A worldly family puts roots down in historic Ridgefield
Jim and Anmarie Galowski and their three children lived overseas for six years, in various hubs throughout the world. They decorated each home they lived in with a taste for the culture of the place they inhabited, embracing the ethnicity and traditions wholeheartedly. “I always wanted my kids to feel as if each place was home, no matter where we were living,” says Anmarie.
When the time arrived for the family to settle permanently in the States, the Galowskis searched for their dream home—an antique, somewhere in southern Connecticut, suitable for a family of five, as well as the furniture and worldly treasures they had collected in their travels. “We wanted an old home with large rooms, high ceilings, closet space, and a basement,” explains Anmarie, well aware her specifications made a tall order.
The couple traipsed through houses in and around Fairfield County. After months of searching, Anmarie came across a description of a home that seemed to fit the bill. “We were going into New York over Christmas break and I called the real-estate agent from the train,” she says.
Near downtown Ridgefield, behind a stone wall topped with handsome white fencing, the Galowskis discovered a legendary estate whose roots are woven into the fabric of the town. The classic Georgian Colonial was built in 1733 by Wadsworth Brigade Captain Gamaliel Northrop, still proudly displaying its original black and white color scheme, popular in England and the Southern colonies in the 1700s. After the Revolutionary War, Federalist-style additions, including a gabled third floor, cupola, ornate roof railing, and a side porch, added to the majesty of the home’s exterior. The Galowskis refurbished these and other features, restoring the home’s regal beauty.
The house’s prominent place in Ridgefield’s history complements its traditional architecture. Many homes were burnt during the Battle of Ridgefield as the vengeful British marched south through town. According to Rockwell’s History of Ridgefield, a brave woman waved a red petticoat out of the Galowskis’ home (then the Northrop homestead) to trick Redcoat soldiers into thinking it was inhabited by Loyalists and to spare it from arson. The British then used the house as a makeshift hospital for their wounded and dying mercenaries. Following the Northrop family, two prominent Ridgefielders resided in the home, Samuel Norris and, more recently, Romeo Petroni—both, Connecticut state senators.
A house that’s been around more than 250 years is bound to have a few secrets. “Over the years, our remodeling efforts have led us to buried pottery, silver, an old shoe-making kit, and some money. We have even found an old crutch, a copper gaslight, and pictures of George Washington in the walls and under floorboards,” reveals Anmarie. A clandestine room tucked away in the basement with an ancient metal-enforced door hints of a secret ammunition depot. Anmarie and Jim converted the room to pack a different kind of heat: vintage wine. The cool room now protects hundreds of bottles that naturally stay between 55 and 60 degrees all year.
Today the five-bedroom, four-and-a-half–bath house features four fireplaces, a grand living room and dining room, library, porch, and two kitchens. Each room is filled with copious character and careful attention to detail. In addition to the main residence, there is a pool house and a Wendy House (a playhouse), both mimicking the main home in traditional design and giving the estate grandeur and prominence.
Upon opening the front door, an Old World charm embraces the visitor. In the foyer, oriental rugs on wide-plank wood floors (found throughout the house) radiate warmth. The eye is drawn to a 19th-century Japanese trunk from Shanghai, and down the broad hallway is an 1820s long-case clock, purchased in England, and an old English chimney from the annual Ardingly Antiques Fair.
The library, adjacent to the foyer and part of the original design of the home, beckons with its tall, wooden bookshelves. The places the Galowskis have traveled or lived—Singapore, Germany, Thailand, England, Spain—is evident in the various book titles. A didgeridoo, an Aboriginal wind instrument, leans against the fireplace mantel. “We bought it in Australia from an Aborigine in the Daintree Rainforest,” says Anmarie. An exotic robe festooned with a five-clawed dragon, purchased at a Beijing market, hangs framed on a wall.
The bright, four-season porch, accessed through the library, was added to the home in the 19th century. This is 12-year-old daughter Christiana’s favorite room and it’s easy to see why. Looking out to beautiful gardens and a winding path that leads to the in-ground pool, one could mistake being in the hills of Vermont, far from the hustle. “I study for tests and do my homework in the big blue comfy chairs. You’re never alone because Ming is always with you,” exclaims Christiana. At six feet, four inches in height, “Ming” is a replica of one of the third-century-B.C. terra-cotta warriors unearthed in China, which the Galowskis purchased at an auction in Singapore.
Also accessed from the library is the formal living room. The five-foot-tall windows light up this 400-square-foot room and accentuate the ornate dentil molding and spectacular arched doorway. “When I walked into this room and saw the doorway, I said, ‘I can buy this house.’ It was a huge selling point for me,” says Anmarie. A beautiful square coffee table, purchased in Singapore, a wooden bar from Thailand, peasant baskets, and an old-fashioned child’s desk are a few of the sentimental objets d’art adorning the room.
With all of the comfortable places to kick back and relax, the Galowskis and their one-year-old Havanese dog most often congregate in the spacious, eclectic kitchen. “We catch the most beautiful sunsets here,” declares Anmarie, surrounded by large paned windows. The comfortable sitting and dining areas, exceptionally high ceilings, and amazing views of the gardens makes it the place where backdoor friends gather, art and craft projects are created, and long talks over coffee ensue.
A full kitchen was added to the home in 1903 and renovated by the Galowskis upon moving in. The original, smaller kitchen still remains and connects via a back staircase to what was once the servants’ quarters on the second floor. “It is a house with a lot of character and one that you can get lost in. Literally. We’ve had guests who can’t find their way back to the kitchen.” says Anmarie.
As for Anmarie and her family, their search is over. “We’re here to build roots, we’re not moving again,” she says. Yet reminders of all the places the Galowskis have lived and loved remain. Even Ming.