Downsizing To A Classic Ranch House

It wasn’t easy moving from a big old Victorian villa to a small ranch house; in fact, it seemed to require a change in lifestyle. But, with a good eye for a few deft improvements to the house, this owner managed to create a layered ambiance full of warmth.
 To enliven the exterior of the ranch, the Sagendorfs added shutters and a gravel terrace surrounded by a stone wall. The front steps, originally narrow and of concrete, were replaced with these better-proportioned wood steps. Inset: The plain, mid-century ranch was easy to overlook.

For decades, the Sagendorfs lived in a looming, three-storey Italian Villa complete with a tower. Surrounded by massive furniture and all the trappings of the Victorian era, Kit and Marty had firmly embraced the aesthetic.  Still, they knew the time was coming to downsize. Kit’s instincts told her they needed a succinct floor plan: no stairs, easy access to the parked car, modern conveniences—and less stuff. Marty grumbled: a physicist with a passion for collecting, he had amassed radio equipment and various electrical gadgets.

Marty built the coffee table for a  covered porch at their previous house.  The sofa bought at auction can serve as a guest bed. A wall of bookshelves was built to the dimensions of their previous library. 

    Their previous home was a living museum, with servant bells and all. They used a rotary-dial candlestick telephone. They fired up a woodstove to cook (one reason, Kit admits, why they ate out frequently). Weekly, Kit tackled the scrubbing and dusting of ten big rooms. Granted, in the old house, there was plenty of space for Marty’s science experiments and Kit’s art—she is an artist, cartoonist, and avid gardener. They could foresee a day, however, when upkeep would overwhelm them. Marty came to agree with Kit.

Left: Although the old French needlepoint chair is “uniquely uncomfortable,” Kit loves how it looks. The American Victorian cabinet hides a hidden “safe” in its cornice. Right: On the coffee table, an urn holding bocce balls sits atop a wooden plinth. 

They’d both grown up in ranch-type houses, and though they didn’t think a ranch house was an obvious choice for them, Kit knew it could work. “You can do a lot with a ranch,” was her atti-tude, bolstered by the knowledge that many postwar examples are very simple, even boring, houses that take well to interpretation. As a retired photo stylist, she understood interior design.

Left: After Kit fixed up the antique birdcage found at a yard sale, it was worthy of display beside a Chinese Victorian parrot. Right: A barometer that Kit bought for Marty’s birthday hangs in front of the shelves.

The search began for a house that would check off all the “must have” boxes. High on the list was proximity to old friends. Kit drew a 30-mile circle and focused the hunt within it. They nabbed a nondescript ranch in Litchfield County, Connecticut.

Left: In the revamped kitchen, the owners gave the room character with a slate sink and a plate rack. Marty Sagendorf made the corner cupboard from recycled shutters. Right: A turn-of-the-century apothe-cary cabinet dominates the kitchen. The early-1900s piece was purchased by Marty Sagendorf’s parents in the 1960s. It was three inches too tall for this ceiling, but they carefully adapted it, keeping  all the pieces for the future.

A frenzy of renovation followed. “The problem with ranches is that many have small windows high in the wall,” Kit says. So the couple changed out windows, removed interior doors that partitioned rooms, revamped the kitchen, and built library bookshelves for Marty’s reference material.

All the while Kit had been deaccessioning through tag sales and flea-market booths. Marty faced reality and found good homes for everything but his hundred favorite contraptions. Kit got busy transforming the ranch into a home where subtle references to the past and quirky furniture could dwell without seeming out of place. She changed mouldings. She retrofitted vintage painted doors on closets and private rooms. A few pieces of furniture were subtly altered to fit rooms with lower ceilings. 

Left: The focal point in this bedroom is the old French cherry bed beside the needlepoint chair that Kit’s grandmother stitched for her grandfather. The vintage blue door adds color. Right: Kit keeps a favorite dollhouse in the bedroom; its miniature furniture is antique. Recent, in-progress artwork hangs above.

A previous owner had eliminated a partition wall, making one long space out of a former small living room and dining room. This allowed large windows on an exterior wall and space for built-in bookcases on the interior wall. Kit measured Marty’s previous bookshelves and copied the dimensions exactly for a painless move. “The books just slid in exactly as Marty had them organized.” 

The kitchen was trickier to resolve, but fell into place once a partition was removed. She specified a classic slate sink, a kitchen table, and plenty of storage. A bedroom became Kit’s artist studio. Marty had a gadget room on the main floor with the basement for overflow. The house has come to have a kind of retrospective look.




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