The Dynamic Duo
Transforming a celebrated cottage into a thoroughly modern home
Photos by Rana Faure
At 1,900 square feet, this Oscaleta Road home is small compared to the Ridgefield average, which measures in at 2,900 square feet. But to Daniel Levine and Matthew Farnsworth, two formerly city-trapped Broadway actors, it’s their own private manse.
“I thought that I’d never leave New York,” says Levine, whose Broadway credits include Les Misérables, Chicago, Mamma Mia!, Jesus Christ Superstar, Tommy, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Little Shop of Horrors. This summer he played Nathan Detroit in Guys & Dolls in Seattle and Minneapolis. They’ve lived in Manhattan since the early 1990s, then a few years ago the two decided to buy an apartment together. However, they soon realized that spending more than $1 million for a small apartment was crazy. “I love digging in the dirt, listening to birds, and just being outdoors,” says Levine. “Here you can get so much more space. Plus you can just let the dogs outside. You don’t have to walk them all the time.”
Levine’s brother and family live in Redding and introduced them to Deb McCarty of William Raveis. Originally scoping three bedrooms, they agreed to view this two-bedroom 1940s cottage, up a windy driveway just off West Mountain. “At first I wouldn’t look at it,” says Farnsworth, but Levine insisted. “When we saw it, I loved it, and Dan said no.” Explains Levine: “It had a nice yard, but I didn’t like the house.” Eventually they both saw the potential and were intrigued a bit by the home’s lineage.
Built in 1942, the stone home’s one-time owner was Jolie Gabor—mother to Hungarian-born movie stars Eva, Magda, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. She was married to Count Odon de Szigethy and ran a big jewelry business in the city and eventually sold the house in 1970, but left her glamourous touches behind. The next owners added a master bedroom and some modernization. “When we first looked at the house, there were paintings of the Gabor daughters on the wall, but the owners sold them on eBay,” says Farnsworth, incredulous. “We’re still trying to find them.”
“We did a few things after we closed on the house,” Levine says, in a wild understatement. “We took down a wall here,” explains Farnsworth, standing in the wide open main part of the house between the kitchen area and the living room. They raised the headers over doorways, which gives a real sense of more space. “We liked the knotty pine beams, but put drywall over much of it, leaving them exposed on the ceiling. It felt too much like a cabin.” They put in a new bathroom, hardwood floors, 22 new windows, and three-zoned central heating and AC. Plus a new roof with solar panels for heating the pool. The main entryway to the house was closed in to make way for a waterfall feature that welcomes guests approaching from the side of the house.
Outside, they fenced in much of the two acres and gave the mature gardens a total makeover. “I cleared away a lot of stuff, and brought in some great new plants and flowers,” says Levine. “I also added a few birdhouses.” To complement the existing pool, they added a small poolhouse, deck, and hot tub. “And we did it all in six weeks,” interjects Farnsworth, “because Dan was leaving for an extended show.” By “we” they mean Mark Ciferri of Atlantic Building.
In addition to Farnsworth’s Broadway credits of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Cats, The Who’s Tommy, and Curtains, he also works behind the scenes with the talent, a calling he fell into when he was hired to help the cast of the original Rent prep for the show. Now he is a sought-after vocal teacher for movies and Broadway shows. Levine meanwhile runs a large tutoring business for high-school and college students while he’s not in a show.
“We love to have friends up to just hang out, and we garden and swim in the pool,” says Levine. When they venture out, it is to Sarah’s Wine Bar (where they performed one night), Luc’s, Mannen, and the Cutting Board. And to shop, they go to Olley Court on Main Street and a few other shops. “Pretty much every day I find myself at Ridgefield Hardware,” says Farnsworth.
“We’re still totally connected to the city, but this has greatly improved our quality of life,” says Levine. “He’s not yet Farmer Dan,” Farnsworth jokes. “We’re still city boys, but I don’t know for how long.”