By Sarah Stabile-Motta | Photographs by Jay Graygor, Michael Ciarcia, and Jennifer Zarine Photography
Our offer has been accepted. If all goes as planned, we’ll close on March 15 and can move in by May 1,” my husband Joe announced over a picture-perfect lunch at The Inn at Pound Ridge. It was Valentine’s Day, and life was beautiful. We clinked glasses and spent the remainder of lunch discussing renovation ideas for the new house, a gorgeous, white Georgian colonial on Twin Ridge Road. It was our dream house; we’d fallen in love at our first showing with realtor Karla Murtaugh.
Of course, nothing would go as planned. Who could’ve predicted that less than a month later a pandemic would have gripped the entire globe?
We immediately put our charming yellow cape at 30 Silver Spring Road on the market. Though there was activity in the first few weeks, we didn’t receive an offer. On March 7, our toddler developed a low-grade fever that lasted longer than a week. We couldn’t help but wonder if a potential buyer brought germs into the house. Acting with an abundance of caution, we suspended in-person showings until we moved.
The closing of our new home took place virtually on May 15. Joe, donning a mask and gloves, drove to the office of attorneys Donnelly, McNamara & Gustafson, P.C. He slid the documents under the office door while Rex Gustafson waited on the other side. It was unusual and strange, but it was our reality.
Contractor Bob Frulla immediately began demolition on the second floor while A. Leo’s Painting began working on the first floor. Everyone wore masks, and every move was consciously co- ordinated. Interior designer Mariah K. Murphy met us to review tile and paint samples, and Karla resumed showings at our Silver Spring Road house, requiring all who entered to wear a mask, booties, and gloves.
Global pandemic considered; everything went well. In just a few short weeks, we had renovated three bathrooms, painted nearly the entire house, installed a bluestone patio, refinished all wood floors throughout, and created a fitness studio in the barn. Of course, there are always lessons to be learned. Here are ten things I wish I’d known.
Choose a “rockstar” realtor. Karla Murtaugh of Karla Murtaugh Homes is one of the most well-connected and hard- working people in Ridgefield. Her intelligence on all things Ridgefield is astounding. She listened to what we were looking for in a new home and sent us potential listings that checked all our boxes. Touring homes with Karla is like walking with an architect, interior designer and realtor in one – and to top it off, she’s absolutely lovely. Selling a home with her could not be easier. The ShowingTime app she utilizes makes the scheduling process seamless for both agents and sellers.
Hire a local interior designer to source samples and help make big decisions. I called on longtime friend and fantastic interior designer Mariah K. Murphy to assist me with many de- cisions. Her brilliant “eye” combined with her Fairfield County expertise was exactly what I needed. She has a phenomenal familiarity with tiles, and willingly visited multiple stores across Fairfield County to source tile samples for our master bath. She encouraged us to paint the front door Benjamin Moore’s “Hale Navy” – a great call! I consulted with her on artwork, and she referred to lighting fixtures as the “jewels of the home,” which inspired us to select an amazing white and gold globe chandelier by Serena & Lily for our foyer.
Residents with hard water, this one’s for you: order chrome faucets and hardware. I ordered brushed nickel everything and had to return it all, which is an inconvenience even in “normal” times. According to Bob Frulla, brushed nickel tarnishes and turns green over time. In fact, he’s had to return to homes to replace fixtures and drains that turned green due to hard water.
Shipments are delayed. Don’t put off ordering furniture. Pandemic or not, some furniture will ship quickly, while others will take longer. One caveat: make sure you have a dry place to store furniture during renovations.
Measure your kitchen hardware from hole-to-hole, multiple times. Count and re-count every knob and door pull need- ed. We measured incorrectly and had to return ALL hardware. We always try to shop local, but neither Ridgefield Hardware nor Ridgefield Supply Company had the quantity we needed. Joe fearlessly embarked upon Home Depot in a mask and gloves, using FaceTime to “show” me the available options.
If you think you may want to remove wall-to-wall carpeting, do it during renovations. Trust us, it’s a messy and smelly process. We decided to do it two weeks into the renovation pro- cess, which set us back a week. Still, we’re very glad we did it.
Choose where to splurge. Moving from a cape to a colonial meant larger bathrooms, closets and bedrooms. We saved on many spots, but splurged on our master bath. We opted for cus- tom quartz counter tops, beautiful tiles, radiant heated floors, an extra-long soaking tub, and a Japanese toilet with heated seats.
Invest in artwork that brings you joy! My childhood friend from Darien, Katy Ferrarone, is a very talented artist whose work is currently available at Voltz Clarke Gallery in Manhat- tan. I knew she’d have the perfect piece for our living room, and I was right. Plus, it’s good karma to support friends and local businesses!
Seek out estate sales, and embrace moving as an opportunity to purge old items. Estate sales are great local resources for buying furniture, and many companies even post inventory on their websites. Dana Bucci of Bluebird Estate Sales managed the estate sale at our new home. We had “first dibs” since we were the buyers, and we also found beautiful items at Dana’s warehouse in Georgetown, CT, which is avail- able by appointment. Donate clothes, furniture, and more to The Ridgefield Thrift Shop, which donates proceeds to dozens of local charities. Goodwill is also a great spot for donations and has many drop-off locations throughout the area.
Don’t hesitate to lean on family and friends throughout the process. My mom has been a guiding light through major milestones. Sadly, yet understandably, she and my stepfather were sheltered-at-home in Portsmouth, NH, during this move. They still provided tremendous support, through calls, texts, and Facetime chats. (Thank you, Mom and Fred!)
Ridgefield resident Sarah Stabile-Motta is the founder of public relations and marketing agency Hi-Impact Communications. Community involvement and philanthropic efforts are essential to Sarah and her husband, Joe.