Caring for a Home and Its Legacy
Photos by Rana Faure
A picture is said to tell a thousand words, and the art of fine photography can leave some speechless. Some may argue that there are certain things that no words, nor any picture can adequately express. After a visit to Roma Fanton’s Federal era home with Dutch influences, I have to agree. To step into the light and airy foyer of this grand home is to be greeted by more than a room in a house. It’s as if you are being introduced to a feeling or maybe the very spirit of the old house itself.
Situated in the heart of Greenfield Hill, this manse tells a story of days gone by, and offers a bright promise of what the future might hold. Built in 1824 and modeled after a southern ship captain’s home, one can only imagine the stories that could be told—if only the walls of each room could act as the narrator. What would we hear from the study? The grand entry? Was laughter shared across the elegant mahogany dining table? Fanton, an effusive and enchanting force of nature, has owned this home since the mid 1970s and is the caretaker of its legacy.
She puts on a pot of coffee in her kitchen, which once was a closed-off maid’s kitchen but now opens up to an all-glass porch she calls her garden room which offers an expansive view of her yard and gardens. “This kitchen was where the staff worked,” she explains, “they had a little tin table here and this was all closed off, so they wouldn’t be seen.”
She then points through a side window to a small house on the property that was once the servants’ quarters. “The chauffeur had a gas pump and the pump is still there, in the garage,” she says with a laugh.
We grab our coffees and trot into a cozy study where she’s lit a fire. We are surrounded by built-ins filled with books and family photos, an eclectic mix of both vintage and new. “This is a picture of my husband at Yale, they called him “Whitey” because he was so blonde!” she laughs. “And this is my brother, a sailor, and he was very good looking—very!”
With a ready laugh and a generous heart, she discusses her past and how she came to be here. She tells me of a friend who lured her from Long Island to Weston for a weekend, and eventually introduced her to the man she would marry. “I wasn’t ready to get married yet, dear, I was having too much fun.” Her eyes moisten as she reveals she’s a widow now—her husband Dwight died just four years ago.
She talks about this grand space and how it all overwhelmed her at first. After she married, she had two children and her family eventually outgrew a small home in Westport. Her husband Dwight was an attorney and spent an extensive amount of time seeking just the right space to raise their children. “The place had been boarded up for a time. Can you imagine?” she gasps.
No, I really cannot imagine this bright and airy space boarded up. With high ceilings and a stately southern flair, the front foyer is now an artful and welcomingentryway. In 2015, she commissioned Connecticut muralist Diane Voyentzie to bring the outdoors in by painting willowy branches that adorn the cheerful yellow walls, starting in the front hall and delicately trailing off.
“The former owners couldn’t see it being run by just one person, they thought it was impossible to run without a maid and a chauffeur.” But somehow, Fanton made that leap with no regrets.
Fanton does all of her own interior design work, yet it looks as if she’s employed a professional. Because, in a way, she has. She worked as a decorator at one point in her life and her talent still shines. Some original floors are inlaid mahagony, others have been painted to match this style, but the dark antiques and heavy woodwork are perfectly offset by pale yellow walls, light and airy fabric, and antique décor choices.
She fondly recalls more days well spent here: there were the birthdays, the holidays, formal dinner parties, and larger fundraisers—indoors and out. To this day, music makers come and sit at her well-tuned piano in her acoustically ideal parlor and perform with string instrumentalists.
She recently offered the outdoor space as a venue to raise money for Emerge—a program about which Fanton is passionate—one that provides safe housing for women and children seeking refuge from abuse.
The not-so-distant sound of church bells fill the noon time air with their faint, kindly presence. A feeling of peace and relaxation follows. When asked what she loves so much about this place, she says the location is very special to her. “I just love driving up here. But it’s more than that. It’s an emotion,” she explains. “I don’t feel as if I own this house. I never have. I feel as though I’m in custody of it.”