A Country House That’s Just Big Enough


When Daniel Heighes Wismer and Travis Wismer began looking for a weekend house in Sharon, Conn., as an escape from their weekday lives in Manhattan, they ruled out many homes simply because Daniel barely fit inside.

“A lot of houses just didn’t have the ceiling height for Daniel, who’s 6-foot-3,” said Travis, 38, an estate manager.

“So many of the houses were built in the 1780s, and they were all conserving the heat with those ceilings,” noted Daniel, a partner in the architecture and design firm Dufner Heighes. “They had 6-foot-6 ceiling heights. They’re adorable, cute little houses, but I just couldn’t do it.”

So the couple was skeptical when, in 2016, after months of searching, a broker proposed they consider a compact, 1940s Cape Cod-style house at the top of their price range. “We almost didn’t go look at it,” Daniel said, “but the broker talked us into seeing it.”

Within minutes of walking into the two-bedroom, cedar-shingle house — and lingering at the oversized picture window in the living room — their reservations evaporated.

“We just stood and looked out that window, down the Oblong Valley,” Travis said. “We fell in love with it right away.”

And with a ground-floor ceiling height of about eight feet, he added, “Daniel could fit.”

There were other positives, too. The nearest Metro-North train station was about 10 minutes away by car, and the previous owner had kept the house in good condition without doing elaborate kitchen and bathroom renovations they didn’t want.

“He replaced the windows, insulated the walls, put in a new furnace and did all the infrastructure stuff that we didn’t want to do,” said Daniel, who wanted to personalize whatever house the couple bought. “But he didn’t do all that stuff where you’re paying for someone else’s renovation and then redoing it anyway.”

They closed on the house for about $350,000 that August and got to work. The biggest problem was the second-floor attic, a finished, one-room space with ceilings that sloped so steeply that Daniel once again had trouble standing up straight. “I could only walk in the center three feet, along the ridge,” he said.

To transform the room into a master suite with more head space, they raised the ceiling with a shed dormer on one side. It expanded the home’s usable area from 1,000 to 1,600 square feet.

“Of course, there were lots of unexpected things along the way,” Daniel said. “It’s never as easy as you think it’s going to be.”

The biggest complication: They discovered that the joists weren’t strong enough to support a habitable room upstairs, so they had to remove the ground-floor ceilings to reinforce them from below.

On the ground floor, they converted one of the bedrooms into a TV room with a bar and opened it up to the living room. Where there were side-by-side exterior doors opening into the kitchen and dining room, they replaced the dining-room door with a window to create more uninterrupted living space inside, and re-shingled the wall outside.

Then they refinished the wood floors and broke out the paint. In the kitchen, they painted the cabinets gray, removed superfluous crown molding and installed new hardware. They kept the farmhouse sink and soapstone counters, adding a new subway-tile backsplash and Miele appliances.

For the dining room, Daniel designed a corner banquette that wraps around a dining table by the Danish designer Hans Wegner.

In the living room, he took inspiration from the house of another Danish designer, Finn Juhl. “It’s a tricky room because there’s the fireplace on one side and the big floor-to-ceiling window on the other,” he said. “It reminded me of a room in Finn Juhl’s house outside Copenhagen, where he has a little fireplace on one side and doors out to a patio on the other.”

Following Juhl’s example, he placed a sculptural settee, small coffee table and armchair in front of the fireplace. Then, where Juhl had installed a low coffee table near his window, Daniel opted for a low-slung daybed instead.

In the TV lounge, they added Zoffany wallpaper with a bold pattern of geometric stripes. “We wanted it to be more contemporary, to contrast with the very traditional fireplace surround and trim” in the living room, Daniel said.

The total cost was $225,000, and their contractors completed the work on July 1, 2017 — one day before the couple had their wedding on the two-acre property.

“It was a good deadline,” Daniel said. “The electrician wanted to come back on the second, and we were like, ‘Do you see that tent in the yard?’”

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