As a teenager, Peter Ferris never thought he’d be living on the same cul-de-sac in Simsbury where he grew up. But at the age of 61 he’s back, and while he may not be playing kick the can, four square, and an array of outdoor sports like he did in the ’70s, he’s enjoying the same sense of community he felt years ago in this close-knit neighborhood abutting the Hop Meadow Country Club.
“When I bought the house, it was like time stood still in the 1970s,” says Ferris, who last year purchased what he refers to as his second home, where his childhood friend, Rick, lived and where Ferris’ parents spent countless nights playing bridge with Rick’s parents. “A few timely details … a bright yellow Formica countertop and yellow linoleum flooring in the kitchen, brown shag carpet in the sunroom, a Jenn-Air range and an outlet for a rotary dial phone.”
Put up for sale a year prior, the house never sold and was taken off the market. Meanwhile, Ferris sold his home in Avon in 2019 and moved into a loft apartment in downtown Hartford while house hunting. He didn’t realize the house had been on the market until his sister, who lives in Ferris’ childhood home on the same street, told him. He immediately wrote a letter to the family, asking if they still wanted to sell. The closing was three months later.
The 1,800-square-foot house offered a simple, charming and timeless style. It was designed and built in 1962 by the Boston-based Royal Barry Wills firm, founded by the architect of the same name in 1925, and who is largely responsible for the revitalization of Cape-style homes in the U.S. While Ferris wanted to stay true to the original design, he contacted architect David Stuhlsatz from Quincy, Massachusetts, in summer 2020 to modernize it.
“I found my needle in the haystack when I found David’s photo in the back of a book, At Home in New England, about Royal Barry Wills’ homes,” says Ferris, who wanted to open up the kitchen, living and dining rooms. “David actually worked at RBW in Boston before the firm closed around 2017 and specializes in RBW remodels in New England. His eyes welled up when I handed him an original set of RBW blueprints.”
The two bedrooms and bath upstairs remained untouched, but the first floor was brought down to the studs. The structural changes, with walls coming down, called for steel beams and columns in the basement to support this new open area. The kitchen, living and dining spaces now offer better use of space and flow.
A visual and physical separation occurs between the kitchen (designed by Gedney Kitchens of Madison) and family room thanks to a level change and bank of cabinets by Jim McMahon of Minnesota-based Crystal Cabinet Works. When sitting in the kitchen or dining area, Ferris can see from one end of the house to the other, and when the doors are open, he feels like he’s outside, he says.
“Whenever I do a project like this, and I’ve done it several times in my life, I always envision the holidays with my family,” says Ferris, the youngest of five siblings, and who has four daughters who visit from New Hampshire. “I think, ‘Where does the Christmas tree go and what does Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner look like?’ A fire can be going in the family room with a football game on the TV above the mantle and we’re still able to prepare in the kitchen with background music.”
In RBW tradition, low ceilings are found throughout the house. And while at first Ferris was hesitant to take advantage of unused attic space above the family room to vault the ceiling, he’s glad Stuhlsatz recommended it. “The space had good qualities, but the structural changes we made create a significant spatial effect, giving the room an entirely different feel,” Stuhlsatz says. “We were able to preserve the existing fireplace wall and added cased beams that go across the ceiling. The room already had great windows, a testament to the design.”
When helping to take down the ceiling above the family room, where there’s a connection to what used to be the boys’ room, Ferris found an empty box of Dunhill cigarettes in the insulation. “I went to Scotland when I was 16 and worked in my dad’s factory and came back with a carton,” he says. “Here I am doing the demo work at 61. The numbers have reversed, but it brought me back to being a teenager again and my connection to the home.”
While they didn’t make an internal connection from the garage to the house, Ferris was OK with keeping it that way. The family room was the only space where this could have happened, and Stuhlsatz says, “It was less than ideal. So, we worked with a sunroom that the family added on in the ’70s — a bump-out with a flat roof — to give him an entranceway-slash-mudroom, laundry, a half-bathroom, and home office with a view toward the golf course.”
Previously, the only bathroom on the first floor was part of the master bedroom suite, and a separate sliding pocket door off the kitchen enabled guests to use it. Stuhlsatz took square footage from the sunroom to create the powder room and enlarge the master suite bathroom. Shiplap on the walls of both the master bath and entry add to the home’s charm.
Outside, Stuhlsatz wanted to create a better experience in the rear yard, especially from the walk between the house and garage. A new bluestone walkway was created and the bricks from the old one were repurposed for a patio. The stones for the steps to the deck are reclaimed granite highway curbing that tied the bluestone to the deck. When looking at stones for the steps, Ferris bought a big piece of granite he thought might make a good post for a gate. But once it stood vertically in the ground, everyone commented on how striking it looked, he says. In fact, one of the masons from Stone Man Masonry Company, a Canton firm that did the stone work, referred to it as Ferris’ zen stone. So, he left it standing solo for good karma.
Ferris is blessed with two sisters who know a thing or two about landscaping, and they assisted with the garden design. One is a master gardener and another, who lives in Boston, is a member of the Beacon Hill Garden Club. “When I started the regrading in the backyard, we moved some things, but I preserved a lot of the perennials that were important to Rick’s mother,” Ferris says. “It’s special to be the second owner of this house. I have all sorts of memories of Rick’s father working on the house or in the yard when I was a kid. I’m now the steward of this incredible home, responsible for her care and creating new memories with my family.”
“I had a lot of people touch this in one way or another,” says Ferris, who consulted with Thomas Mach Interiors in Simsbury about Farrow & Ball paint colors throughout the house and the design team out of Restoration Hardware in Greenwich for fabrics and some new furniture. “My sisters, daughters and girlfriend all had input. I’m surrounded by talented women!”
After nine months, the renovation was complete at the beginning of summer 2021, just in time to jump in his golf cart and head over to the clubhouse to play tennis, swim and play golf.