Sahsa Lawer & Mark Noonan 55 St. Johns Place, New Canaan
Sue is an artist, entrepreneur, and seasoned interior design blogger, who loves to provide her readers with up-to-date home decor and fashion advice. She is a former Pound Ridger and a long-term New Canaanite. Founded in 2009, The Zhush @Zhush now attracts thousands of weekly readers eager for updates and inspiration on interior design, fashion, beauty, art, and so much more. In Acorn Hill, Sue checks out a walk-to-town house and gets to know the interesting owners.
PHOTOS: Carlos Marques
When Sasha Lawer and Mark Noonan got off the train in New Canaan one Spring morning in 1999, Sasha gave the tall order to Mark, like Oz telling Dorothy to go get the Wicked Witch’s broom: “I’m not moving from our New York City townhouse unless it’s to a very special home. I want great old architectural elements, big rooms with plenty of light, a pool, lots of land for the kids to play, and complete privacy…all walkable to Starbucks!” She figured the tall order would keep the family safely in their New York City townhouse forever.
Instead, they bid on 55 St. John Place – known as ‘Acorn Hill’ – before getting back on the train that evening…and have now enjoyed over two decades as the ‘owners in residence’ of this beautiful estate.
The couple knew New Canaan boasted some of the best schools in the State. Their three now-grown children, Kyra 25, Lainie, 24, and David, 22, all attended New Canaan’s public schools (thereafter, Kyra graduated from Duke and Lainie and David from Wake Forest).
Remarkably, Sasha and Mark are only the third owners of 55 St. John in the last century. Originally built in 1898 in the Victorian style and once home to a shoe factory; it was completely reconstructed by the Watts family in the 1940s, with Italian plasters by European craftsmen, and; again enhanced by Mr. & Mrs. Conrad Stein in the 1960s; from whose children Sasha and Mark purchased the home.
Sasha and Mark have managed to add a lot of modern history of their own to the life of the house. Mark, an avid gardener, immediately plumbed and heated the two green houses on the property and revitalized the landscape and garden management on the property. Together, they designed an addition to the home, including a family room, work out room and wine room, that blend seamlessly with the existing structure. Sasha, after spending years working for home design magazines, ensured that the design and architectural elements reflected the remainder of the house, while giving a new modern feel to the estate.
Mark, now 61, who grew up in an Irish/Italian family in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, played soccer at Lawrence High School and at Duke, where he preceded his daughter Kyra, before getting his MBA at Wharton, was enjoying a successful career in investment banking at UBS in Stamford, when he was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in 2001. Emerging after one-and-a-half years of treatment, not knowing how much more time he had, Mark realized he was “bored to tears in banking, and didn’t want to spend the rest of my time just working in someone else’s business – and miss seeing my children grow up. I determined
I could put my skill set as a tinkerer to work building products that make life easier”. Seventeen years and dozens of inventions later, Mark’s latest is a complex hardware and software package enabling remote nursing care. His company, Nootools, LLC, manufactures Noonan’s own product designs and offers new product consulting. Mark reflects, “my cancer changed our stars”.
The next change in plans came in 2017, when the Napa Valley Tubb’s Lane Fire engulfed the Lawer Estates Knights Valley Vineyards, owned by Sasha’s brother and sister-in-law, David and Betsy Lawer, on the heels of her brother being physically incapacitated. Sasha had already been charged with increasing distribution and sales for the emerging winery, but when the series of unfortunate events occurred, Sasha determined to take on a greater role. Betsy Lawer, President of Lawer Estates, runs the acclaimed California winery from Alaska, where she is the CEO and
Chairman of the First National Bank of Alaska. While Sasha, splitting her time between New Canaan and California, more directly oversees the winemakers and has managed the development of the winery’s marketing, sales and distribution, and opened a Calistoga tasting room.
Now, with Sasha spending more time at the winery in California, and all three kids living and working in California (David, in the wine business working for Thomas Rivers Brown, Lainie in tech in San Francisco and Kyra, as a television writer and producer in L.A.), 55 St. John is “just too big and quiet” …so, Sasha and Mark are ready to sell. Notably, though, despite Sasha’s work at Lawer Estates
and the three kids being in California, the couple plans to stay in New Canaan part-time. As Sasha reflected, “When we bought this house, we hadn’t expected all that life threw at us, nor the support we received from the community along the way…pitching in when Mark was ill, buoying us in good times and bad. We have friends and connections here and, at least for now, we’re not ready to leave. It’s odd to say our house helped to raise our kids, but it did. 55 St. John gave our kids their freedom. They could safely walk into town for pizza, ice cream, meet-ups with friends, to visit the library, attend tennis, ballet and music lessons…all from a very early age…this location was priceless. And we loved being able to go to a movie, enjoy dinner…or a few drinks…without having to worry about driving home. We never had to think about the 10 or 15 minutes needed to get to the train in the morning – or dropping off or picking up – or parking. We love the flavor of New Canaan. We always felt like we kept our city lifestyle…enjoyed suburban New Canaan’s great schools, parks and downtown…and got to live in a walk-to-town country house.”
55 St. John stands elevated on the north side of the street, 2 blocks from the train station, situated with 10 wooded acres adjoining the backyard, allowing for incredible in-town privacy.
The 5,300 square foot main house, with 6 bedrooms, 5 full baths and 1 half-bath, has rich historic details, high ceilings and walls of light throughout. The separate master suite consists of 2 rooms, 2 full bathrooms, and a dressing room. The library has detailed built-in shelving and a fireplace. The first floor also includes a private dining room and an oversized living room with a stunning fireplace
and a built-in dry bar. Completing the first floor is a big open family room adjacent to the modern kitchen, with blended vintage cabinetry and top modern appliances (including 3 dishwashers), a butler’s pantry and an eat-in dining area with bay windows. The house has thick European plastered walls, state-of-the-art communications, and a variety of separate, quiet and private spaces on all 3 floors – making this a perfect home for multiple home offices – or school rooms.
A second building, one of New Canaan’s prized remaining antique barns, includes a 3-car garage, greenhouse, potting area, half-bath, and a pool house (currently used as an additional home office). An additional open 1,000 square feet above the garage is also available for a separate apartment, great room or offices, and there are architectural plans and an open permit for creating this extra living area.
The in-town estate also offers the fully-operational, plumbed and heated, (second) English greenhouse, which is currently used for housing tropical plants, early seeding of vegetables, and as another private hideaway.
The spectacular in-ground pool and wide-open play spaces in the backyard are set in ‘outdoor rooms’, framed by magnificently manicured perennial gardens and mature plantings.
Brass escutcheons (key hole plates) reinforcing the acorn theme, which beings at the fence finials at the front entrance to the property.
‘Terroir’ is a word that means the whole environment in which a wine grows, including climate, topography and soil, and is used by winemakers to reference the characteristic tastes and flavors that each wine gets from the ‘terroir’ where its grapes are grown.
Lawer Estates calls their single-vineyard ultra-premium wines ‘terroir driven’, and boasts that their 110-acre vineyards in Napa and Sonoma have “…the ideal terroir and microclimates to nurture a diverse range of varietals… On summer days, coastal breezes make their way through the gap in the hills and up the creek that meanders through our vineyard. This cooling infuses our wines with unmistakable character. Complementing this ideal microclimate is a subterranean volcanic reservoir that nurtures our vines year-round, and provides essential hydration even in times of drought”.
Winemakers Cary Gott and Kelly DeIanni take great pride in handcrafting the sustainably grown, limited annual production of about 3,000 cases in all of Lawer’s seven varietals. Lawer Estates Rosé has been heralded by Wine Enthusiast as one of the five best Rosés from California, while Robert Parker has awarded Lawer Estates Viognier with 92 points. The wines are currently available at Walter Stewarts, New Canaan Wine Merchants, Sipsters in Darien, and other fine wine stores, and can be purchased online at lawerestates.com.
Sadly, there will be no 2020 vintage. Lawer Estates prides itself in only producing the highest quality wines. The smoke taint from both the Hennessy and Glass fires of 2020 have caused the Lawers to halt any further production from their 2020 harvest, as even the slightest hint of phenols such as guaiacol are not acceptable in a Lawer Estates wine.