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The Queen of Southport

A village landmark, meticulously restored, provides its owners with the gracious surroundings of another era, plus all the conveniences that a twenty-first century family desires

Photograph by: Stacy Bass

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A generously scaled 1882 Queen Ann-Style mansion sits in the heart of Southport’s historic district, just a block from the harbor. Eschewing the excesses and studied fussiness — doilies, ruffles, tassels, heavy drapes and ornate carving — of the late-nineteenth-century Victorian era, the motifs and elements that ornament this Southport home create an aura of restrained elegance. Time marched on, and the home found itself at the turn of another century in need of updating. This jewel of an estate became both a renovation project of considerable scope and a family home about a dozen years ago. The property’s restoration, with its seamless and artful concessions to modern living, sits proudly within a neighborhood of gracious homes.

The story begins when a Westchester couple with nearly grown children were looking for a place to live that would fit their household requirements. They explored Fairfield County’s coastal communities for a place nicely sized, close to the water, and well suited to their busy lives and artistic interests. On discovering this Victorian, the couple was immediately drawn to the home’s proportions, which are large for a residence of its vintage. Its style reminded the husband of his grandmother’s house, and he was intrigued with the prospect of restoring it.

Architect David Scott Parker, whose portfolio of projects contains everything from traditional Nantucket summer places to the U.S. Treasury building in Washington, recalls that the family was quickly engaged by the idea of retrieving the property’s elegant roots but were also aware of its need for modernization.

“Things started off rather simply,” he says. “Our first meeting at the house was on one of those extreme Connecticut summer days, where we were all on the porch, with everyone just dripping from the humidity. I remember asking them, ‘Have you ever considered air conditioning this house?’ ” Of course, this amenity immediately became part of the program. What evolved, though, was more than an update of systems.

Sited on what is now the largest single parcel of land in the village’s historic district, the house was built in 1882 for John Hoyt Perry, a local judge who was also the son of one of three sea captains belonging to a prominent family in Southport. Although the three captain-brothers had built a row of much admired mansions that still grace Southport Harbor, by the judge’s era the waterside lots — because of their proximity to commerce, with its noises, smells and traffic — had yet to ascend to its current status; yachts now gently bob in the once bustling harbor. Judge Perry’s elegant new place, one block away, was designed with expansive park-like grounds that make this home unique among its neighbors.

To enhance its comfort while restoring the house’s vintage grandeur, both the architect and the new owners involved themselves in extensive research, working from the outside in. Parker notes that a 1905 addition to the floor plan greatly expanded the home’s already generous proportions, giving it a beautiful scale, with large, high-ceilinged public rooms. Along with the house and grounds, companion structures — an original carriage house, an existing century-old greenhouse, and a pool — all needed updating. Parker’s firm worked on restoring and enhancing the exterior elements, and then proceeded with interior plans.

The wife’s love of cooking and the family’s frequent entertaining dictated that the kitchen would be the first room completed. Unlike the spare and merely functional service kitchens of the era when the house was built, or the somewhat incongruous design that previous owners had installed, the new kitchen is a well-organized and detailed space that honors the traditional lines and period color palette of the original house. At the same time, it is designed for a serious cook who truly enjoys preparing good food.

To take advantage of the kitchen’s large space, cabinets were installed floor-to-ceiling, creating storage for the owner’s extensive batterie de cuisine. To reach the upper cupboards, a rail for a library-style ladder, which folds neatly into its own built-in closet, spans the perimeter of the room. Such thoughtful features grace every corner of the renewed interior.