A Gentleman’s Private Retreat in Ridgefield, Connecticut

This luxurious take on a “man cave” is just the thing for a dad who adores his family but craves occasional peace and quiet.

Text by Fred Albert Photography by Michael Partenio Produced by Stacy Kunstel

When a Connecticut father of three announced his plans to build a personal retreat across the lawn from his spacious Ridgefield home, friends and relatives told him he was crazy. As a financial services professional, he was inclined to agree. The project made no fiscal sense, as it wouldn’t enhance the property’s resale value or provide a return on his investment should he ever decide to sell.

But sometimes, even a money man has to follow his heart. And in this case, that heart craved a private lair that was removed from the hustle and bustle of daily life—a spot where he could work, read, exercise, and enjoy his expansive library in peace.

The project was assigned to architect Mark P. Finlay, who decided to nestle the 4,200-square-foot structure deep into its steep, hillside site, so that the ground floor opens onto an auto court in front and the second floor adjoins an elevated terrace and pool out back. A tapestry of pillowed Connecticut fieldstone covers one wing of the T-shaped structure, while the other is finished in dusky antique barnboards. “I wanted it to look like it might have been an old stone outbuilding, and then they added a barn structure to it over the years,” says Finlay, who was assisted on the project by Jay Valade. “The main idea was to make it look like it had been there forever.”

To reinforce that notion, he repeated the exterior siding inside, banishing all drywall and covering the floors and ceilings with reclaimed oak and chestnut. State-of-the-art lighting and climate control systems lurk beneath these historic trappings, assuring year-round comfort and ease. “We basically made a modern structure and skinned it inside and out with antique materials,” notes builder Jeff Andrews.

The lodge-style aura feels both majestic and cozy, owing to the abundance of natural materials and the way the oversize doors and windows invite the landscape in. Finlay exaggerated the openings to counter the heaviness of the stone walls and admit more sun. “In an antique wood room, the light gets eaten up and it can get very dark very quickly if you’re not careful,” the architect says.

Finlay’s client calls his retreat “the barn.” And while it’s tempting to write off the project as just another “man cave,” the decor defies such easy labeling. “It’s a little more sophisticated and collected than that—and a little more thoughtful,” observes interior designer Tina Anastasia. Although she wanted to honor the structure’s masculine air, she was careful to avoid clichés, opting for a mix of patterns, colors, and provenances that gives the interior an eclectic look.

In the expansive great room, Anastasia assembled a flotilla of large-scale pieces, mixing clubby Ralph Lauren leather sofas (deep enough to nap in) with soigné sapphire club chairs and a contemporary etched-zinc coffee table that stretches nearly seven feet in length. Fine art photographs by Robert Polidori grace the craggy stone walls.

“I’ve always liked art and always collected art,” says the owner, who acquired a number of pieces for the barn, including a trio of works by celebrated neo-Expressionist Hunt Slonem. The most imposing one, surprisingly enough, hangs above a resistance-training machine in the gym. “I really liked it, but never had a space for it,” he says of the six-by-nine-foot canvas, which lingered at Norwich’s Galerie SoNo for more than a year while he deliberated. “One day, I looked up in the gym and thought, ‘Hey, I could put it right there!’ ” He went out and bought the piece that same day. “I like it,” he muses. “To me, a gym has got to be a space you feel good in.”

The neighboring library is wrapped floor-to-ceiling with books, which rest upon shelves that extend alongside the staircase to the office above. “I own about 10,000 books,” acknowledges the owner, a voracious reader who was only able to squeeze about half his collection into the room. A 200-year-old library table—reputedly from an English monastery—dominates the center of the space, giving him a place to spread out his reading.

The ground-floor pub room feels positively intimate by comparison, its low wood ceiling and tufted leather seating evoking an old English saloon—save for the hand-carved African table at its center. “We really searched for things that wouldn’t be so typical,” says Anastasia, who also inserted an industrial-style table and stools into the mix. The latter sidle up to a bar backed by a wine cellar with storage for 2,000 bottles.

Summertime entertaining centers around the expansive terrace out back, where generous all-weather seating surrounds a commanding granite fireplace, and water cascades from an elevated spa into the sinuous swimming pool below. Across the yard, a wisteria-draped pergola shelters an outdoor kitchen and dining table. Pies are served piping hot from the neighboring pizza oven while sporting events flicker across an eighty-inch TV screen.

To enhance the illusion that the barn was built long ago, landscape designer Tim Paterson anchored the grounds with a medley of traditional American trees such as maples and oaks, which he offset with billowing mounds of old-fashioned hydrangea. A hornbeam hedge surrounds the pool in a tidy wall of green. (“It’s more traditional and more interesting than using evergreen hedges,” Paterson notes.) Boulders and plants protrude from the pool deck at random intervals, asserting nature’s presence.

While it might seem counterintuitive to include a pool and grill in a place that’s supposed to serve as a retreat, the dad and husband says it was never his intent to turn his back on family. His kids are welcome to use the pool anytime, and although his wife surrendered all input on the barn to her husband (who’s much more interested in design than she is), she’s a frequent visitor. “She actually loves it just as much as I do,” her spouse says.

A trip to the backyard might never replace a trip to the Bahamas, but for the homeowner, the result is nearly identical. “The second I step through the door here, I’m walking into a different place with a different feel and a different reality,” he says. “It’s awfully nice to be able to walk across the lawn and completely escape.”
Project Team
Architecture: Mark P. Finlay, Mark P. Finlay Architects and Interiors
Interior design: Tina Anastasia, Mark P. Finlay Architects and Interiors
Builder: Jeff Andrews, Auburn Landing
Landscape design: Tim Paterson, Highland Design Gardens

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