says. “It’s a very unusual property.” With so much usable acreage, she suggested the placement of a new pool and pool house, as well as vegetable and herb gardens, and she advised adding an outdoor dining terrace and creating a fenced courtyard by a side entrance.
“It was easy to see the house was the star of the show, and anything around it should be in keeping with its age,” she says. So Marshall patterned her plans on 18th-century homesteads, avoiding high-maintenance formal gardens and concentrating on green foundation boxwoods, smoke bushes and viburnum, supplemented by lots of ground-covering pachysandra.
Now, this 18th-century jewel is fully decked out with 21st-century amenities, a good thing for the perpetual hosts who live here. “We run this place like an inn,” Brian says. “On weekends, the rooms are full!”