Dazzling design gives St. Paul’s historic rectory uplifting transformation
Updated 7:07 am, Saturday, September 19, 2015
The early-19th century Victorian house with the gingerbread latticework wrap-around porch at 690 Old Post Road has long served as the rectory for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The nearly 5,000-square-foot, 11-room house had fallen into disrepair, leading parishioners to create a task force to determine its fate.
“We were trying to decide what to do — do we sell it, do we renovate it, do we rent it?” said parishioner Julianne Stirling. They voted for renovation with a unique twist. Anticipating a price tag of about $350,000 for restoration and upgrading, the task force proposed using the rectory as a designer showhouse, allowing some of the region’s top interior and landscape designers to highlight the historic home’s character and showcase their talents by decorating the rooms and grounds, and selling tickets to the public for a peek inside.
Stirling is one of the designers and one of three co-chairs of the inaugural Designer Showhouse on the Green, which opens with a preview party Friday and to the public on Saturday. The event continues through Sunday, Oct. 25.
Lillian August, the doyenne of upscale home décor, will not only be represented in the Designer Showhouse, she will actually make an appearance there.
The Designer Showhouse will benefit both the church and Operation Hope. “We thought Operation Hope was a very good fit. They’re right next door and they do very good work,” Stirling said. The non-profit organization addresses basic needs for food and shelter, and offers long-term solutions to hunger and homelessness, including affordable housing, for local residents.
The Rev. Judith Rhodes, St. Paul’s rector, and her spouse were displaced for the last six months as P&T Remodeling Specialists of Darien rebuilt the historic structure, which had suffered severe water damage. Plumbing was updated, the front porch was completely redone and the dangerously curved staircase in the foyer was relocated and straightened. “It looks like new,” said Stirling, whose eyes welled up when she mentioned that every participating contractor donated a portion of their work.
DESIGNER SHOWHOUSE ON THE GREEN
The oldest part of the historic house dates back to 1834. Major remodeling occurred in 1860 and 1890, and an addition was constructed in the rear. Because the rectory sits within the Old Post Road Historic District the integrity of the house was preserved, work had to be done to a particular standard, and its exterior appearance had to be maintained on two sides — along Old Post Road and the side road that provides access into the First Church Congregational parking lot.
Officials at the Fairfield Historical Society were kept in the loop throughout, Stirling said. “Every nail was taken to them for approval,” she said.
More than 15 interior designers and décor artists transformed rooms, hallways and transitional spaces. Each designer was given the freedom to decorate as they chose without making structural changes to the space. Most of their furniture, drapery, furnishings and artwork will not stay in place once the Designer Showhouse comes to a close and Rhodes moves back in. Still, it will be a beautiful, welcoming space; a home for Rhodes and her spouse, and an auxiliary space for parish social events and meetings at the rector’s invitation.
“I envisioned a home that would truly reflect the love, the beauty and the open-heartedness of this congregation’s life and history and future,” said Rhodes. The front-to-back formal living room is the one that “speaks to my heart,” she said. It was designed by J. Randall of Pavarini Design in New York City, who used an organic sensibility and natural elements while keeping the room rooted in tradition. He covered the walls in suede, the chairs in a damask floral pattern, and decorated with a driftwood wall sconce, crane sculpture, butterflies and a peacock. The focal point in his “organic modernism” scheme is a custom-designed, living “grandmother clock” scheduled to chime in time with the church bells across the street and adorned with a number of living plants including succulents, air ferns, moss and a bonsai tree.
Kathy Hodge of Sage Design in Fairfield selected simple pieces with a history to decorate the center hall foyer; “pieces that may have been passed through generations. We wanted to space to feel timeless,” she said.
“Although it’s not a room of the house it’s a welcoming space and it’s your introduction to the home,” said Aimee Chartier of Sage Design.
Angela Camarda, senior interior designer for Lillian August, said the fireplace in the sitting room presented a challenge for her because of its location on the far end of one wall. Camarda covered the walls with an architectural paper that has a retro feel and is reminiscent of the Chrysler Building in New York, and she used plum as an accent color. “Plum is the new fashion color,” she said.
Upstairs in the master bedroom, lead designer George Snead and stylist Antonio Vergara of Wakefield Design Center in Stamford, used unusual techniques to create their masterpiece. The walls are Venetian plaster applied in a vertical direction and waxed horizontally with beeswax and mica powder. The window treatments are custom hand-made paper.
Stirling took on one of the more challenging spaces — the laundry room, which she made both fun and functional.
For more information, visit www.showhouseonthegreen.org.