“Go for the best, most interesting property you can find; a house can be added on to.”
His father’s advice hung in his head as Daryl Hawk and his wife, Heidi, looked at a small 1930s house nestled about halfway into a sloping two-acre property in Wilton in 1986. They had seen the listing in The New York Times and decided to look, even though it would be a stretch.
The house, named Stone Hill, had only a large central room with a brick fireplace, two small bedrooms, a galley kitchen, and a dining room “that you couldn’t fit a real dining room table into.” The house was run down and the property overgrown, but they loved its rustic appeal. It was quiet, private, in the woods. “There was something about it — we fell in love with it, felt it was meant to be our house. It took a while to negotiate the deal, but when we moved in that November, it was a dream come true. Of course, we could only afford to furnish it by going to tag sales,” Daryl recalled with a chuckle.
A previous owner had constructed some stone wall terraces and rock gardens “that were so covered with brush that you barely knew the walls were there,” Daryl said, but “the property has a spiritual feeling, it’s a nature-lover’s paradise.”
Daryl and Heidi went to work. “We are really connected to the land and we do it all ourselves, we are a real team. I do the landscaping — move the stones, pavers, cut the lawn, pick up leaves — and Heidi does all the gardening, planting and mulching; she has a really good eye for it. We’re not into perfection. We want it to look nice and for people to feel relaxed when they are here.”
As their family began to grow — the couple has two sons — they added an entry to the side of the living room, bumped out the dining room and included a bay window and window seat, and went up, adding a master bedroom. Later, as Daryl’s photography business took off, a wing was added to hold his studio and office. When people come for portraits, about 95% are taken outside in natural surroundings and light, he said. “Just being in nature, people automatically relax,” he noted.
The house and the additions blend well, as if constructed at the same time; only the dining room extension is obvious. “We feel very strongly about keeping the house in scale with the property,” he said. His advice to homeowners regarding land: “Take your time, think it out. Think about how each change blends with the property. … This is our canvas; we enjoy gradually sculpting it into our own vision.”
On a front elevation is the family’s camping area, complete with a cabin made of slab wood. “My dad and I built it; my parents had a family business of sleepaway camps for children in New Hampshire. When the kids were young we’d build campfires and sleep out here a lot,” Hawk recalled. “Now we like to sit in the chairs and look over the property.” The base and roots from a once-massive tree felled by Superstorm Sandy add visual texture to the front lawn.
Walking around the property reveals a number of vignettes, seating areas offering different functions, and views. The stone patio in front of the house has a table that seats six and is ideal for outdoor entertaining. A couple of Adirondack chairs in the camp area provide a nice overview of the front. There are two bamboo groves planted years ago, but contained by plastic so they won’t spread, and a moss path. A hammock suspended between two trees on one of the highest spots in the back yard is next to the double-waterfall pond Daryl created.
A metal table and two chairs are often used for breakfast, and a couple more Adirondack chairs near the immense boulder outcropping that occupies a part of the back yard and looks back on the pond and waterfall provide other seating areas.
Daryl has moved about three-quarters of the stones that constitute the walls and walkways. “I found a place on the property that had a gazillion stones and just moved a few at a time,” he said. The elevated Japanese stone bench and some other decorative items come from his grandfather’s garden; container plants are casually scattered about the property.
Moving inside, the central living room is front to back with a pitched ceiling and beams, and there’s barn wood on the walls. “We were inspired when we saw that in a place we stayed and really liked the look, so we added barn wood,” Daryl said. “Wood is very important in an interior; it is very relaxing, and barn boards are the best.”
The house also has 1930s pine wood floors, and the brick fireplace is used primarily when the family has company or wants to create a mood. The workhorse in the room is a wood-burning stove that runs pretty steadily from October to April, warming the home and keeping heating costs down, although Daryl acknowledges that they go through several cords of wood each winter.
The galley kitchen is between the living and dining rooms. Heidi has never wanted to expand it, finding it quite functional, and she enjoys the window over the sink that looks out on the back yard.
The cozy home is filled with things collected on Daryl’s travels — travel photography is another part of his business — and that reflect family history. Heidi grew up in an 1800s home, and they both appreciate old things, some of which have been repurposed. A grandmother’s samovar, for example, has been converted into a lamp.
With the weather warming and plants blooming, another season of yardwork and outdoor pleasure is underway.
To view examples of Daryl’s photography, visit hawkphotography.com and darylhawk.com.