House tour offers glimpse of history in holiday decor
Armed with maps, overviews, a bit of curiosity and the spirit of the season, more than 400 people trekked around town to walk through five private homes Sunday afternoon during the Westport Historical Society's 25th annual Holiday House Tour.
Each home was trimmed in festive decor and staffed by docents or the homeowners themselves, who provided background about the history and features of each house. Visitors came from all over the state to see a variety of architectures and interior design tastes.
They listened attentively to docent Dutch Wynkoop in what was once a calfing room in a bank-barn style home on Charbeth Lane, owned by Pam and Jerry Singer. The couple has owned the home and an adjacent carriage house, a stone's throw from the grounds of the Fairfield County Hunt Club, for the past eight years.
The former barn is built into the bank of a hill and once was used to store hay and wheat. It has been done over in pastels and carries accents reminiscent of France's Provence region. It sits on a "Long Lot" that was granted by the town of Fairfield to Richard Osborn for his service in the Pequot Indian War.
Cars jammed the street outside a Greenbrier Road home, the second on the tour, owned by Nicole and Dan Donovan. A small, stone, family home built by Frazier Forman Peters in 1930 was the original structure and was occupied until recently by Dan's mother Mollie, a long-time historical society volunteer who died recently.
The Donovans added a massive stone-and-clapboard extension in 2007, complete with a soaring foyer, living room with marble fireplace, dining room with a tray ceiling, spacious kitchen with marble counter tops, sunny breakfast room and many more rooms and features that relegated the original quarters to a guest wing.
"Our home evokes family, and we really live in it," Nicole Donovan said. "We both grew up here, went to Staples [High School] and the kids now go to school here."
A home on Red Coat Road also was abuzz with visitors, who padded through the elegantly appointed manor-style home owned by designer Kelley Taylor and her husband Stuart Aronson. "Our home was virtually undecorated four months ago," said Aronson. "When we decided to put it on the tour, Kelley went into action."
The author of "Holiday Decorating for Dummies," Taylor said she wanted to make the large space -- more than 11,000 square feet -- warm and inviting.
"I like to mix a lot of high with low [priced decor]," she said, "like IKEA frames hanging above Lillian August couches, or Costco tree tip decorations on our tree, next to imported Austrian glass ornaments. I shop everywhere from consignments and Target to a lot of small local stores."
A more modest-sized tour stop was a house on Compo Road South, a pre-1700s farmhouse converted to a saltbox in 1897. Alanna and Damon Conte, a contractor, purchased the home in 1999 and immediately began restoring and updating it and an adjacent barn. Ceiling beams are exposed throughout and wide plank wood floors provide a rustic base. To the older features, the Contes have incorporated modern flourishes that mesh in style.
Damon held court in the barn Sunday day, displaying artifacts -- bottles, tools, newspapers -- found in and around the property. He also told of the visit of Helen Leptic, an elder who was born and raised in the home and provided much detail about its history. Leptic's stepfather had conducted the 1897 renovation.
The tour wended with an 1865 Gothic Revival on Sacso Creek Road owned by Cheryl Sugel, proprietor of the vintage furnishings and jewelry shop Millie Rae's on Post Road East.
Highlights included a parlor with Victorian-era furniture and a working wood burning stove. A new addition off the kitchen features a dining area, fireplace and lounging space.
Post-tour, a Twilight Soiree was scheduled on Maple Avenue South, where a new Heike Hein transitional farmhouse was the setting for wine, hors d'oeuvres and a silent auction.