A Connecticut Couple’s Pastoral Rental Home and Farm
October 1, 2013 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
The first time my friend Leigh Scott and her partner Paul Hallgren drove up the driveway of their current Stamford, Connecticut rental property, they felt immediately at home.
When they met 3 1/2 years ago, Leigh and Paul discovered that since they were teenagers they’d both dreamt of having a totally self-sufficient farm. Ever since, they have been working towards their common goal with this property as a starting point for realizing that dream.
Built around 1860 by a wealthy shoemaker, the three story house was purchased in perfect condition thirty years ago by Leigh and Scott’s landlord who raised his family there. After the owner moved away 13 years ago, the house began to suffer from neglect and was in need of serious repair and tender loving care when the couple found it.
Perched on a southern-facing slope–perfect for growing food–the house and greenhouse sit on more than eight acres, in close proximity to the city center.
With a backhoe and a lot of effort, Leigh and Paul cleared and planted the land, patched up the house by adding lights and repairing the old heating system, which they hoped would last the winter. They persuaded the landlord to hire them to restore all 34 storm windows, but with eleven rooms, explained Leigh, the house was a “monster to heat, due to it’s need for better insulation, new plumbing and electric.”
An Italianate house with all the original trim, fireplaces and doors, the house “has endless histories and charm,” said Leigh. On the top floor, the belvedere is the highest point in Stamford and although the property is ten miles from Long Island Sound, it’s possible to see across the water to Oyster Bay.
About the property’s history, Leigh commented,”everyone around here has another story.” She did some research at the Stamford Historic Society and found that from the 1940s through the 60s, the Broadway producer Josh Logan owned this house and another one on this road and it became a weekend hang out for Broadway actors, including Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, and Benny Goodman.
In the 70s, Mary Moon Hemingway purchased the house. A former editor of Vogue, Bride’s, House & Garden and writer of food-processor cookbooks, Hemingway added the greenhouse and hosted farm-to-table events, long before it was trendy to do so.
Leigh’s research unearthed a February 1973 issue of House and Garden with an article about Hemingway including pictures of the house, kitchen, and a flourishing greenhouse. “That was exactly 40 years ago,” said Leigh,”and I am the next incarnation of Mary Moon Hemingway–I have been known for feeding people tasty, beautiful, healthy meals since I was seventeen.”
Leigh has worked side-by-side with Paul, a designer and artisan of high-end furniture, to build their business, Hub Industries. The couple have supported each other toward their shared vision, hoping in two years to have enough money to buy their farm.
In the meantime, they take advantage of the house and setting to showcase Paul’s furniture, filling many of the rooms with his custom tables. Leigh, a personal health and parenting consultant, massage therapist, and Feldenkrais Method practitioner, envisions offering healing and relationship retreats there involving taste, touch, smell, sensing, feeling, healing, dancing, art, and film to “bring people to their senses–and ultimately, said Leigh, to make the house “a place to create.”
When I first met Leigh at a small gathering of women discussing creativity, she had just arrived with a gorgeous salad composed of colorful produce fresh-picked from her garden.
“I never thought I would even like gardening. I had one garden when my kids were little so it is a real accomplishment for me to have created this garden,” said Leigh, looking back on what she and Paul have accomplished at the property. ” Even with bad soil, I’ve had a great harvest both years so far….who knew?”
In the process of bringing new life to this once distressed property, Leigh and Paul refurbished more than a house, tilling the soil for something much larger and more fertile than the sustainable farm of their dreams. The couple have cultivated a renewed vision for a future that merges their creative, entrepreneurial, and socially-conscious worlds, one in which they are living a dream far greater than ever anticipated when they drove up the driveway two years ago.
All photos by Leigh Scott.
Stay tuned for Part II: Hub Industries is in the process of creating prototypes for a line of “food furniture” designed to serve the 99% who want to grow food even without having much land.