Before and After: My Connecticut Home and Garden Makeover

April 3, 2018 by


“I wish it were ours,” I thought when I spotted the ugly brown house on the hill overlooking a pond in the park. Six years later, it was our ugly house. Slowly over the years, the ugly house got less ugly and, after several renovations, became a beautiful home and the one in which we raised our two children.

Connecticut-home-and-garden-makeover-urbangardensweb …After.

“Oh, I looked at that house,” remarked a local woman whom I met just after we moved in. “The brown one in the park by the pond?” That’s what she said, but what she really meant was, “oh, I looked at that ugly house.” Its ugliness was exactly what attracted me to the house. From the moment I stepped into it, I could easily visualize its eventual transformation.

Connecticut-home-and-garden-makeover-urbangardenswebThe front, before (left) and after.

A House Only a Mother Could Love?
The house was a typical center hall colonial with absolutely no charm, but it had a spectacular location. It was a perfectly situated totally boring builder box that fit all our criteria: the right size and number of bedrooms for a growing family and a floor plan that would be a cinch to renovate.

My wish list included being near a park and walking distance to a train station for my commute to New York City. This house was in a park with tennis courts and playing fields, a few blocks to a quaint New England village and the neighborhood school our two children would eventually attend, and a three-minute walk to the train.  It couldn’t get any uglier or any better.

binney-park-old-greenwich-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebThe annual miniature boat regatta in the park across from our house.

Phase I: Kitchen/Family Room, Backyard Garden and Patio
We were a young family at the time with limited resources so we envisioned the renovation in phases. Our first priority was the classically 70s style kitchen. Its brown formica countertops, barely functional harvest gold appliances, drab taupe vinyl flooring, and dark fake wood cabinets had to go.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-makeover-before-renovationBefore: The original kitchen was dark, drab, and dated.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-kitchen-makeover-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebAfter: The kitchen after the renovation.

We knocked down two walls to open up the space to the adjacent family room and backyard.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-makeover-before-renovation-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebBefore: The family room had little light and a single flimsy old screen door.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-family-room-makeover-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebAfter: Family room renovation included replacing the sliding doors with French doors to the garden.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-kitchen-makeover-before-renovation-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebBefore: The family room didn’t integrate well with the adjacent kitchen. 

Connecticut-house-and-garden-kitchen-family-room-makeover-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebAfter: We opened up the kitchen to flow into the family room and brightened up the entire space.

The fresh open plan design, with new windows and French doors opening to the outdoor space, brought lots of light into the formerly dark and poorly integrated kitchen-family room. I designed built-ins for a room off the kitchen and it became the office from which I launched this blog in 2009.


The kitchen-family room with its central kitchen island would become the hub of the house where we’d spend most of our time together.


Indoor to Outdoor Rooms
When, just after moving in, our two-year old son fell through the unsightly rotted deck outside the family room, we were compelled to tear it down. Thrilled he wasn’t injured, we were also very pleased to replace the eyesore with a patio of aged bricks set in sand.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-makeover-before-renovation-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebBefore: Our two-year old son fell through the rotted deck.

Connecticut-house-and-backyard-makeover-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebAfter: We removed the rotted deck, added French doors to yard, began building stone wall.

The small backyard and garden became a long work in progress. The big mess we inherited developed over a period of time into an oasis with a few distinct outdoor rooms. Along with the new patio came wood privacy fencing and evergreens.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-before-makeover-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebBefore: the backyard when we moved in.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-makeover-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebAfter: the backyard with dry stone wall and terraced sloped garden behind it. 


Over a period of months, we built a low dry stone wall and terraced the sloping property behind it with ornamental grasses, purple hydrangeas, and a variety of perennials including echinacea, agapanthus, astilbe, delphinium, hosta.  We let blue creeping phlox and clematis pour over the edges of the wall.







Connecticut-house-and-garden-sculpture-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebFamily friend, Les Leveque’s sculpture.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-makeover-danielle-mailer-sculptures-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebDanielle Mailer’s steel dancing figures.


Covered Patio Addition
Several years later we completed the backyard and added a covered dining patio (some would call it a veranda) below the new second floor guest suite. Accessed through the dining room’s new French doors, we enjoyed many memorable meals al fresco, even in the rain as we could sit comfortably under cover in what became one of my favorite outdoor living spaces.



Connecticut-house-and-garden-patio-makeover-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebMagnus loved to warm himself in the sun.


Phase II: Second Floor Renovation
After nine years in the house, we began a major and final renovation. Although we only added about 500 square feet, by pushing out the back and one side and completely reconfiguring the existing footprint, we were able to create a large master bedroom suite with a sitting area and lavish spa bathroom, guest room/office, additional bathroom, and even squeezed in a small laundry room.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-makeover-master-bath-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebMaster Bath.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-makeover-built-ins-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebGuest room/study.

We created the ambiance missing from the original space with details like new tray ceilings and cove lighting that cast a soft glow at night.

Sunroom Addition Below Master Bath
On the first floor, the new sunroom echoed the footprint of the master bath above it with floor-to-ceiling windows and built-in bookshelves.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-makeover-music-room-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebFirst floor sunroom/music room.

By borrowing a few inches from two closets on either side of the existing front door, we carved out enough space to add  side lights and a transom above a new solid mahogany door to brighten the formerly dark and drab first floor entry.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-makeover-before-renovation-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebThe original front entry hall as it looked before we bought the house.

Connecticut-house-makeover-custom-newel-post-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebFront entry hall after renovation.

We shortened a wall at the foot of the stairway and punctuated it with a hefty new custom newel post. New details throughout including seven-inch high baseboards, wide crown moldings, wainscoting, and new custom designed recessed panel Shaker doors, transformed our former builder’s box into a “new old” house with timeless character.


Front Entrance and Perennial Garden 
For the front entrance, a new flagstone landing and a portico supported by substantial Tuscan columns doubled as a small patio with a front row view of the pond and the annual Fourth of July fireworks in the park.


We continued the stone from the portico to steps bordered with a dry stone wall that framed a prairie style garden with tall grasses, colorful perennials, and a fragrant lilac bush that bloomed each Spring.


From the front garden patio, the curved path of flagstone steps led to a gravel driveway and garage. We added new barn style garage doors, and to create cohesiveness with the garden wall above it, we faced the areas around the doors with same stone used for the retaining wall.

Connecticut-house-and-garden-makeover-binney-park-robin-plaskoff-horton-urbangardenswebView of the park from the house.

I’d lobbied unsuccessfully for replacing the front lawn with a field of wildflowers, but the park surrounding us was like an extension of our property, providing stunning views of the pond and trees which we enjoyed for many years from two Adirondack chairs perched on our little hill.

Photos: Robin Plaskoff Horton.


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