You know what they say about the best-laid plans … When Joe Pagliarulo and his wife, Margie, were ice skating 25 years ago, they looked across Gorham’s Pond in Darien and saw a 2.4-acre waterfront property located at 40 Swifts Lane. They knew it would be perfect for their dream home once they tore down the 1719 colonial already there.
After they made an offer, however, the owner asked them to take a look inside. “It looked like it was in bad condition, but when my wife and I walked in our eyes practically fell out of our head. Everything was original. It was the whole package,” says Joe, a builder who specializes in the restoration of vintage homes, adding, “There was so much here I didn’t have the heart to tear it down. The house has been lived in for 300 years and it all adds up to being a charming old home.”
Featuring over 500 feet of water frontage and views of Ring’s End Bridge, the six-bedroom home represents the beauty of a bygone era. All the rooms have their original doors, which feature hand-wrought hardware with H and H&L hinges, typical of the period during which the house was built, that are cleated to the doors; centuries-old overhead wood beams; original chestnut floors and paneling; hand-carved balusters on the staircase; an original hand-carved corner cupboard in the dining room; mortise and tenon joints; and all beam floor joists and hand-hewn beams in the unfinished basement.
The family room, called the keeping room, is fully paneled with original wood beams and a seven-foot-wide brick oven fireplace. “The room is warm, comfortable, and cozy. The most fun is when you build a fire in the oven that was put in over 200 years ago. We’ve cooked our Thanksgiving turkey over the open fire,” Joe recounts.
The 5,242-square-foot colonial, originally built in Southbury and known as the Hicock-Shelton home, was moved to Darien in 1927. “This type of home doesn’t exist anywhere I’ve ever seen. Since it remained in the same family for 300 years, they never changed anything,” says Joe. “In 1719, this home was a palace. All through the house you can see this was a family of means. The original owner was a colonel in the military.”
William Gray Schaeffer Interiors of Darien added the finishing touches which reflect the beauty of a bygone era, including antique furniture, toile wallpaper in the bedroom, and mahogany valances featuring gold eagles in the living room. Wallpaper and fabrics from Brunschwig & Fils, Schumacher, Scalamandre, and Stark were incorporated into the decor, while the rotted floor beams were replaced with reclaimed 18th Century wood.
In 1932, the home was expanded with a saltbox addition comprising a playroom with chestnut flooring for consistency, and offices for Joe and Margie. A wine cellar was built in a space where a doorway had been cut to the cistern in the house, and the Pagliarulos added an 18th Century barn with a three-bay garage.
Two years of planning and renovation resulted in a home that retains historical integrity complemented by SMART home technology. “With this home you get the best of old and new,” says Joe. All of the home’s electronic systems can be controlled and monitored by a smartphone. “We wanted to put together the home so it had the contemporary layout and amenities you’d want in a home today. We wanted to give the home another lease on life for the next 100 years so that someone would come in and appreciate the history that exists here and which really can’t be duplicated.”
Restoring the exterior was a priority, starting with traditional clapboard siding and a cedar roof. After some research, the Pagliarulos discovered that the original landscaping was designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman, a noted landscape architect in the 1920s. “It was an unexpected pleasure to learn that it was done by someone of such notoriety,” he says.
In its heyday, the property was a showpiece, featuring custom stone walls and exquisite gardens, but it had become overgrown and the stone walls were crumbling. To bring the property back to life, the Pagliarulos enlisted the expertise of Keith E. Simpson Associates, a landscape architectural design firm in New Canaan. “The landscaping is a true gem of the house,” Joe observes, noting that Keith Simpson rebuilt multiple terraces recreated large portions, including a sunken garden and a rose garden.
As much as they love their home, the Pagliarulos are ready to leave it in the care of another doting owner. “We’ve had more dinner parties and events for 20 years. No regrets. It was spectacular,” says Joe. “The home is very quiet, private, peaceful. When you’re out on the terrace having coffee it’s a very tranquil setting, you see the egrets and wildlife — it’s beautiful. To me, it’s a one-of-a-kind 18th Century home on the water.”
Additional photos, courtesy of Bryan Haeffele and Houlihan Lawrence Darien/Austin Eterno: